Saturday was Machu Picchu day and after a 5am start with breakfast in Aguas Calientes we were still at the back of the queue for the bus. This is pretty much all that Aguas exists for, letting Machu Picchu bound tourists sleep (briefly), eat (warily) and climb aboard the bus to the site. It’s a shame, because, nestled as it is in between some spectacular mountains, it could be very picturesque.

We arrived at our destination – número uno in the Lonely Planet’s top places to visit in South America – a little wary of what to expect. As usual, any form of transport here is likely to leave you feeling disoriented and queasy, but the long queue for entry at 6am was a worry. As it was, all was well. Climbing up the steps to catch your first glimpse of the ruins shows you just why so many people go through so much to get there. What’s more, most of the people seemed to have vanished.

Mist shrouded the spectacular surrounding mountains, with snow-capped peaks in the not-too-far distance projecting a highly serious quality onto the site. As we wandered down amongst the temples and ruined (albeit rebuilt) houses, the sun began to make its presence felt. It’s no wonder the Inkas considered it so important.

The ruins are evocative and interesting, but as with so many of the Inka sites we’ve visited, the surrounding majesty of the terrain is what makes it really special. So, as we reached the far end of the ruins, impeded little by the few people we encountered, we joined another smaller queue to climb Wayna Piccu, the mountain overlooking and dominating one end of the site.

The signs said you had to be relatively fit and healthy – check. They said it would take an hour – no problem. They said you couldn’t litter the mountain – fair enough.

At first the track was steady in its ascent. A few large uneven steps (untidy Inkas!) brought a shortness of breath, and for the most part we were on our own. Those who we did meet shared a sense of camaraderie with us, as we huffed and puffed our way up to what we assumed would be a fairly easy trek to the top. How wrong could we be?!

The views were spectacular, the drops dizzying, the safety ropes and handrails non-existent.

Eventually, after some scary scrambles up incredibly narrow Inka stairs, we got to the top. From here we were rewarded with superb views of Machu Picchu, and could clearly see the shape of the site as it was intended to be seen from above, the wings of the flying condor straddling the ridge between the mountains.


Also, as someone who’s not keen on heights, I was not too pleased to see that to get back down involved a circumnavigation of the summit of the mountain. I literally clung to rock walls and focussed entirely on my feet, to avoid looking to the side (sometime just inches) and seeing the stomach churning drops that were disturbing all but the most loco of our companions. I didn’t remember these warnings at the entrance!

Luckily, we needed no warnings about claustrophobia, although if we had we would certainly have struggled with the narrow gap to get through to reach the top.

Reaching the top was at the same time spectacular, dizzying and bizarre. While we were gingerly moving towards decent across large stones at precarious angles, the breathtaking views were being taken in, and some very brave people were taking some incredibly foolhardy and daring photos, shot after shot in what seemed to me to be increasingly life-threatening positions.

Descent was harder for those with a weak stomach for these things. Stairs that were even narrower than before had to be taken backwards, palms were  black from clutching stones. I would not have been a good Inka. No way.

For the record, the scared face can be explained further by the fact that we later found out that these are known as ´The Stairs of Death´

The relief on finally getting down prompted a rush of smugness which, combined with the now vast numbers of desperately slow-moving tour groups at the ruins, meant just a quick stop at a few points before getting back to the train by lunchtime. Of course we now knew what makes places like Machu Picchu special – the vistas, the sunshine, and the sheer bloody-mindedness if those people to build in places that scared us half to death…


10 Comments to “You Crazy Inkas – Around Machu Picchu”

  • Brilliant!

    • Saw some amazing cakes today. Thought of you!

  • Looks awesome and terrifying in equal amounts!

    • I reckon you’d like the archeology. Not sure about the crazy steps though! Hope you’re well, mate.

  • AWESOME Helen and Rob!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! what an achievement!!
    great shots too!! I have been following though registration hasnt proven too successful Daniel and Ola did a 6mths round the world trip too and had a blog as well. Are you coming to Oz.???

    • Hey Pauline,

      Yes we are coming to Oz, but sadly not to Perth and only for a couple of weeks. We´re arriving in Sydney in November and heading to Melbourne before leaving for Singapore. Sorry we´ll miss you! Love, Helen and Paul (no sign of any Robs at the moment!) xx

  • Yay! Looks awesome. Particularly like that photo of PB absolutely papping himself!! We just got back from a slightly different wilderness…Leeds Festival xx

    • I wonder which was more scary? Did you get wet? Helen is taking me on a trek to one of the World`s deepest canyons in a couple of days. Cue more terrified photos…

  • Fantastic pics! Loving the blog… N x

  • Amazing! I’ve never seen any pics from huayna picchu (which is how wikipedia / google tells me to spell it), and that looks incredible — and incredibly scary. I continue to be profoundly envious of you two. Thanks for sharing!!