Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu
On Saturday morning we were up bright and early to begin our travels to Aguas Calientes, the base camp of Machu Picchu. After a five-hour journey by bus and train, we woke up nestled in the lush cloud forest and stone cliffs of the upper Amazon basin. Our first order of duty was to explore our local surroundings and visit the famous hot springs. The hot springs, located just down the street from our hotel, are also known as “thermal baths” because they contain thermo-medicinal waters. The water used at these hot springs comes from a natural source of volcanic origin that emerges from underground channels and springs up on rocks at high temperatures. This water is then transported to the small swimming pools at the hot springs. The water in the pools can look slightly yellow, which may scare off some tourists, but it is actually the colour of sulphur and minerals. We were also happy to learn that composition and temperature of the water have many healing properties – including (but not limited to): improved metabolism, the release of toxins, reduction of blood pressure, and increased oxygenation of the skin. After a relaxing afternoon at the hot springs, hopping from one pool to another, we held an early dinner and curfew in preparation for our very early rising on Sunday for Machu Picchu – a long-anticipated highpoint of our trip.
As 5:00 am rolled around, our family was up and ready for breakfast. After fuelling our bodies for our impending hike, we organized our bags, grabbed our rain ponchos and anxiously headed towards the base of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was once an important trade hub for the Incas, and its ornate stonework and more than 200 structures also suggest it was a place of ceremony. In a spectacular location, it’s the most remarkable archaeological site on the continent. This breathtaking ancient city was never revealed to the conquering Spaniards and was virtually forgotten until the early part of the 20th century.
Upon our arrival at the entrance of Machu Picchu we flashed our permits, stamped our passports, and began our 8 km hike up the steep mountainside path. The walk took 1 – 2 hours for all of our staff and students to arrive at the entrance of the ruins. The route was mainly stairs that connected to the roads that the buses took. It was a strenuous and long hike, but in the end, it was well worth it. Upon our arrival at the second entrance, we re-grouped and entered the ruins just in time for our guided tour. We spent four and half-hours exploring and learning about this unbelievable ‘lost city’ and the archeological theories that surround it. A few major areas we explored were: the Sun Gate, Intihuatana and Temple of the Sun. As we made our way through the ruins, we tried our best to soak up all of the knowledge and breath-taking scenery, and truly be present in the moment. As one of the New Seven Wonders of the Modern World, Machu Picchu was a completely cathartic experience and once in a lifetime opportunity.
Around 12:00 pm, we descended Machu Picchu by bus and returned to our hotel to grab our luggage. Shortly after, we hopped back on the train to return to Cusco. After an early morning and huge climb, most of us slept on the journey home. Upon our arrival at the hotel, we were happy to unload, shower and change out of our hiking gear.
After a fast-paced 9 days, the students were able to unwind and dress-up to celebrate our week in Peru. We were treated to dinner at Don Antonio, a wonderful restaurant in the downtown area of Cusco. Although a little tired from a huge day of physical activity, the students were excited to take part in the night’s festivities – dinner, dancing and musical performances. The night began with a delicious meal, followed by an even more delicious dessert. After dinner, a lot of laughs were shared as we recapped the memories, experiences, and fun that we have had over the past week.
From a group of 12 strangers 9 days ago in Toronto, we are now leaving as one group of friends. So many friendships were developed and laughs were shared over the course of the program, that I am sad to think of our parting in Toronto.
It has been my absolute pleasure to work with all the staff and students on this March Break program. I wish everyone the best on their journeys from here, and I hope our paths will one day cross again.
Just a reminder to parents – we are departing Cusco tonight! We have three flights prior to landing in Toronto on Tuesday morning (Cusco > Lima, Lima > New York, New York > Toronto). We will be arriving in Toronto at 11:40 am. See you then!