For close to 20 years I’ve wanted to go to Machu Picchu. Ever since I first glimpsed a picture of those mysterious ruins atop a mountain shrouded in clouds and magic. It lit my imagination on fire and I would day dream about what it must have been like to live there. I wanted to see it for myself. To hear the birds, feel the rain, smell the surrounding forest. When I saw that first image I was a teen living in Dutch Harbor along the Aleutians islands and exploring the old WWII bunkers was a favorite pastime. Machu Picchu became the ultimate destination to explore and experience and I’ve never let go of that long ago dream. Finally it is coming true and the best part is watching my children getting swept up in the excitement and experience too.
To start with, we woke very early in Cusco and took a taxi to the train station. Our landlord set up our early pickup for us so we didn’t have to find a taxi at 6:30 am.
We had a pleasant wait at the station and ate breakfast and talked to other travelers. The boys have been looking forward to the train ride ever since we left Alaska and they could barely contain their excitement. The ride itself was comfortable and included drinks and a meal. Wren was quite wiggly and a chore to keep occupied but we had our kids travel kit and pulled different items out as we went for distraction. She slept for the last part of the trip and I was glad because it was the most interesting. We got to see the start of the Inca trail( which is what I always thought I would do but elected against it with the kids) and some ruins along the way but best of all was the change in the forest. The closer we got to Machu Picchu the more tropical things grew.
Once we arrived at Aguas Calientes we quickly passed the crowds and navigated our way through the market to the open streets. The village is the most breathtaking town I have ever been to. We were in awe of the sheer size of the crowding mountains and the lush jungle. We quickly made our way to our hostel, dumped our gear and headed out to explore. Walking the road by the river we headed toward the trail head to Machu Picchu. We had paid for bus tickets but were tempted to hike up the trail and went to check it out. It is about a 20 minute walk to the from Aguas Calientes and I read it takes 1 1/2 hours with a gain of 1200 feet to hike from there to Machu Picchu. The trail looked beautiful with its stone stairs and over hanging branches. The family quickly agreed to skip the bus and hike it first thing in the morning and I couldn’t be happier. On the way back to the hostel we stopped at the butterfly house and the boys held caterpillars and jumped around under fluttering wings. So far this place is already a hit.
The next morning we woke early, ate breakfast and set out with a light pack of gear and Wren strapped to my chest.
Sitting at the base of the trail and feeling like a million bucks . The trail quickly slowed us down and made us sweaty but with the excitement of being on such an amazing path it didn’t matter. We took loads of breaks and I doled out cookies each time Rex started to drag his feet a bit then he would bounce back to life. I think I needed the breaks more than they did.
We passed a number of people amazed at seeing kids hiking such a challenging trail but after doing it I think active kids could do this hike just fine. It took us two hours from the village to reach the top. And what a stunning view and feeling of accomplishment! We stopped for lunch and extra drinks before going to the gate and walking onto something I’d been dreaming of seeing for half my life.
It was better than any picture could ever show. And we walked around in awe for quite awhile just taking it all in. We elected to not hire a guide and I’m glad. The crowds being herded around and standing idle in the pathway was not how I wanted to see Machu Picchu. We found a terrace and let Wren down to stretch her legs and everyone chased the giant grasshoppers for a time. Then we headed uphill away from the crowds. The boys were quick to find hidden places and things to catch. They crawled through an aqueduct under the path to a lower terrace and then we found the lizards on the walls. Chasing them took up another 20 minutes while I enjoyed the view.
Typical of kids, after exploring a few hours Rex has to go to the bathroom. We were as far from the entrance as one can get and he had to go bad. I asked a guide if there were any facilities up there and he said no but pointed to the entrance hut to the Huayna Picchu trek and right behind it there were lots of concealing bushes. Well, the guy manning the hut was offended at the idea of Rex using the bushes so we set out on the 20 minute walk for the main entrance. He didn’t make it. We were in a concealed area next to terraces with bushes when he said things were happening. I lowered him into the bushes and he came out a minute later much happier.
I now realize that I should have gone back up the next day because we rushed through quite a bit when we were trying to make it to the bathroom. I could have spent days on Machu Picchu but was still happy with my one afternoon of touching the rocks, smelling the forest and watching my kids bound around corners happily exploring.
When our water ran out we headed for the gate, had another meal and re-hydrated. Then we hiked back down the mountain and stopped plenty to bird spot and rest tired legs. We were dog tired when we got back to our room but a bit euphoric from such an amazing day.
The next morning we ate and headed to the hot springs in town to soak some of our soreness away. There are many different temperatures and depths to the pools making them ideal for a family like mine. Afterwards we had a few hours left in the day to shop at the market, eat lunch and take a few more photos then it was time to board our train back to Cusco.
Not long after our departure, Rex said he was feeling sick and so we headed toward the bathroom. The food cart was blocking the path and despite me having a plastic bag held open in front of him, he tried to hold it in with his hand, causing it to spray on everyone. Then the food cart quickly moved and he puked his way to the bathroom. This is one of those intense things that just happens with kids sometimes. We had to change his clothes and I apologized to all the passengers affected but thankfully they were all very kind and seemed to understand that these things happen. We made it back to Cusco without anything else of note happening and it was nice to relax back at our flat and look at photos from our awesome adventure.