Cusco: Ruins and Rainbows

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The promised land.

Machu Picchu. Pretty sure it is on every traveler’s bucket list. I have dreamt of visiting these ruins since I saw a picture of them when I was a tiny human. When I planned a 14 day trip to Peru for me and 9 of my friends, the main attraction was going to be visiting Machu Picchu. But I also travel on a budget and wanted to see a million other things, so I decided to make Machu Picchu only one highlight of our stay in Peru. And it worked.

Could I have spent more time at Machu Picchu? Duh. But when there are so many other things to see, you gotta make some sacrifices.

But lets start from the beginning. If you have been keeping up to date on my other Peru posts, you’ll know the last thing we did was visit the Floating Islands of Uros on Lake Titicaca. And if you read about the budget and itinerary for the entire trip, you would know that we also stopped at the desert oasis, Huacachina, and the beautiful city of Arequipa.

So now we are at the last stop. Cusco. The place where most travelers visit when they come to Peru. I was actually afraid that I wouldn’t like Cusco because of the amount of tourists that I assumed would be there, but traveling in the off season of May must have been the golden ticket. There was only one time that I was upset at the number of humans around me… but more on that later.

We took our trusty bus system, Cruz Del Sur, from Puno to Cusco and arrived midday at the bus station. Flagging down taxi’s in this area is extremely simple, so we were quickly at our hostel, Inka Wild.

Inka Wild is a party hostel, but was also one of my favorite hostels we stayed at. Between the two dorm rooms we had, it cost about $7.80 USD per person per night. There is a nice bar with food that is inside the hostel (super cheap alcohol), and the night life there is pretty entertaining. Our last night there we were painted in glow paint and had spicy shots fed to us… so you know… if you like that kind of stuff stay there.

But if you like quiet and sleep, maybe don’t.

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I don’t remember this.

Our time in Cusco was going to be a whirlwind. So much to do in such little time.

How we did Machu Picchu

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There are about a thousand people who want to tell you about how they got to Machu Picchu…so if you are looking for a cheap option that saves time, this is your place. If you’re looking for anything else maybe just skip this portion…

Before heading out to Machu Picchu…

You can’t just jump on a scooter and mosey your way up into the cloud forest that contains Machu Picchu. You need train tickets, a Machu Picchu entrance ticket, and possible lodging if you plan on staying a night.

Here is how you SHOULD do it: Book everything in advance online.

Here is how I did it: I booked the Peru Rail train ticket to get to Aguas Calientes in advance to ensure we would be able to catch the first train. The first day we arrived in Cusco I went to the Directorate of Culture and bought the 10 tickets from them. All I had to do was find any local and ask directions to the place where I could buy Machu Picchu tickets and they all seemed to know. Make sure you have EVERYONE’s passport with you when you purchase these tickets. If you don’t they will make you walk ALLLL the way back to your hostel in their high-ass altitude to gather everyone’s passport…. not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. Once I was ensured that we had the Machu Picchu tickets then I went to the Peru Rail office in Cusco (walkable distance from the place where you buy the Machu Picchu tickets) and purchased our return trip train tickets that would drop us off in Ollantaytambo.

Then I texted people back at the hostel and told them all the Machu Picchu tickets were sold out and we couldn’t go and they all stewed and got angry until we returned and said JUST KIDDING.

Why you should probably not do what I did…

Every day only 2500 people are allowed into Machu Picchu. That seems like a lot, but those tickets actually sell out in the high season. We went in May, which is not considered the high season, and I stalked the number of available tickets on this website here… but what I did was still risky. So now you have been warned.

…On with the good stuff….

Machu Picchu!!!

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The mandatory photo that everyone must take.

We took the 6:40 am Peru Rail Expedition 33 train to Aguas Calientes (the village that is the gateway to Machu Picchu). The train ride was extremely scenic, but I suggest bringing a deck of cards or something to preoccupy you because it is a looong train ride.

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My alpaca taking up a seat on the train.

