On Day 4 of the Lares Trek, we left Aguas Calientes at 3 a.m. and headed out on foot to catch Machu Picchu at sunrise.
I’m not going to lie — I was slightly terrified. See, we had to beat the bus that carried hundreds of our fellow hikers. Call it a personal challenge. No pressure.
Finding the Machu Picchu Trailhead
From Aguas Calientes, follow the shuttle bus road that leaves Aguas Calientes towards Machu Picchu. It helps if you bring a flashlight or wear a headlamp.
After approximately 30 minutes, the road takes a sharp left turn over the Vilcanota River, passing over a large metal bridge. (If you arrive too early, as a hundred or so people do, you’ll have to wait for the guards to open the gate. You’ll basically be waiting with all the other crazy people who decided riding the bus was too easy peasy.)
Directly after the bridge, take an immediate right turn down a small lane. The lane leads to the Manuel Chávez Ballón Museum (Machu Picchu Museum). One more minute along the lane, and you’ll pick up the trailhead to hike from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. The trailhead is clearly marked by a large sign.
You climb. For what feels like forever.
I cursed four days of inclines, stone stairways, busloads of tourists, and ancient Incas. What’s wrong with flatland, Incas? Showoffs.
When my legs were about to give out, I thought, Oh my God, there’s no way we’re going to beat the bus. I took several short rests, caught my breath, Oh my God, we have to keep going. We have to try.
We charged up, up, up. Please, I thought, please let us beat the bus.
And then we did it. We beat the bus, arriving at Machu Picchu before sunrise on Saturday, August 20.
Was it worth it? Damn straight.