First – a couple interesting facts:
1. All children in Peru are required to wear school uniforms. The public schools have a grey color and the private schools have a more colorful uniform.
2. Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1955 (US ratified the constitution in 1920 for women’s suffrage). However now, every citizen is required to vote once they turn 18. If they don’t, they are fined a pretty hefty amount. They also don’t have mail in ballots. They have to go to schools or other public places to vote – and that’s a very long way for some people.
Just thought those were interesting facts! Any who, we started our time in Aguas Calientes by taking a train there from Ollantaytambo. There was a place you could get off on the train to do a one day portion of the Inca trail towards Machu Picchu. Of course, you can also do the 4 day/3 night camp and hike there along the Inca trail. I would have LOVED to have done either one. However, there are only 500 people allowed on the trail a day – and this includes the guides and porters that are required to go with each tourist/hiker. So tickets sell out 6 months to 1 year in advance.
The train ride was pretty quick – about an hour and a half. We dropped our bags with someone from our hotel at the train station and went straight to the buses that take everyone to Machu Picchu. This was about 8:30 am. The lines weren’t bad, but there were a lot of people. The park itself opens at 5:30am, so the lines early in the morning are apparently insane. Our amazing guide, Elga, suggested we hike to the Sun Gate first. Most people go straight to Machu Picchu, so this would be less crowded and before the sun got too hot.
From the sun gate we went to Machu Picchu. I had expectations of it being amazing, but standing there looking at it all was better than I expected.
We spent several hours walking around the structure. The park keeps quite a few llamas around as “part of the decoration.” They totally have the run of the place. You can tell they have been fed a lot of people food, because when people would open up a bag or backpack, the llamas would go right over and stick their heads in haha.
After we had walked around, we had lunch at the restaurant at Machu Picchu sanctuary. Generally, a restaurant like that – it is at the top of a hill you ride a bus to, and it’s the only food available – has high prices and sub-par food. However, I was pleasantly surprised. After some trout ceviche and bread, we decided to go back into the park.
With the sun starting to go behind the mountains, and most people needing to catch a train back to Cusco or another town, it was practically empty. It was a whole other experience walking around with not many other people.
I was worried about the experience in Machu Picchu not living up to the hype. If there had been fog, the pictures would have sucked (yes, I’m superficial and want pictures, sue me.) Or if there had been so many people we couldn’t have enjoyed it – I was worried it would be a bust. Plus – we didn’t get to the park until 9am, which is a late start for Machu Picchu time.
SO – moral of the story is that I wanted two days in Aguas Calientes. Of course, yesterday was perfect. So what to do today?
From there, we went to a beautiful hotel at the edge of town. It is set on about 10 acres (or 4 hectares) of paths to walk around. They nail bananas to the trees and someone from the hotel pointed out all the different and brilliantly colored birds. At this point, we had been told about the Mandor waterfall a couple of times. We got lunch first before deciding what to do next.
For this waterfall business, you had to walk about 20 minutes to a bridge. You could go left, and go to a museum – or go right, hike another 30 minutes – and go to Los Jardines de Mandor (where the waterfall lives). My dad had suggested the museum, but the waterfall really picqued my interest. He was a champ and agreed we should go check it out.
Well – we got there after about 50 minutes of walking. It was…less than spectacular HA! Ugh! I am sure it is breathtaking in the wet season, but right now it is the dry season. And…
Not quite the gushing waterfall into a big pool that I had envisioned. I had even been told to bring my swimming suit, in case I wanted to get in! Uhh – no. Unless I wanted a shower with bad water pressure, there was nothing to get in. Every trip has something like this lol – and at least it was still pretty.
So – after we walked around a bit – we started the 50 minutes of walking back. Did it mention it was part of the Incan trail? And also part railroad…
My dad has been the best travel buddy, and I am so grateful he went all the way to the “waterfall” with me !