Peru: Machu Picchu *Our 4-day Journey*


Often referred to as the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu is the most iconic image of the Inca Empire. Located in the Sacred Valley only 45 miles away from Cusco, there are several ways to get to and from Machu Picchu. Most people take the train because it’s the easiest option. There are also people who go with a tour company and embark on a multi-day hike through the valley to get there. Neither of these options really suited us and I was convinced we could come up with a better route. We had some major planning to do!

I was determined to make our journey both special and exciting, so we spent a lot of time over the course of many days in Cusco talking to travelers and agencies prior to making arrangements. After all, it’s not every day that one gets to visit such an incredible place!

The plan I concocted was multi-modal: we took taxis, a bus, several minivans, a tuk-tuk and a train. Plus we walked six miles and climbed 2,000 stairs made by the Incas. In order for everything to fall into place we needed good timing and a little bit of luck.

Our 4-Day Journey to Machu Picchu 

On Wednesday morning we grabbed a taxi from our hostel to the bus station. We took a local minivan two hours into the Sacred Valley to a junction in the road. From there Harry bargained with a taxi driver to take us to see Moray and Salinas, two more archaeological sites in the valley.

It was a beautiful sunny day. Here you can see a red field of quinoa growing in the foothills of the Andes.


Moray: Farming Terraces 

Our first stop was to see the amphitheater-like terracing of Moray. The Incas used the terraces for farming with each layer having its own micro-climate. Some say that this location was a laboratory for crops including potatoes. This successful experimentation is part of the reason there are more than 3,000 varieties of potatoes native to Peru. Note: I’m pretty sure this is the first, and only, selfie that Harry’s ever taken of us.


Salinas: Salt Factory 

We approached Salinas from a high mountain road, driving down to the salt factory located at a mere 11,000 feet. Nestled into the mountains, the salt pans are fed by a hyper-saline hot spring and curated by locals. The end products are cattle licks and the ever-popular Peruvian pink salt. This was a spectacular place to visit! And I’m not just saying that because I love salt.

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After we visited Moray and Salinas our taxi driver dropped us back onto the main road. We flagged down a local bus to Urubamba, where we switched into another minivan heading to Ollantaytambo (Ollanta). We arrived in Ollanta in the middle of the afternoon with enough sunlight left to hike up and explore the major ruins above the town. We experienced our first tuk-tuk ride in Ollanta and ate a delicious lunch in the square. We fell in love with this cute little place and were happy to spend the night.


In the morning we boarded another minivan for a five-hour ride through the mountains down to Hydroelectrica. The road was incredibly steep and windy, with hairpin turns about every 30 seconds. Within a half-hour many of us were feeling ill because the driver was crazy, taking the tight turns a million miles per hour as though he were racing Daytona. I took a Dramamine and prayed I wouldn’t get sick. Three other girls weren’t so lucky and one actually threw up four times (with her head hanging out the window). Although everyone was yelling at the driver to slow down he carried on like the lunatic he was. The final hour was off-road which added relentless bumps to go along with the curves. It was the worst five hours of my life and I swore to Harry I would never do it again. Luckily the scenery was phenomenal. But still.


Everyone was so happy to finally get out of that minivan! The best part of the day was about to begin and we couldn’t wait to get moving. Next up: hiking six miles to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. We hiked with Cole, who was from California, and a young Peruvian couple. The trail followed along the train tracks, next to a river, in the humid rainforest. It was a fantastic day to hike!


We spent the night in Aguas Calientes and woke up at 4:00 AM. A half hour later we were walking in the dark of night along a gravel road. Using only the light of our headlamps to guide us, we could barely see three feet in front of us. Our senses were alive and we could hear the river, jungle insects and birds and the quiet steps of other people walking around us. The air was already warm and humid. We arrived at the bridge and stood in line with approximately 300 other walkers, waiting for the gate to open.

5:00 AM quickly arrived and we walked across the bridge, still in total darkness, excited to start walking up the Inca stairs to Machu Picchu.


Immediately we began walking up the old Incan staircase. Up and up we climbed the seemingly endless stairs.The steps were awkward because they weren’t a uniform height and depth so we really had to concentrate. Harry found energy and pushed on ahead of me. Soon the crowd thinned out and I found myself walking alone in the dark, again using my headlamp to guide my steps. I loved the peace and quiet and enjoyed the solitude.

2,000 steps (woohoo!) and 50 minutes later I arrived at the top, red-faced, sweaty and really happy! Harry finished 10 minutes before I did so he was already relaxing by the time we reconnected. He’s amazing, don’t you think?


While we waited for Machu Picchu to open at 6:00 AM we watched the big buses pull up loaded with lots of non-sweaty tourists. We were really happy that we’d made the effort to walk up to the top, even though my quads wouldn’t stop shaking.

