Posts Tagged ‘Machu Picchu’

Restaurant Pizzeria Bar (Aguas Calientes, Peru)

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 by virginia

After we took the bus down from Machu Picchu, we decided to grab a quick lunch before we had to catch our train to Cusco. The main square is right by the bus station in town so we went there to look for a place to eat. There are lots of restaurants to choose from, but there are always people standing outside each restaurant waving menus around, trying to get you to go in. It’s kind of annoying because we wanted to look at menus first before we decided where to eat, and it was hard when you’re constantly being accosted by people trying to get you to go in. We ended up deciding on pizza, so we actually went into the only restaurant where no one bothered us. I’m not sure exactly what the name of this restaurant was, as the sign above the door just said Restaurant/Pizzeria/Bar.

If you’re facing the fountain and the Inca statues in the square, the restaurant is to the right, in the middle of the row of restaurants. It’s on the ground level, with balconies overhead. We sat just outside the restaurant, still in the shade but we enjoyed the fresh air. We toasted our success in climbing Huayna Picchu with a few Cusquena beers, which were cold and refreshing.

There were lots of different pizzas to choose from, and some of the combination of toppings sounded pretty interesting. We ended up choosing, appropriately enough, the Machu Picchu pizza, which was topped with sauce, ham, chorizo, hearts of palm, oregano, and cheese. The first pizza they brought us, however, was not what we ordered, though we didn’t figure that out until after we each taken a bite of our slices. Oops! They had given us a veggie pizza by mistake, which had peppers and onions on it. We probably should have realized right away because there were peppers and no meat, but we thought maybe the meat would be underneath all the cheese. They were really nice about the mix-up though, and let us finish eating our slices while they fired up the correct pizza for us.

Veggie pizza with peppers and onions

We could definitely see the meat on our new pie, which had thin slices of chorizo and lots of pieces of ham strewn on top. There were also long strips of hearts of palm, which I thought was an intriguing pizza topping. I like hearts of palm in salad, but it didn’t seem like something I’d put on pizza. It actually added a nice crunch and a bit of tanginess that helped cut through the saltiness of the chorizo and the richness of the cheese. It was a good combination of flavors.

Machu Picchu pizza with sauce, ham, chorizo, hearts of palm, oregano, and cheese

There was definitely a lot of cheese on the pizza, though not a lot of tomato sauce. They were also pretty heavy handed with the oregano, as the top of the pizza was just covered in green flecks. Flavor wise it was pretty subtle though, so I didn’t mind all the herbs on top.

Lots of cheese and oregano on each slice

The crust was a bit thicker than the pizza crust at Inka Wasi but it had good flavor to it. I don’t know if it was baked with eucalyptus leaves but I thought it tasted a little floral. There wasn’t much charring on the bottom but it was still slightly crispy.

Underside shot

Overall we liked the pizza at this unnamed pizzeria. It’s definitely a low key joint, not as polished as Inka Wasi in terms of atmosphere and decor, and the menu wasn’t as refined. There was a lot of variety on the menu though, and the location couldn’t be beat. We were right on the main square and could people watch. It would be a nice place to hang out in the afternoon for a drink and some snacks. Prices were pretty reasonable, as our medium sized pie with all those toppings cost 32 soles, or about US$12. I’m not sure how helpful I’m being since I can’t give you the name or the exact address of the restaurant, but if you’re really interested in going just look for the Restaurant/Pizzeria/Bar sign on the side of the plaza closest to the bus station – it’s not too hard to find!

Restaurant Pizzeria Bar
Aguas Calientes, Peru

Peru Day 11 – Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu, Cusco

Thursday, January 20th, 2011 by virginia

WARNING: This is a ridiculously long post and I tend to ramble on about my thoughts during that particular day. If you start to get bored, just scroll through the pics – I won’t be offended!

I have to say that without a doubt, this day was definitely the highlight of our Peru trip. Bold statement for sure, considering all the amazing things we saw on this trip, but nothing was able to surpass how we felt when we were sitting at the tippy top of Huayna Picchu with Machu Picchu in the background way below us. It was an absolute thrill for the both of us, and I was so proud that we made it all the way up without any major difficulties.

On the day that we went to hike up Huayna Picchu, we had to get up at 3:30 am to line up for the buses that would take us to the top of Machu Picchu. This was because only 400 people are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu each day, 200 at 7 am and 200 at 10 am, so we had to make sure that we were on one of the first buses that left the station in the morning.

It was a pretty rough morning for the both of us since neither Josh nor I are morning people. Plus the rally in the square had kept us awake for most of the night so we were not happy campers to have to get out of bed so early. By the time we got up, got dressed, packed our stuff, checked our bags, and checked out of our hotel, it was about 4:30 am. Luckily the bus station was only a five minute walk so we joined the end of the line around 4:35, and there were probably at least 100 people ahead of us already.