*Also, they don’t allow big luggage on the train unless you want to pay a pretty penny, so just pack a day bag for this. We still kept our rooms at Inka Wild even though we were planning on staying one night in Aguas Calientes, so our main luggage was still in our rooms back at the party hostel in Cusco.

We arrived in Aguas Calientes around 10 am, and headed to our hostel, Hostal Pakarina. Super cute hostel, but it was the most expensive hostel of the entire trip at a whopping $16/person.

After unloading our stuff, we wandered down towards the bus station and bought tickets for the Machu Picchu bus. Aguas Calientes is very small, so it is possible to walk literally everywhere. Within about 20 minutes we were on a bus to Machu Picchu.

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I always feared that Machu Picchu was perhaps overrated and that its popularity would have ruined it for me (like when everyone is talking about a certain movie that you want to see before you see it and they ruin all the good scenes for you)… but I can tell you that Machu Picchu is worth all the hype. Maybe if I went during the high season I would think differently, but our day was perfect. There weren’t many people, we watched a llama that was JUST born take its first steps, I got to wander off alone and spend quiet time watching hummingbirds… literally you could not ask for a better experience. I kept looking at the ruins thinking “dear goodness, I am actually HERE”. It was amazing.

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It was just born!!
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Look at that placenta steaming in the background
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This is the quiet place I disappeared to while I was staring at hummingbirds.

*Please note that there are new regulations for the ruins, and I don’t think people are allowed to wander the ruins on their own anymore. This at first made me sad, but then I realized there are probably a lot of dumb people who ruin things and these regulations will stop these people from doing that.

After exploring for a while we headed back to Aguas Calientes on the bus.

Again, one full day might not be enough time at Machu Picchu for some people, but it was amazing for me.

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The adorable village of Aquas Calientes

We did a lot of shopping in the market area of Aguas Calientes. I think I blacked out and bought everything with an alpaca on it and then cried because I didn’t know how I ended up with so much stuff. The next day we left for Ollantaytambo on the Peru Rail train, and caught a colectivo to Cusco (a big van that transports multiple people for a very cheap price… they attack you at the bus station so they won’t be hard to find).

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When I blacked out and ended up with a million alpaca in hats.

We got back to our party hostel, and I talked to them about booking a hiking trip to Rainbow Mountain for the next day. The internet will give you an impression that Rainbow Mountain is some unheard of magical destination that only the most mystical of people can find… but thats not true. On every corner of Cusco you can book a day trip to get to the mountain.

So the next morning we waited in the foyer of our hostel at 2:30 am and were picked up by a bus and were driven 3.5 hours away to a tiny village where we ate bread and peed in holes in the ground. We rented hiking poles and started on our uphill journey to get to Rainbow Mountain. Its just a measly 3-4 hour hike to get to the top which sounds like NO PROBLEM…right??

Well the STARTING altitude is around 14,000 feet and the highest altitude is 17,000 feet.

So there is a lovely group of horses that can help you to the top. You pay for them near the beginning of the hike but be warned, you still need to do the hardest parts on your own because they kick you off the ponies for the climbing parts.

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Don’t worry, there is more than one horse waiting to take your butt up the mountain.

In any case, this was one of the things I was most excited for but the massive amount of people that were there kind of ruined it for me. We also were rushed by our group leader to get to the top and get back down so it was hard for me to enjoy it.

So you are probably scrolling through Instagram and seeing all these awesome photos of a lone person gazing upon the beauty that is Rainbow Mountain… but I’m sure they spent a lot of time photoshopping the one million humans crawling along behind them.

HOWEVER… I still got to see these awesome mountains and thats all that matters.

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Humans. Ick.
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That scenery though.

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No one needed a horse back down, and we got to the bus and headed back to Cusco.

Then the next day we flew out of Cusco to Lima. And then flew out of Lima to come home.

And that is the conclusion to our whirlwind 14 days in Peru.

Make sure you remember to check out the other posts, you can all of the links  through out the budget and itinerary post.

As always, thanks for reading. I will be traveling for the majority of September, so stay tuned for some new fun 🙂

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This dog was very fashionable. You’ll see a lot of these fashion dogs throughout Cusco.

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