Surrounded by fog, we entered the gates and walked up (more stairs!) to the Gatekeeper’s Hut. We could tell the sun was rising in the sky yet the pea soup was still too thick to see through. While we stood listening to our guide a magical thing happened! The fog began to dance around the mountains and we were able to peek at the view in front of us. It was truly a special moment.

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We stayed at Machu Picchu all day. At times we walked around and at other times we just sat and enjoyed the magnificent scenery around us. I loved all the llamas that roamed around like they owned the place.

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We left Machu Picchu knowing that we were saying good-bye to a very special place. We had a wonderfully perfect day and as we took the bus back down to Aguas Calientes we sat in silence, reflecting. And then I’m pretty sure I fell asleep.

Return Trip Back to Cusco 

Remember that horrible five-hour bus ride down to Hydroelectrica that I vowed never to take again? True to my word, I made Harry throw away our return tickets via minivan (which he happily did) and we bought train tickets.

The next day we took the two hour train ride through the beautiful canyon back to Ollantaytambo, our favorite little town in Peru. Our legs were happy for the rest and it was fun to look out the windows and see where we had hiked two days prior.

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Ollantaytambo Earth Day

We only had a few hours back in Ollan, just long enough to eat a delicious lunch and to enjoy the Earth Day celebration in the square. The local schools had a parade and all the kids were dressed up in clothing made from recycled materials. I just couldn’t get enough!

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We caught one final minivan back to Cusco and three hours later we were back in our hostel. We had an incredible 4-day adventure and while it certainly was a lot of effort to coordinate, we were glad we did it our way. Gracias, Machu Picchu!

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Peru: Cusco + the Sacred Valley

We were smitten with Lake Titicaca. The Bolivian side and the Peruvian side were both beautiful and special in their own ways and we enjoyed spending a whole week on the lake. Now we were ready to move on to visit Cusco, the super-touristy, high-elevation, always-up-for-a-parade city that we’d heard so much about.

The bus from Puno to Cusco was seven hours. The bus was new and clean, and our seats were big and comfortable. We could hardly believe our luck! Except for one thing: our seats were in the very back row. Despite my “queeze-free wristbands” I only lasted a half hour or so and then moved to a seat closer to the front so I wouldn’t get carsick. Harry, on the other hand, clearly enjoyed his seat and stayed put.



Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire, is the most visited city in Peru. The main reason people visit Cusco is to access the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. While most visitors only stay a few days, we stayed a total of 10 days because it was a really comfortable place to be. There were a lot of great food options, many wonderful places to explore and important Inca culture and history to learn about.

Our main goal while we were in Cusco was to plan our trip to Machu Picchu. Many people book their trip online months in advance, but we purposely waited until we got to Cusco before we made any decisions. We ended up spending a lot of time over the span of many days talking with different people and agencies to determine what our trip would look like. Machu Picchu is supposed to be such a special place that I really wanted our journey there to be perfect.

Located in the mountains at 11,200 feet, Cusco has the reputation for causing altitude sickness in many travelers. Luckily for us all our time spent in the mountains of Bolivia paid off because we were well acclimatized. The nights were cold due to the high elevation but the days were warm and sunny.

We enjoyed walking around the narrow cobblestone streets and getting lost in the myriad of alleyways. There were numerous parades and protests to observe and interesting Spanish architecture to take in. The main square was a beautiful place to pass the time.

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Sacred Valley

Located in the Andes mountains, the Sacred Valley essentially encompasses the heartland of the Inca Empire. The valley generally includes everything between Cusco and Machu Picchu and contains numerous archaeological sites and villages. We really wanted to connect with the history of the land before visiting Machu Picchu so we spent some time exploring the beautiful valley.



Pisac is well known for its large, colorful market in addition to the massive ruins above town. With our Polish friend Aga, we visited Pisac via a local bus and spent the afternoon walking around the ruins. The drive through the mountains was beautiful and the town was quaint and lovely.

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Located in the hills above Cusco, this former Incan citadel is now essentially a huge park spread out over an impressive amount of land. We walked up to the ruins on a Sunday afternoon and were pleased to see so many locals enjoying the space. There were family picnics and soccer games happening all around.

Would you look at those Incan bricks?! Even the non-engineers among us can appreciate the skill and precision with which they built structures.

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Cusco turned out to be a place where we reunited with some of our traveling friends, including Lilia (Canadian) and Aga (Polish). We spent some quality time with both of them and enjoyed their company immensely. Lilia taught us a new word for our woolly hats — toques — so now I can say that I speak English, Spanish and Canadian. We also met some local middle school boys in the main square who were eager to practice their English with us. It turns out that they were more than happy to pose for a picture as well.

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Next up: Machu Picchu

Visiting Machu Picchu has been on the top of our “must do in South America” list and we were more than eager to experience this famous place. Stay tuned to find out how we ended up getting there and back… there was quite possibly a tuk-tuk involved.