The line at the bus station at 4:30 am

It was pitch black outside still, and it was kind of chilly. There was a mist hovering around us, and we were worried that it would turn out to be a rainy day. If conditions are too bad, they won’t let people climb Huayna Picchu because it’s too dangerous. We stood in line and just waited, watching as the line grow longer and longer behind us.

The buses don’t start running until 5:30 so we had to wait for about an hour before anything happened. It was a good thing we bought bus tickets the day before because there was a separate line to get tickets. That line wasn’t long, but if you were by yourself it would be hard to save yourself a spot in both lines. The line soon started to move, and we were counting how many buses pulled out before we got to the front of the line. There were probably about seven buses ahead of us, so we were pretty sure we would be able to get the Huayna Picchu stamp, but we really wanted the 7 am slot rather than the 10 am slot, since we had to catch a train back to Cusco in the early afternoon.

It was still misty by the time the sun rose, and the mountains were cloaked in a pretty dense gray fog. We finally reached the entrance gate and immediately found the guy who was stamping tickets for Huayna Picchu. We were thrilled when we were able to get stamps for the 7 am time slot, and I immediately felt relieved that we wouldn’t have to rush to get back in time for the train. We had heard varying reports of how long it would take to climb to the top, and I knew that I would want to take things slowly because of my fear of heights.

The sun rising behind the mist and clouds

When we walked into the main part of Machu Picchu, it was eerily quiet and calm, a huge departure from the previous day when it was packed with people. The view was also different, since a large part of the structures were shrouded in the fog, and we couldn’t see Huayna Picchu at all.

Postcard view obscured by the fog

We walked around for a little while, savoring our solitude and the peacefulness that we felt. Even if you don’t plan on climbing Huayna Picchu, I definitely recommend going to Machu Picchu super early in the morning because it feels like a completely different place when there aren’t so many tourists milling about. You can walk around at your own pace and see things up close without having to wait in line or waiting for people to move out of your way so that you can take a picture. It’s definitely worth waking up early for.

After we had seen all the things we wanted to see, we found a little nook by some stairs where we could sit down and just stare at the awesome view in front of us. We watched birds fly around chasing each other and just enjoyed being there in that moment. I know it sounds really cheesy but it was a pretty moving experience. This was a trip that we had been planning for a few years, and it really hit us that we were finally there, and that it was everything we hoped and imagined it would be.

By the time 7 am rolled around, it was still misty and foggy. We saw a line start to form at the start house so we waited just a bit longer before heading down there ourselves. We got in line around 7:30 and there were still quite a few people in front of us. I didn’t care because I preferred to be at the end so that I could take my time. I knew the paths and stairs would be narrow and it would be harder to have to keep letting people pass us because I was too slow.

At the starting gate

We finally reached the little house where we had to sign our names before we could embark on the hike. We saw that we were the 118th and 119th people to go that day. The first part of the trail was pretty easy – it was wide and there wasn’t any huge drop off to one side. At one point the trail even went downhill, which was nice, but we knew that meant we would have a long way to go uphill to get to the top of Huayna Picchu.

Path goes down before it goes back up

Sure enough, there were winding stairs that traversed up one side of Machu Picchu, and led out to the narrow path that connected Machu Picchu to Huayna Picchu. I was a little nervous at this point because even though there were cable railings for the steepest and narrowest parts, the railings were kind of low and I had to almost sit down in order to keep holding on. Nevertheless, we crossed over to Huayna Picchu without any huge issues.

Crossing over to Huayna Picchu

Me clinging to the cable railing until the last possible second before I had to let go to continue

Once we were on the other side, this was where the climbing began in earnest. There were lots of steps, some super steep where I had to cling to the cables to pull myself up. Still, it wasn’t as difficult as I had feared because there were no sheer drop-offs along the path – at least none that I could see. The path was pretty woodsy so there were lots of trees and greenery surrounding both sides of the path, disguising any sort of cliff.

All the steps heading up Huayna Picchu

There's definitely a drop off next to the path, but it's sort of obscured by the trees and bushes, giving me a much needed false sense of security

We climbed slowly and steadily, not caring if people passed us along the way. We weren’t in any rush, and while we were pretty hot and sweaty, we weren’t terribly out of breath or struggling too much with all of the steps. Higher and higher we climbed, unsure of how far we had gone and how much there was left to climb. At least the scenery was beautiful to look at, and we were lucky that the morning mist and fog had cleared up so we were able to see out into the distance.

Once we had gone up a good distance, we looked down and could see Machu Picchu peeking out between the trees. The smaller it got, the happier we were, as it meant we were getting closer to the top.

