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Peru & Chile in 11 Days – Part 6 – Riding the Train to Machu Picchu

Posted on Jun 18, 2012 by in International, Travel | 4 comments

Our Itinerary:

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

The alarm went off at 4:30am, startling the sleep from my brain with a blast of saccharine Chinese folk music.  Thirty seconds later, Mr. Travelbypoints‘ phone joined the chorus, launching the once silent room into a cacophony of mismatched instrumental and melody.

I stifled a groan and poked Mr. Travelbypoints, hoping to get an extra 5 minutes of sweet slumber for myself by enjoining him to get up first.  True to form, he reacted by rolling over to the other side of the bed just a few inches beyond the reach of my fingers and continued to sleep undisturbed.

That was my cue to concede defeat and pull myself out of bed.  We had a full day in Machu Picchu ahead of us and no time to waste.

Thirty minutes later , the three of us were showered , changed and waiting for Sabino in front of the hotel for our scheduled 5am pickup.  There would be no leisurely breakfast today as Mr. Travelbypoints had booked us on the first train leaving the Ollanta train station at 6am to get us to Aguas Calientes (the launching pad for Machu Picchu) by 8am.

The PeruRail Experience

It was still dark when we arrived at the sleepy train depot and we found that a small line of early risers had started to form outside the station gates.  A quick glance revealed that most were still half asleep and anxious to be let in to the interior waiting area to avail themselves of seats and restroom facilities.  I was ready to conjure up my best impression of high school Spanish to ask the guards when the station would open, when the gates miraculously parted and we were ushered in.  We had just enough time for a breakfast snack and obligatory pit stop before it was time to board.

Our Train to Machu Picchu

Aboard the Train to Machu Picchu

Quickly, we found our seats and settled in for the hour and a half journey to Machu Picchu.

“Don’t fall asleep!  Look at the view.”  Twenty minutes into our ride, it was now Mr. Travelbypoints’ turn to poke me just as my eyelids were starting to trickle suspiciously lower.  The train had started its ascent up the rolling valley and the gentle rhythm of the slow moving carriage provided just the right ambiance to lull me back to sleep.

“Can’t you just wake me up in 5 minutes?” I implored.

Mr. Travelbypoints replied by nudging me again and pointing towards the picture windows a few feet away with a streaming view of the verdant valley.  That was my mom’s cue to sneak me a satisfied smirk from her seat across from us and promptly shut her eyes for an indulgent 20 minute cat nap.

Before I could respond, Mr. Travelbypoints poked me again and this time pointed out the window adjacent to us, where a handful of local villagers had assembled above the train tracks to ogle our passing train.  They appeared to be a family of five, an older lady, an adult couple and two teenage kids.  On the backs of the women were draped k’eperinas,  the Andean cloth sacs often used to to transport babies and goods.  We smiled and waved and they reciprocated with wide toothy grins.

View of Mountains from the Train

Turning back to Mr. Travelbypoints, I realized I was no longer sleepy.

“No need to poke me again.” I told him, “I’m awake.”

Looking around, I could see that the rest of the car was starting to come alive as well.  We were minutes from arriving in Machu Picchu and the excitement was palpable.

Where Did Everyone Go?!

The sleepy atmosphere in the train car soon gave way to a chatter of activity once we rolled into the Machu Picchu train station.  Lethargy was replaced with frenzy as tourists rushed to grab their packs off the luggage racks and be one of the first to disembark.  While we were among the first group to hit the ground, a decision to use the restroom facilities at the station soon found us staring stupidly at each other in the middle of an empty terminal.  The rest of the tourists had left!

Empty Machu Picchu Train Station

Quickly, the three of us scurried to catch up.  With Mr. Travelbypoints in the lead and Mom and I bounding twenty yards behind him, the three of us finally came to a standing stop in the middle of a shuttered outdoor market.  Unsure of whether to turn left or right, we caught sight of a kindly old vendor who had just arrived to open up his stall.

“Perdone, senor.  Donde esta el autobus a Machu Picchu?”  Excuse me, sir.  Where is the bus to Machu Picchu?

He smiled and proceeded to launch into a torrent of directions in Spanish, to which I responded by signing and pointing to indicate my actual comprehension level, which, sadly at that moment was close to nil.  That seemed to do the trick and he spoke slower, with few words and more finger pointing.  Once we emerged from the maze of outdoor stalls, we could see the buses lined up in the distance on the other side of the bridge.

Mr. Travelbypoints ran up to the ticket booth to purchase tickets while Mom and I hung back by the bridge, admiring the rushing river below us.

Buses at Aguas Calientes

Waiting to Buy Bus Tickets to Machu Picchu

Waiting for Mr. Travelbypoints Along the River

I pointed to a group of travelers making their way down the road ahead of the bus line in the distance.

“See those people, Mom? They decided to walk up to Machu Picchu.”

“Oh, can you do that?” my mom asked.

“Yes, you can.  Do you want to?” I teased.

Before she could answer, Mr. Travelbypoints returned with the tickets and an empty bus rolled up to the front of the queue.

“Too late now!” she quipped, “You should have asked me sooner.”

Watch Out for Oncoming Bus!

Any lingering doubts as to whether we should have chosen to hike up from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (about an hour or two by foot) soon evaporated as the bus made its way up the steep, winding road.  Both narrow and dusty, the path didn’t seem to be especially scenic, particularly when you had to share it with a procession of fume spewing buses.

“Are you glad we didn’t walk?” I couldn’t help teasing my mom.

She turned to me with a big smile on her face.  “Best decision of the day!”

Tourists who Decide to Hike Up to Machu Picchu vs Taking the Bus

Entering Machu Picchu

Oncoming Bus!

Fifteen minutes and a few harrowing twists and turns later, our bus pulled up to the entrance to Machu Picchu.   We turned to each other and smiled, ready to begin our great full day adventure in the magical lost city of the Incas.

Map of Machu Picchu

Our Path up the Mountain and Machu Picchu in the Distance


Next up – Exploring Machu Picchu

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