07.27.2012 - 08.02.2012 73 °F
La Paz, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo - July 27 – August 2
We had a brief stay in La Paz, enough time to get some laundry done and round out the mountain of regalitos we had been acquiring along the way. At 7:30 a.m. we made our way to La Paz’s central bus station for the 12 hour ride to Cusco. The border crossing offered an unexpected 2 hour delay in the form of a huge line around the block on the Peruvian side facilitated by an official in the front padding his salary by moving his patrons to the front of the line.
We arrived in Cusco about 9:15 that evening, managing to find a supermarket open despite the independence day holiday celebrations that had closed most things up. Despite Cusco’s long history as the Incan capitol, it is relatively modern by Peruvian standards with stunning architecture and more magnificent churches than you can count. Serving as the gateway to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, it is also the tourism capital of South America. Think West Yellowstone in mid-July. After seven weeks in Bolivia, the contrast was a bit overwhelming.
We spent 3 days in Cusco seeing the many incredible Incan ruins, museums and other sights, and confirmed details with our guide service, Cusco Native, for the 4 day trek to the Lares Valley following our visit to Machu Picchu.
At about noon on the fourth day we caught a micro to Ollantaytambo and then the train down the Urubamba River to the town of Aguas Calientes which sits at the base of Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is a nice little town sitting along the banks of the Urubamba River that reminded somewhat of Calistoga in a cloud forest, not very Peruvian and definitely not third world.
The next morning we arose at 4:30 to catch the 5:30 bus up to Machu Picchu. Arriving at Machu Picchu at 6:30 for the opening, the mountain was bathed in mist. The mist and the rising sun created a surreal effect right out of tourism promo. The light really couldn’t have been much more perfect. After spending two hours with a guide touring the ruins, we made the two hour climb to the top of Machu Picchu Montana, the high peak that overlooks the ancient city.
By 2:00 the crowds had magnified to nearly unbearable so we caught the bus back to town and then onto Ollantaytambo for two nights before leaving for the Lares Valley.