Machu Picchu in the distance, peeking out from between the trees

Eventually, people who were ahead us on the hike had already reached the top and were headed back down, passing us on the way. We asked everyone who passed how much further we had to go before we would reach the top, and while the answers always varied, everyone said that the view from the peak was absolutely worth the climb. Buoyed by that and by everyone’s words of encouragement, we steadily made our way higher.

Eventually we reached a cluster of Inca structures, and we knew the top couldn’t be so far away. Unfortunately, this was the most treacherous part of the hike. The structures had narrow and steep stairs running along the sides, but no cables to help us climb. I guess they didn’t want to ruin any of the incredible stonework by screwing in metal bolts everywhere but it was incredibly hard for me to go up all those flights of stairs with nothing to hold on to. I ended up clinging to the walls with my hands, grabbing anywhere that jutted out so that I could get a decent grip. It was pretty awkward but it did the trick.

Steep and scary climb up the Inca structures

Beautiful stonework

More stairs upward

Inca terraces

View of Machu Picchu from the Inca structures

Josh's camera was able to zoom in for a great shot of Machu Picchu. The houses at the bottom of the picture was where we started from.

Looking down from the structures

Once we got to the top of the structures, I knew we had to be close to the peak. After ducking into an opening in the rock wall and actually having to crawl through some narrow crevices, we finally arrived at a ladder that took us to the top of Huayna Picchu. I took a deep breath and climbed up, with Josh following close behind.

One of the crevices we had to crawl through

The ladder we climbed to get to the very top of Huayna Picchu

Once I got to the top of the ladder I could see the incredible view spread out all around. Unfortunately, my fear of heights kicked into hyperdrive and I could not bring myself to stand up. I ended up swinging my legs around the ladder and crawled onto the large flat rock that the ladder rested against. There were a lot of people at the top, and not so much room to maneuver. This was definitely where if you slipped and fell, you were going to fall a long way down. There were people just milling about, relaxing and taking in the sights.

People hanging out at the top of Huayna Picchu

The best spot to take pictures at the top was a little outcropping where it almost looked like a seat had been carved into the rock. From there was a perfect shot of Machu Picchu in the background, so there was quite a line of people waiting to take photos. I apologize to anyone whose photo I’m in, because I was basically paralyzed by fear and refused to move from my spot just off the ladder. When it was finally our turn to take a photo, I basically crawled onto the seat with Josh, shaking the entire time. I absolutely refused to look down over the edge, I just looked at the person taking our picture for us, pasting a smile onto my face. I was proud of the fact that we had made it, but I was truly terrified at the same time.

View of Machu Picchu from the top of Huayna Picchu

When we were finished, I quickly crawled back into the middle of all the rocks and sat down, and only then would I take in the amazing 360 view. And what a view it was. We could see the beautiful green peaks of the mountains all around us, and a beautiful view of Machu Picchu in its entirety. We sat there for a while and just appreciated the scenery, but we knew that the next wave of people who started at 10 am would be arriving soon, and it wouldn’t be fair to make them wait for their turn at the top.

Uneven rocks at top, and a long way down...

Green mountains all around

Sadly, however, going down was excruciatingly painful for me. I debated going back the way we came, down the ladder, but with all the newcomers arriving at the top, there was just no space for me to go down that way. So I had to crawl to the opposite side of the rocks on top and then basically shimmy down the uneven and narrow steps until we reached a ledge. This part wasn’t any better, as there were sheer drop offs all around. I walked facing inward and clinging to the walls.

See the narrowness of the path on the way down, the uneven steps, and the steep sheer drop offs

Down and around we walked for a short bit, with me going down the stairs on my behind, until we reached a larger terrace that faced Machu Picchu. There were lots of flat rocks here so we sat down on one and rested, snacking on some pound cake that our hotel packed for us, and drinking lots of water and Fanta. We sat there for about 20 minutes, just enjoying the view. During that time I calmed myself down and psyched myself up for the rest of the journey down.

Our view while we rested, snacked, and rehydrated

Zooming in on the start house and the next group of hikers lining up

Our next biggest obstacle was coming down the narrow and steep stairs of the Inca structures that I struggled with on our way up. If I thought coming up was scary, going down was even scarier. At first I tried to go down backwards, facing inward, but the steps were too uneven and precarious. I kept losing my footing because I couldn’t really see where I was going when I faced the steps. So I just turned back around and continued downward while sitting on my butt, taking each step one at a time. It was a slow process but luckily there were no people behind us, and my arms got a great workout from lifting myself up and lowering myself down each step.

Inca trapezoid window, alcoves, and doorway

Steep terraces

At long last we finally reached the regular path, and it was much easier from there on out. I was still holding on to all the cables on the way down but I felt much more comfortable because I knew this path wasn’t as treacherous, and there were no more steep drop offs to deal with. Going down this part was definitely easier on the legs than going up, and we made much quicker process. Finally we crossed back over to Machu Picchu, and when the path started going upward again, I knew we were close to the finish.

