Thursday, 17 August 2017

Taking the train to Machu Picchu

When Eimear first asked me about travelling to South America with her. she expressed to me that it had always been her dream to trek to Machu Picchu. I thought it sounded amazing but not really how I wanted to travel, I'm not a hiker, camper, outdoor pooper. (After seeing Eimear's pictures however, I did think maybe I should have at least considered trekking it). 

Not wanting to miss out on a trip and definitely wanting to see Machu Picchu for myself, I looked into other options. Did you know you can take a train to Machu Picchu? Or at least to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the mountain where Machu Picchu is located. 

We planned to meet at the end of Eimear's trek somewhere in the area and I made my arrangements to get my way to the monster tourist attraction. I booked with Pachamama Explorers, which included an airport pickup, transport to Ollantaytambo where the train leaves for Aguas Calientes among other services.

Looking back, this is a tour that can easily be organized without the aid of a tour company and I would recommend doing so to save some money. That said, as I was travelling alone, I was very glad to have booked it ahead of time and with a travel company, which meant I didn't have to worry about a thing from start to finish.

Since I was travelling on my own (and this did increased the cost of the booking), I felt I had more peace of mind rather than stressing about all the details on my own. Which turned out to be for the best, as my flight in from Lima to Cusco had been delayed by several hours, my driver had kindly waited the 4 hours for me and rushed me the 1 hour 40 minute drive to the train station. The delay had made things very close, my train ticket was collected  as the conductor blew his whistle!

I was finally able to relax on the 2 hour ride to my destination with vista views of the Andes, running along the Urubamba River. Once at Aguas Calientes I was met by a hotel rep that carried my bag to my accommodation. That evening I met with my tour guide to figure out timing for the following day's tour of Machu Picchu (more to come on this).

The town of Aguas Calientes is a weird one. It's only function is to serve the tourists that pour in and out each day, only to leave again up the mountain to the famous Inca ruins. The town is centred around the train station and a maze of streets and lane ways which are lined with hotels and restaurants (one very much like the next to appeal to the masses aka tourists). There is a covered market not far from the station where you can buy any and all Peruvian souvenir tat.

The town started in earnest in the 1970s when backpackers were travelling to the area by train and looking for places to stay and eat. As the story goes, according to my tour guide, it was an Australian man that paid a local salesman to allow him to spend the night in his house, which gave the salesman, already with an entrepreneur spirit, an idea. He started renting out the rooms in his house and built an addition to accommodate more people and voila! The tourism industry of Aguas Calientes was born. (If you'd like to learn more about this funny little town, I came across this interesting post)

With not much to do in a town, it's a perfect opportunity to get a tea (obviously coca tea to help with any altitude issues) and people watch at a local cafe. I very much enjoyed my time in this funny little town and wished I wasn't in such a rush to get in and get out. I definitely would recommend taking the train to Aguas Calientes and with several class options available all types of travellers can be accommodated, from the super posh to backpacker and everything in between.

Which would you prefer to do; trek over several days or take the luxury train to Machu Picchu?

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1 comment:

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