Getting to the airport in Lima took a lot longer than expected, per usual, so we had to run around the airport to try to find where to check my bag (we had gone all the way up to security) and had to turn around and go back so that I could check my bag at the correct place. I was freaking out because we didn't have much time left to make it to our gate and being in a foreign airport in general is stressful, but thankfully we made it just in time. The flight to Cusco was only an hour and when we arrived, we ordered an Uber to the collectivo location (after being bombarded with taxi drivers)- where we had to go to this other town called Ollantaytambo - before catching our train to Aguas Calientes (town of Machu Picchu). The Uber took forever and the collectivo was packed with locals (thankfully we were in the front and next to the window because it was squeezed). People got off and on as we made our way to each small town. We ended up being the last ones on the collectivo and the driver wanted us to switch to another collectivo which was confusing and annoying at first since we had already paid, but it made sense since he wanted us to downgrade to a smaller van and it worked out fine. Lauren sat in the front and me in the back with all the locals and these cute young boys in their futbol gear. We finally made it to the small town of Ollantaytambo where we sat and ate lunch outside in the square (I ordered a burger and Lauren a chicken sandwich) with ice cream espresso and a purple corn drink - so cool! It was lovely sitting in this quaint square with views of the ruins on the cliffs and indigenous Peruvians out and about. We dropped off our bags at a hostel where they let us keep them in a locked room to go walk to the main ruins, but it was 70 soles to enter so we decided not to go since we only had 30 minutes until we had to get to our train. We went back to get our bags and the hostel tried charging us but I only gave them 3 soles and then we got a taxi to the train terminal 5 minutes away. It was a comfortable set-up waiting room area and I got some beers and water while we were waiting and charging our phones with Wifi. Of course the train was late and herds of people swarming off and on, waiting in line to board, finally 30 minutes after departure time. Moreover, as we boarded, we realized our seats weren't next to each other and ended up switching with a nice guy, but our seats were located in the way back of the train next to the bathrooms. Thankfully we had our beers and no one went to the bathroom really. All we cared about was the view and sitting next to one another.
The train stopped a couple of times, waiting for hikers or something? We didn't really know why it was taking so long and then it started getting dark and we arrived an hour late to Aguas Calientes, tired and annoyed about the whole train situation (we expected better service after spending $100 each on a ticket).
Arriving at 7pm in Aguas Calientes was a scene, we were surrounded by tons of tourists from all over the world, finally making it to our hotel 10 blocks or so away around 7:30pm. Realizing we needed to get the bus tickets to Machu Picchu for the following morning, we went to do that right away since the office closed at 8pm so we were good to go. Then we realized we needed to get the train tickets back to Cusco and the website wasn't working so we went back to the train office to get the tickets and no one was there even though it wasn't supposed to close until 9:30pm. I had tried multiple times to get tickets online and realized after the fact that they charged me 3 times on top of the paper tickets that we finally bought at the office (it kept saying my transaction wasn’t going through when it was). So we had to go back to the office to tell them to cancel the 3 others and then finally went to get dinner. The food was okay, we tried these cheese balls, beef stew, and different desserts. We were exhausted and had to be up by 5am for Machu Picchu so we went back and got organized and finally went to bed around midnight (that was a long day). I was extremely excited in the morning but very tired so I rallied of course, because I was about to experience a 15th-century Inca-built citadel. We quickly ate the free hotel breakfast and scattered to the buses which were already surrounded by lines of people by 5:30am in the pitch cool dark morning. Thankfully we got on one of the initial buses quickly in the back and made it to the top around 6:05am. We followed the crowds to the ruins and made our way up, taking pictures and videos as we took in this once-in-a-life-time experience, one of the seven wonders of the world. It was stunning and breathtaking and hard to put into words (I was in awe), but absolutely perfect with not a lot of tourists around at that time (so we were happy about our early 6am bus ticket decision), and spent about 3 hours inside admiring the historic ruins. There were also llamas walking around to play with and we got our passports stamped and then made our way back to catch the train. Got some ice cream and empanadas and realized we were even more grateful for our choice in timing because of the longer lines of tourists waiting to go up. Definitely recommend the 6am slot! I'll never forget that view.
Back at the hotel, we got our bags out of storage and made our way to the train where we found ourselves in our own booth area with outlets and free snacks. It was the type of train ride we were expecting on the way there but glad we finally got to experience a nice train ride with the views of the many surrounding snow-top mountains and green and yellow valleys of ruins on the sides of the hills with cattle and beautiful creeks as we passed by. I slept a little having been exhausted and not feeling too well. We arrived back at the train station in Ollantaytambo and then took the mini bus to Cusco which worked out great because I slept the whole time and the hotel in Cusco was 5 minutes from where we got dropped off. My first impression of Cusco reminded me a little of Medellin with surrounding mountains and the red brick buildings however much more indigenous. We checked into our hotel located near the main square which was quite retro in a way and took a nap and then headed out to explore and get dinner/drinks. It was a fancy dinner at this place called, Uku - I got steak and Lauren got chicken, we split a bottle of wine and then went to Limbus - this rooftop bar (at the top of Cusco's famous steep narrow streets) with a nice view of the town. It was packed with tourists so we had to mingle our way in and finally got a seat at the bar where we ordered “cocaine cocktails” and were delighted to find ourselves eventually sitting out on the balcony with blankets and an amazing view of Cusco - having a nice girl talk catch up time. We went to bed right away and woke up a little late, having missed breakfast, we went to this bagel cafe where we had a lovely brunch and then walked around the town, shopping and bargaining. Got churros, different fruits in smoothies and then had our last meal at this even fancier restaurant on the main plaza, Limo, where I ordered ramen and Lauren some beef. Lauren had to catch a 7pm flight so we went back to shower and pack, and then she left for the airport. I was extremely tired and sad that she left so I did some yoga and talked to my family and watched a show and went to bed. I woke up right in time for free hotel breakfast and then did computer things/planned my trip the rest of the day before taking the night bus to Arequipa.