Finally the little house was in sight, and this was when I really got excited. We signed ourselves out, took a quick victory shot, and then immediately collapsed on some benches nearby in the shade. We were flying high from all the adrenaline but we were physically exhausted at this point. We were slightly out of breath and dripping with sweat but we had never felt better. We were just so proud that we had done it, and even though I’m sure most people think that the Huayna Picchu hike really isn’t that big of a deal, it was a huge accomplishment for us.

A look back at Huayna Picchu on our way out

The hike was tiring and there were definitely steep parts that we had to work hard to get through, but we never felt like we couldn’t do it nor did we ever really struggle with the physical aspect required. My fear of heights was probably my biggest obstacle but I made it through without any major freak outs. The only time I was truly terrified was at the top, but if you’ve been up there you can probably understand my fear. You’re basically on a jagged pile of large rocks, with no real path or secure place to sit, and all the rocks slope downward so that if you slipped, you had nowhere to go but off the top of the mountain.

Whenever I got scared on the steep and narrow steps, I just went down on my butt. It wasn’t graceful or attractive, but it did the trick. I was really lucky that Josh is such a patient person because he let me go at my own pace and never rushed me or made fun of me when I was afraid. He always walked behind me to make sure that I could get pass whatever obstacles we faced, and he made sure to be ready to catch me in case I slipped.

We rested for a while in the shade and chugged more water. We started out with a large two liter bottle of water, two 20 oz bottles of water, a 20 oz bottle of Fanta, and a 20 oz bottle of Inca Kola. I only had one 20 oz bottle of water clipped to my belt while poor Josh carried all of the other liquids plus our snacks in his backpack. It was really heavy, but we made sure to stay hydrated the entire hike so the weight gradually lessened as we drank all the water.

Once we felt vitalized from our break, we decided to take the short hike to see the Inca Bridge. We had heard the hike was quite beautiful, but that the bridge was kind of a disappointing sight. It turned out to be true. The hike itself wasn’t nearly as strenuous as the Huayna Picchu hike, though we still had to sign in and out in a guest book at a little hut on the way.

Beautiful scenery along the way

The path did get pretty narrow at some points, and there was either only a really low wall (about a foot high at most) or nothing at all, so that I could see the sheer drop off to one side. I just walked close to the wall the whole way, and tried not to think about it. The hairiest part was right at the end of the hike. The path that led directly up to the Inca Bridge was really narrow and there was no barrier to the cliff side. There was a rope attached to the mountain wall but it was stretched out and basically useless, because you could pull it past the edge of the cliff. Plus it was really windy at that point, and I felt like I was going to blow right off the path.

Narrow path and sheer drop off. You can also see the Inca Bridge to the right.

I would like to say that the scariness of the hike was totally worth it because the Inca Bridge was incredible, but lets face it, the bridge was literally a pile of rotting wood planks. There was a fence that blocked off the trail in front of the bridge so that people wouldn’t be tempted to walk across it.

Inca Bridge

In all, the Inca Bridge trail was a nice walk, but the bridge at the end was a bit of a letdown. Our guide warned us about that the day before, but I guess you have to see it for yourself to believe it. If you have the time, go for the walk. If not, don’t feel too badly because you really aren’t missing that much. If you have a choice between the bridge walk or going to the Sun Gate, definitely head for the Sun Gate.

The walk back to the main part of Machu Picchu was easier because I knew what to expect. We went back to the same spot where we had sat early in the morning that day, before the Huayna Pichu hike, and rested for a while, drinking some super sweet Inca Kola. It tasted kind of like bubble gum, or overly sweet cream soda. Not exactly our favorite, but we were happy for the sugar after all the walking we did.

Our own Inca Kola advertisement

More postcard views

After we caught our breaths, we headed to the entrance gate to catch a bus back into town. Our train to Cusco was leaving in the early afternoon, and we wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t be late. When we got back to town, we stopped for a quick lunch in the main plaza. Then we went to our hotel to change and to pick up our bags. We definitely didn’t want to be all sweaty and gross on the long train ride back to Cusco.

When we arrived in Cusco, the tour company picked us up and took us to our hotel, the Libertador Palacio del Inka. It was centrally located so after we dropped our bags off in our room, we headed into town to find dinner. We had asked the concierge for some recommendations (we were craving Peruvian style chicken, or pollo a la brasa), and while the restaurant he sent us to was nothing close to what we were looking for, the food was decent. Afterward, we walked around the square for a little while and then headed back to our hotel, since both of us were exhausted from the long day of hiking.

