Rush to the mountain

Our guide had suggested against taking the extremely crowded first few buses, which started at 5.30am. There wouldn’t be much light and sunrise at Macchu Picchu wasn’t as worthwhile for most average photographers so we would meet our guide Chito at the Hotel lobby at 8am.

We had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel looking out at the road which had hikers coming into town (possibly from one of the Inca trails) and the steady stream of green Benz buses leaving and returning from Macchu Picchu.

We meetup with our guide and proceeded to the bus stand. There was still a modest queue so I dreaded how bad it could be at 5.30am.

The road up to the site was bumpy, muddy and windy. It more closely resembled a dirt road but thankfully the modern buses were up to the task.

The bus dropped us off at the park entrance where we had our tickets scanned. Backpackers had to check-in their large bags at the entrance but our day-packs presented no issues.

The Citadel

Before we explored the complex our guide sat us down on a grassy terrace to give us a quick history lesson on the site and Inca civilization itself.

The sky was clear and sun beat down on us but we had worn the appropriate attire for this tropical climate with long sleeves & hats for sun protection, and plenty of insect repellent (the stronger one containing DEET) given the dengue/zika warnings and we had descended once again within the upper range mosquito-altitude of 2000m.

Unfortunately the DEET didn’t seem to deter the bees that constantly buzzed over our heads while the guide was delivering his lecture. Most of the facts were already known to me but it was a helpful reminder and gave a good primer to Machu Picchu.

The guard house

We were lead to the highest point near the entrance, the guard post to take in the best view of the complex. A different view could be obtained from the nearby peak, but it’s a far more hazardous hike which requires a the nimble footing of a mountain goat.

The stairs were well cut but steep, though the greatest impediment to our climb was the queue of visitors snaking along the stairs upto the guard-house.

At the mid-way point we stopped for photos.

At the guard house, the guide described how this hut with narrow windows provided Inca soldiers a great vantage point to observe all movement in the area surrounding the mountain of Macchu Picchu.


narrow windows

Our guide Chito

Main entrance

A sacrifical altar for animals apparently. a small stone hoop on the side was to secure the animal.

We then made our way down a long flight of stone steps to the original entrance of the citadel.

main door

The guide pointed out the sockets from which the original wooden doors were operated with ropes.

stone hoop for a rope perhaps

The stonework across this site was impressive. One of the finest examples of Inca civil engineering which was to be expected if this was (as suggested) a religious site.

It is said the entire complex looks like a condor when viewed from the adjacent peak of Huayna Picchu. This huge Andean bird was significant in the Inca religion, with more of that to be seen later on.

High Society

Along the narrow road we passed some of the accommodation of the higher strata of Inca society. These consisted of solid stone walls and were said to have been roofed with thatch. Large narrow windows allowed sufficient airflow and lighting and provided the comfort you’d expect of a nobleman.

The Quarry

The site had its very own quarry located on the edge of the complex. The guide was able to use some of incomplete rocks to describe some of the stone masonry techniques used by the builders.

A hole was cut into the rock and a wooden block wedged into it. Water would be poured onto the wood until it expanded creating a force large enough to cleave the rock. The Incas used this technique with a great deal of precision and skill to create huge blocks of stone with very fine lines.

The quarry would probably also have reduced construction costs as I would have been a lot more difficult to lug all the huge stones used for Macchu Picchu through the dense jungle and up the mountain.


view of guardhouse from the courtyard

llamma in courtyard

We were lead down a short flight of stairs to a large grassy courtyard which was populated by grazing llamas lazing in the sun.

lazing llammas

The queue entered into what the guide described as the astronomical quarter in which several stone structures remained that the Incas used for measuring the sun & stars.

stone instrument on wall

The stonework in this area was of the finest grade which hinted at it being of religious importance.

clean cut stonework


There were also several stones carved to resemble the surrounding mountainside in miniature.

Spot the resemblance?

The significance of these mini-mountains wasn’t clear though the guide mentioned the hillside was entwined with Inca mythology and stories of giants that formed the mountains.

##On the edge

The next site had a queue which snaked along a narrow path craved on the edge of the complex. Below us we could see some terraces cut into the mountainside which served the dual purpose of stopping erosion and cultivation.


Below which you see a sheer drop onto a shallow riverbed and lush jungle as far as the eye could see.

The path snaked upwards past what looked like a gigantic sleeping face carved into the rock.

rock face

Astronomical mirrors

Apart from the display of multi storey construction , this site displayed a more heavenly device on the lower floor.

The Condor

We approached what appeared to be bunch of massive boulders in between some of the buildings. Initially I thought it was caused by natural activities. But the guide informed us it was a condor, a bird of importance in the Inca religion.

photo from front

He pointed out the outstretched wings of the bird and its beak carved into the rock below.


We entered into what appeared to be a two-storey house. The stone walls and wooden pillars were intact (or recently reconstructed) though the roof was missing.

wooden timbers

Wooden timbers formed the skeleton of the building and would be layered to form floors of multi-storey buildings (well at least 2 floors though the guide wasn’t sure if they built any higher).

