Do not visit Machu Picchu if you are not going to be there during the sunrise, it is one of the most amazing and memorable experiences of life!
We started early from Poroy train station, which was about 30 mins from Cusco town, and reached Aquas Calientes station in the middle of the day, the journey was about 3 hours and extremely picturesque with the train equipped with vista glass domes. Aquas Calientes is the base for onward journey into Machu Picchu, a touristy town and a great place to hire a local guide. People also either fly into Aquas Calientes, take a 2 hour train ride from the Sacred Valley (Ollantaytambo, about hour and a half from Cusco by road) or do the 5 day Inca Trail by walking.
Negotiating out of the Aquas Calientes train station was an immediate indication of how popular the place was, our hotel was a walking distance from the train station and walked on narrow cobblestone steep lanes, carrying our luggage amid thinning supply of oxygen due to altitude – Coca tea helped a bit at the hotel registration.
We immediately started working on hiring an authorized private guide for our visit to Machu Picchu the next morning – he came over in the evening and explained us the logistics as well as expectations. Make sure to purchase your Machu Picchu entrance tickets way in advance, as number of visitors are limited and during peak season there is always a rush.
We left our hotel at 4AM in the morning in pitch-dark and reached the bus station with about 15 mins of brisk walk, it was cold, the line at the bus-stand was long but bus services were constant. The bus ride took 30 minutes and we entered the gates of Machu Picchu Citadel – The Sun Temple of the Incas – the Kingdom of Huascar and Atahuallpa, the conquest of Francisco Pizzaro and the discovery by Hiram Bingham.
It was still dark or almost predawn when we reached the gates, there was a slight halo behind the eastern peaks of Andes indicating a sunrise any moment. Our guide took us to a high vantage point immediately, high upon a nearby outcrop to witness the stone terraces of the Temple no sooner the first rays of the sun falls over; when it rises from behind the eastern Andes. The visual, the experience was amazing – slowly as the sun was rising, it was illuminating steps of the Sun Temple, one step at a time. Soon we saw llamas out grazing and it started getting crowded with visitors all over the terrace slopes, but nothing like the first few rays of the sun slowly illuminating one step at a time.
We spent the rest of the morning listening to our guide as he passionately conveyed the history and the making of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, the mirror rooms, etc. and it’s significance to Inca Empire. As the warmth started settling in, layers of clothing started coming out. The surrounding area is also great for hummingbirds and they are all over.
During mid-day we left the Citadel, got our passports stamped with Machu Picchu stamp at the counter and finished with a nice lunch at the cafeteria by the entrance (very expensive!). Once again, we were glad we witnessed the sunrise fall over the temple terrace slopes and wondered how it must have been during the pre-columbian Inca prime times.