The main square in Cusco

Beautiful balconies overlooking the main square

I’m sorry that this post was absurdly long and that I rambled on for a quite a bit. I’m sure if you asked people who’ve done the Huayna Picchu hike if it was really that hard, they’d tell you it was a breeze. And in some ways, it was. We definitely took a lot longer doing the hike than most people (some people we spoke to said it would only take about an hour and a half round trip, and we took twice as long), but we were purposely taking our time because I was worried that if we rushed, I would end up freaking myself out and aborting the hike midway through. In the end, however, I conquered my fear of heights, and I was so proud that we climbed to the tippy top of Huayna Picchu without any freak outs or severe difficulties. It was an exhilarating feeling to be up there, looking down at everything and seeing how high we had climbed. We definitely felt like we were on top of the world, and the adrenaline buzz lasted us the rest of the day. I would absolutely do this hike again, and I definitely recommend doing it to anyone who is going to Machu Picchu. It’s definitely worth waking up at 3:30 am for!

Inka Wasi (Aguas Calientes, Peru)

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 by virginia

By the time we got to our hotel after spending the day at Machu Picchu, we were pretty exhausted so we knew that if we settled in, we would probably fall asleep and end up not eating dinner. Because we had a grueling hike planned for the next day and would be leaving the hotel before breakfast, we knew that we couldn’t afford to skip another meal so we forced ourselves to leave our room. We stopped in at the hotel bar first to get our free welcome drink, a Pisco Sour. We hadn’t had any since Lima so I had forgotten that I actually really liked them. After chatting with the bartender, he told us to eat at Inka Wasi, the restaurant across the street from our hotel, because they had good pizzas.

When Josh and I saw pizzerias all over Peru, we were sort of confused but figured that they catered to tourists. Our guide in the Sacred Valley told us that Peruvian pizza was actually different from other pizzas because they are cooked over eucalyptus leaves, which impart a unique flavor to the crust. That actually sounded pretty interesting to us so we decided to try it out. Once again we weren’t too hungry so we decided to split a medium pizza (which was still pretty small) and a chicken entree. After we placed our order, they brought us some garlic bread to munch on while we waited for our food.

Garlic bread

The bread was pretty standard but tasty, and it was cooked in the same oven as the pizza so it had a nice crunch and smokey flavor to it. While we were enjoying the bread, someone set off firecrackers right outside the window where we were sitting, which scared the crap out of us. Turns out it was the start of a rally for someone who was running for mayor. A crowd of people were marching down the main street of the town carrying balloons and signs, playing drums, and generally just making a lot of noise by chanting and setting off more firecrackers. It was pretty intense and the parade of people walking by on their way to the main square lasted for a good 15 minutes.

Huge crowd of people headed to a political rally in the town square

After all the excitement passed, we turned our attention back to our food. The pizza we chose was the restaurant’s namesake, Inka Wasi. It was basically a meat lover’s pie, topped with ham, chorizo, pepperoni, and chicken.

Inka Wasi pizza topped with ham, chorizo, pepperoni, and chicken

There was a lot of cheese on the pizza I don’t think there was any sauce. If there was, it was undetectable. The toppings were pretty bountiful, with the chorizo and pepperoni adding some spice and tanginess to the pizza. There was also a lot of oregano sprinkled on top that gave it a distinctive taste.

Slice close up

The crust was pretty thin, almost cracker-like around the edges, though the middle was slightly chewier. The pizza oven was very close to where we were sitting so we watched the chef make them. The crusts were actually pre-made flatbreads that he would put the cheese and toppings on. I was worried about the crust being pre-made but I actually wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference because it wasn’t overcooked or dried out. The eucalyptus leaves burning in the oven did give it a slight floral flavor, but it was very subtle. If I hadn’t known beforehand I probably wouldn’t have guessed eucalyptus.

Underside shot

The chicken we got was pollo a la plancha, meaning it was grilled. I don’t know why we were expecting something exciting so we were pretty disappointed with what arrived, which was just a piece of plain chicken breast accompanied by some rice, potatoes, and sauteed veggies.

Grilled chicken breast with potatoes, rice, and veggies

Surprisingly, however, the chicken was pretty tasty – very flavorful and moist. I’m always astonished by how much better chicken tastes in other countries. It’s not just a boring white meat, it actually tastes like a bird. It was well prepared too; tender, juicy, and well seasoned. The sides were decent but plain. The potatoes were fried on the outside and soft on the inside, reminding me of fried yuca. The sauteed vegetables were buttery but standard.