Sun temple

temple of the sun

As we reached the end of the macchu picchu circuit we had a look at a very well crafted stone structure above us. It looked like a military fortification or guard tower of some sort, but it was actually the Temple of the sun, a Solar Observatory with a very large window for letting in the observing the movement of the sun.


It was close to 1pm and the afternoon sun beat down on us through the clear blue skies. Most of the tourists had started heading back and our guide had completed his 3 hour tour of the site.

We headed to the exit to join the Long queue of visitors waiting for the return bus to the town below. Behind the bus stop a path opened up into the forest below.

This was said to be the hiking route to town and I could see backpackers (probably on a tighter Budget) walking down into the forest. The climb up was estimated at a tiresome hour but a hike down was probably more strenuous on the joints.

There was no steady stream of outgoing buses throughout the day, the buses seem to board and disembark their passengers on bulk. So we waited without any movement in queue for at least 15 minutes before a convoy of busses arrived to pickup.

The buses appeared as a convoy with several turning into the small Bay at the same time. They were surprisingly agile and had the tight turning circles required to reverse around to the bus stops. Although the bus coordination seemed a it ad hoc the Staff ushered us into our buses and the boarding was reasonably smooth.

Once we reached town we had to seek out a money hanger to get smaller dollar notes to pay the guide as they seldom carried change. Once settled we shook hands and he took us to what he recommended as the best dining spot in town as we waited for the train .

Apparently well-known for its pizzas

The diner had a river running adjacent which brought a slightly cooler Breeze along with it. Which after a hot sweaty day hiking about with limited shelter, which much welcomed.

Once our train had arrived our guide lead us out to the train platform across the street and we bade farewell.

The ride was back didn’t have much in the form of scenery but I had time to take in the towering mountains visible through the cabin skylight.

We arrived at Ollyantambo hotel without a hitch and collected our laundry (1st major laundry load since our stay in El Calafete Argentina). We relaxed for a bit and given it was late afternoon and the Ollyantambo site would take many more hours to explore properly we decided to give it a miss. We spent the remainder of the day, re-packing our luggage and arranging a taxi to Cuzco Airport the next morning. Ollyantambo was almost 2 hours drive from Cuzco and we wanted to avoid any delays due to traffic and booked an appropriate pickup time which allowed for plenty of buffer.


Macchu Picchu was always planned to be the highlight of my trip and much of the route was planned around the dates of macchu picchu (as it was the earliest item I had to book). The route we followed pretty much followed what we’d planned a few months before when it was clearly obvious a hiking trail wouldn’t be feasible.


  • Plan & book in advance (hiking trail/macchu picchu entry/train tickets) in that order of popularity based on your route preference. Both hiking trails and macchu picchu have visitor caps, with macchu picchu being at 2500 per day when we visited. Macchu picchu entry is sold from a rather antiquated government site, where as trains as a duopoly as far tourists are concerned you won’t have to search for too many sellers as their aren’t many with this site.
  • Unless you plan on capturing sunrise or some other photographic niche you probably wouldn’t want to board the very crowded first few buses at 5am. You’ll need more daylight to admire the scenery anyway and the crowds thins to a more manageable number after 8am.
  • We left around 1pm but Pocholo who we met earlier in La Paz actually stayed till 3pm after all the tourists had left the site almost entirely to himself and took some very scenic photographs. However this depends on your schedule and we unfortunately had a 4pm train to catch back to Olly that day.
  • Consider if you actually need a guide, we picked a guide to get a better feel for the site and the various facts he could give us of the structures within the compound. This isnt a museum so you cant expect much in form of detailed labelling in all the areas. Now on some trips we’ve managed with guiding ourselves with books and maps which maybe cheaper and possibly more descriptive than a guide . Our guide was sufficiently informative though some might prefer an unguided stroll about to take in the surrounding rather than the information.
  • Prepare for a tropical climate which can mean both scorching sun and heavy downpours. Expect the area to be rich with bugs in a way only jungles can. Visitors from Singapore and south east Asia should be well equipped to handle this though apart from sun screen and Long sleeves, don’t forget the Mosquito repellent. We travelled during the zika outbreak and we carried a 25% DEET spray just to be sure.
  • More luxurious hiking trails are available these days. Consider your time and budget as it sometimes might be more relaxing to walk a trail than take a train.
  • Those with bigger risk appetite may consider it worthwhile to hike Macchu Picchu’s sister peak, Wayna Picchu. The climb is described to be as hair-raising as it is arduous but some say the higher vantage point is worthwhile. Apart from preparing the courage, prospective hikers will need to book a separate ticket online (at the time we travelled) and it was capped at a smaller number. Undoubtedly a crowd of tourists clambering over each other up a slippery rock face would be a recipe for disaster.

With the trip highlight successfully completed it was now time to wrap my month of travel with a quick return South to Buenos Aires starting with a stopover in Lima, the capital of Peru.