Overall we were pretty happy with the food at Inka Wasi. The pizza was really tasty and the chicken was cooked perfectly. Service was super friendly and efficient. It’s no wonder the restaurant was hopping when we first arrived. There was a 30 minute wait for a table so we ended up taking a stroll and doing a little shopping to kill some time. Price-wise it was a bit expensive for Peru, more on par with NYC prices. The pizza, which was about the size of a large dinner plate, was 42 soles, or US$16. To be fair, there were a lot of toppings on it. The chicken was 33 soles, or US$12, which is not bad. We also had a few Cusquena beers so our total after tax and tip was S/129, or US$48. Certainly not a bargain but we enjoyed our meal thoroughly. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re in Aguas Calientes. The seats near the window are great for people watching!

Inka Wasi
Pachacutec 112
Aguas Calientes, Peru

Tinkuy Buffet at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010 by virginia

There’s a hotel right next to the entrance of the Machu Picchu archaeological site called the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. It’s the only hotel that’s actually on top of the mountain, not a bus ride away, and is therefore very expensive. We stayed in the town of Aguas Calientes below but our tour package did include a buffet lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge’s Tinkuy Buffet. We went to the buffet after the guided portion of our tour. Since we had been walking around the ruins all morning and into the early afternoon, we were starving and pretty happy that we didn’t have to go too far to get lunch.

The restaurant is huge, which is good because it was really busy but there were still plenty of tables. The buffet itself, however, isn’t really that extensive. There were two sides to the buffet but both seemed to be serving mostly the same thing, with maybe just a slight variation on side dishes.

The inside of the restaurant

We nabbed a table next to a window and Josh watched our stuff while I got on one of the lines. There were salad items in the front so I picked out a few things to try first. There were beets, which I always love, pasta salad, caprese salad, fish ceviche, and roast beef. While the pasta salad and roast beef were pretty standard, the ceviche was surprisingly delicious, especially for a buffet. It was  light and refreshing, with a nice acidic brightness. It may not have been as sophisticated as some of the ceviches we had at Alfresco but I enjoyed it a lot, even going back for seconds. The caprese salad was good too, even though it wasn’t made with fresh mozzarella, but there was plenty of fresh basil pesto on top.

Pasta salad, caprese salad, ceviche, roast beef, beets

For the main entrees, there was osso buco and roasted chicken. The osso buco was tender but a bit fatty, and the sauce was kind of bland. The chicken was a much better dish – moist, tender, and flavorful. We ate it with rice and some roasted potatoes on the side.

Osso buco, bread, roasted chicken, roasted potatoes, roast beef, rice

There were a few more salad options, and oddly enough, spaghetti with meat sauce, but that was basically the extent of the buffet. There was dessert too but we weren’t in the mood. While the food wasn’t bad overall, it wasn’t that great. The Tinkuy Buffet is definitely a convenient option, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. The cost is about US$35 per person, which is pretty steep. It does include unlimited soda though, which was a bonus. We were really thirsty from all of the walking so we definitely took advantage of the soda fountain. If it comes as part of your tour package, that’s great, you’ll enjoy it, but I don’t think you should go out of your way to eat there.

If you plan on spending the day at Machu Picchu, I suggest packing a light snack to tide you over until you go back down to the town where prices are more reasonable and the food is better. They say you can’t bring food or drinks into the archaeological site but that wasn’t really true. No one checked our bags, and you definitely need tons of water to get through the day. We saw lots of people just sitting down on some rocks and having a snack. The scenery is unmatched. Obviously just don’t litter, and whatever garbage you end up with you have to take back out with you because there are no garbage cans anywhere. We ended up eating some pound cake at the top of Huayna Picchu the next day and it was one of the best experiences of our lives. While the buffet was forgettable, that view definitely was not.

Tinkuy Buffet at Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge
Machu Picchu, Peru

Peru Day 10 – Machu Picchu

Sunday, December 5th, 2010 by virginia

The day that we had been waiting for finally arrived – we were heading to Machu Picchu! It was another early morning start since we had to drive about 45 minutes from our hotel in Urubamba to the train station in Ollantaytambo. Our driver picked us up at 6 am so I barely had time to grab some breakfast at the buffet, which opened at 5:30 am. It was so early that the eggs weren’t ready yet and I didn’t have time to wait around. Therefore, my only source of protein that morning was bacon. Not exactly nutritious, but I supplemented with some fruit and potatoes. Josh was running late, per usual, so I stashed some bananas in my backpack and grabbed a stack of bread for him to munch on in the car.

We arrived at the station and boarded the Vistadome train that would take us to Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu. The train had pretty comfortable seats and was much more reasonably priced than the Hiram Bingham train, so we were pretty happy about that. Josh and I were both assigned window seats on opposite sides of the train, which meant that we weren’t sitting next to one another so he ended up trading with another couple to take the seat next to me. It turned out to be a good decision because we ended up being on the “good” side of the train (the left side) that had the best scenery. The other side mostly faced the mountainside. The ride was about two hours and we just spent the whole time looking at the view outside the window.

We passed the start of the Inca Trail, where people hike for four days to Machu Picchu. While it was something that we thought would have been fun and interesting, we just didn’t have the time because we wanted to see so many other places in Peru.

The bridge that marks the start of the Inca Trail

While we were on the train, they fed us a snack consisting of a small sandwich, some fruit (assorted melon and kumquats), and some cookies. It was pretty tasty, especially since neither of us had a filling breakfast that morning.

Basket of snacks

A tomato, cheese, and basil sandwich

Corn cookies with chocolate chips

While we snacked, we continued to watch the scenery go by. As we got closer to Aguas Calientes, we could feel everyone’s excitement building on the train.

Inca terraces

Inca ruin

Almost there...

We've arrived! Getting off the train at Aguas Calientes station.

We were really eager to just get straight on the bus and head to Machu Picchu but our tour didn’t start for another hour so we first walked the short distance to our hotel and dropped our bags off at the front desk. After freshening up and slathering ourselves with sunscreen and spraying ourselves with bug repellent (the mosquitoes are supposed to be vicious at Machu Picchu), we headed back to the train station to meet up with our group.

Another train arrived shortly afterward and I think it may have been the pricey Hiram Bingham train. There was much fanfare with their arrival, as a marching band started playing music and locals greeted the new arrivals with confetti and little trinkets. We watched in amusement as people got confetti sprinkled directly onto their heads.

Confetti christening

After meeting up with the rest of our tour group for the day, we walked the short distance to the bus station and lined up. The wait wasn’t too bad and soon we were driving out of town and toward the mountains. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself, but as the bus started traversing the narrow switchbacks up the mountain, I started to get really nervous. When we looked out the window, we couldn’t even see the road on the side of the bus, just a long way down. I’m terrified of heights, and I had been worried that I would be too scared to enjoy the ruins at Machu Picchu. I tried to put those thoughts out of my mind and focused on the scenery instead, which was lovely green mountains peaks.

We were getting close to the top of the mountain and after we rounded one of the corners, we saw this:

Our first glimpse of Machu Picchu!

It was pretty far in the distance so it looked tiny but we were super excited to catch our first glimpse. Then Josh informed me that the huge peak right next to it, which was astonishingly tall from our vantage point (and we were already really high up at this point), was Huayna Picchu. Ever since we booked our Peru trip, we had been debating the entire time whether we would climb Huayna Picchu. Josh was all for it but I had mixed emotions because of my fear of heights. I had heard conflicting reports as to how steep and scary the climb was. Some people said it was a breeze, while a few testimonials I had read online called it incredibly dangerous, and that if you slipped you would fall to certain death. Yikes! Not exactly what I wanted to hear, so I told Josh that I would decide when I actually saw it. These first view was not promising.

There was a bit of chaos after we arrived at the entrance to Machu Picchu. Since buses run continuously, there were a lot of people getting dropped off at almost the same time, and we had to find our group. We made a quick pit stop since there are no facilities inside the archaeological site. Then we regrouped and waited in line to go through the ticket booth. Once inside, we walked a short ways and our guide stopped to explain some of the history to us. We were near some Inca structures but were not in sight of the main portion of Machu Picchu, and the whole time he was talking I kept thinking, c’mon already! Lets go!

So close, but some pesky Inca structures are in the way...

Finally, we were allowed to continue, walking down some stairs, around a corner, and then we saw this:

And this:

Basically, there was not a bad view anywhere we looked. Our guide walked us through the upper and lower sections of the site. We saw the temple of the sun and walked through some residential buildings. Most of it has been restored and is pretty immaculate, though that doesn’t take away from the sheer wonder of how the Incas managed to build this massive city on top of a huge mountain. There are lots of stairs involved but Machu Picchu was actually one of the lowest points on our trip at only about 2,500 meters above sea level (compared to Lake Titicaca, which was about 3,800) so we actually felt really good, stamina-wise. We covered a lot of ground and everything was just incredible, from how neat the stones all lined up to the angular trapezoid-shaped doorways and windows. I’m just going to let all the pictures speak for themselves. There are a lot of the iconic postcard view of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, but from several different angles. Besides, we would never get tired of looking at that view.

This is pretty neat... if you click on this picture to see the larger version, look through the window. It lines up perfectly with the guard tower at the top of the ruins. The Incas apparently were really big on windows lining up with things.

See the little houses at the right hand side of the picture? That's by the start of the trail for Huayna Picchu.

At the conclusion of the guided part of our tour, we walked out to get lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge, which was included as part of our package. It was nice to take a break and refuel because we had done a lot of walking, and it was pretty hot being outside the whole time. After lunch we re-entered the site (you need your passport and your ticket to do that) and decided to take the hike to the Sun Gate, which is along the Inca Trail. The people who hike the trail usually time their arrival at the Sun Gate to coincide with the sunrise, and it’s supposed to be pretty spectacular. To get to the gate from Machu Picchu, you climb up several levels of stairs until you’re at the top of the site, then there is a long path carved into the side of a mountain that leads up to the gate.

The trail to the Sun Gate was probably about six feet wide, which is not too narrow, but there were several parts where it was a sheer drop off to one side. I was more terrified than I thought I would be and walked practically clinging to the mountain as we went along. My knees were shaking, which only made things worse because I felt unsteady on my feet. The only thing that kept me going was the view, which was of course spectacular.

Another iconic viewpoint

The trail to the Sun Gate

Looking back at Machu Picchu growing smaller in the distance. From this viewpoint you can see just how much taller and steeper Huayna Picchu is in comparison.

Passing by some Inca ruins along the way

Pretty mountain scenery

The path got more narrow and steep as we got closer to the top - yikes!

The Sun Gate

Terraces at the Sun Gate

We were pretty sweaty and gross by the time we reached the top so we rested for a bit before making our way back. Machu Picchu was small in the distance but still pretty impressive. We also had a good vantage point to see the switchbacks that the buses drive to get to and from Machu Picchu. They looked even more narrow and scarier from up high.

View of the switchbacks (those white lines going back and forth up the mountain)

Unfortunately, we had to go back the same way, which meant I had to walk along the narrow path once again. Surprisingly, it was harder the second time around. I actually had to stop a few times and give myself a quick pep talk to keep going. I think I was just tired at this point, and we were kind of rushing to make sure we didn’t miss the last bus back to Aguas Calientes, so the combination of all the factors made me feel even more nervous and shaky.

Narrow, and steep drop off to one side

We had a little time to spare so we walked up to the guard tower, which gave us yet another nice view of Machu Picchu.

We also ran into a group of llamas on one of the terraces. They basically wander around the ruins as they please.

Josh playing with his wide angle lens again

Afterward, we made our way back to the entrance to wait for the next bus. At this point I resigned myself to the fact that I had to climb Huayna Picchu. I kept staring at that peak all day long and psyching myself into and out of doing it. But I knew deep down that if I didn’t at least try, I would regret it. So we bought bus tickets for the next day, and when we got back to town we headed straight for the building where they sell entrance tickets to Machu Picchu (our tour package didn’t include tickets for the next day). On the bus ride down the mountain, we inhaled the now slightly smashed bananas that I had stashed in my backpack from breakfast (see top of post). I have to say, they were just what we needed.

Back in town we took a quick stroll through the main square in Aguas Calientes. As expected, there was a church.


Main square


Later that night, there was a rally in the square for the upcoming elections. There was a band and lots of balloons, and people were really getting into it.

Unfortunately, the rally lasted well into the night. Our hotel was very close to the square so we heard all the speeches and fireworks that were going off. It was a bit annoying because we had gone to bed right after dinner at the Inka Wasi knowing that we needed to wake before dawn to catch one of the first buses up to Machu Picchu, since only 400 people are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu per day. The rallies I think ended around 2:30 am, and we had to get up at 3:30 am. So that, on top of my anxiety about climbing Huayna Picchu, did not make for a good night’s sleep. Regardless, I was pretty happy with how our day was, and Machu Picchu itself was even more impressive than I thought it would be. Hope you enjoyed all the photos!

We’re Back! And Now We’re Off Again!

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 by virginia

We got back from Peru on Sunday morning and overall it was a really amazing trip. Machu Picchu was absolutely the highlight, and I’m proud to report that Josh and I climbed to the tippy top of Huayna Picchu. That’s the mountain sticking up right behind Machu Picchu in all those postcard shots you see. The mountain looks really huge and daunting, but it actually wasn’t too bad. Steep, yes, but not too many sheer cliff drop-offs along the path.

It did get a bit hairy at the top though, where it was just large flat rocks that sloped downward, and if you slipped off them you definitely had a long way to fall. It was absolutely an exhilarating experience though, and I’d do the climb again in a heartbeat. We took plenty of pics along the trail and at the top, which I’ll have to post.

Sorry for the lack of communication the last week we were away, no internet access. This week has been hectic between work and prior obligations. Tomorrow we’re off again, heading to San Francisco for our friend Alex’s wedding. We’ll be there for the weekend and then we’ll be taking the redeye home on Sunday night, just in time to get to work on Monday. Yikes! I really just need sleep, since we woke up between 4-6 am every day on our vacation. The day we climbed Huayna Picchu I got up at 3:30. Oh well, it was totally worth it!

I promise to start picking up posting regularly again soon. Please stay tuned!