I’ve worked on cruise ships for 13 years, and have always assisted the shore excursions department when they need an extra person for dispatching tours, preparing brochures for the next cruise, and escorting tours assisting the busy guides in return for getting to go on the tour. Last month (September 2018) this helping paid off when I was able to be the tour escort on a three-day overland trip to Machu Picchu in Peru.
This dream trip meant spending three days off the ship travelling overland from Lima to Cusco to Machu Picchu itself. The first day we left the ship in Callao (the port for Lima), to fly from the capital to historic Cusco where we’d stay. After a short tour of the city’s highlights by van, we checked in to the hotel. I strolled around admiring the beautiful central square the Plaza des Armas, and browsed the shops before a delicious local dinner with folkloric music show.
Day two was the main event – Machu Picchu. It was incredible. The 4.30am start and five hours by van, train, and bus to get to its entrance was nothing. Being in the perfectly designed utopia built by wisdom ahead of its time was stirring. I could feel its energy. The local guides regaled us with compelling accounts of the city’s past for two and a half hours before we sadly had to leave. Lunch followed by shopping in the market in the town of Machu Picchu was next, before the long trip back to pass out in the hotel by 9pm.
The third day we headed back to the ship by flying back from Cusco after I’d got some local foodie souvenirs by the airport, then a long drive from Lima to the ship which was in San Martin, stopping for lunch on the way.
Cusco was beguiling – its 16th century Spanish colonial style buildings constructed atop Inca foundations and narrow ancient streets charmed me more than I expected, and the city is certainly worth a week’s trip alone.
However, the moment that sticks in my mind the most is actually laying eyes on Machu Picchu for the first time. I’d read about the place since childhood and its on everyone’s bucket list, so the anticipation was high.
After entering the archeological site, you walk along a cliff side path which hugs the mountain side curving to the left until you see stone buildings which were once grain houses at the east side of the city that was built in the 1430s. Then the guide leads visitors through the narrow alleyway between. As I was admiring the quality of the stonemasonry, the tight passageway ended, and opened up.
It stood before me. I felt like Hiram Bingham“discovering” it again, gazing mesmerized at the iconic vista I’d seen on so many documentaries and photographs in books and National Geographic issues. I was really there.
It was beautiful. Spread before me was the majority of the great city with the giant peak of Huayna Picchu looming above it just beyond. I was in the old storage area and could see the remnants of the houses, the sacred worship spots, and just about make out the silhouette of the temple of the Condor.
Standing sentry was Machu Picchu’s apparent big brother, Huayna Picchu. Bread loaf shaped like Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio, it seemed to be keeping an eye on everything from just beyond. I noticed the 2,000ft drop down the mountain to the right seeing the valley with the modern town of Machu Picchu look like tiny flecks of sand in the distance, and it was glorious.
I felt the prick of tears sting my eyes. They started leaking out with the undiluted joy of actually being there.
I was in Machu Picchu.
Karen Worrall is a travel blogger and freelance writer. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, she has lived in six countries and sailed the seven seas entertaining on cruise ships for 13 years. She writes for publications such as National Geographic Traveller (UK), Postcards and ASTA Worldwide Destinations Guide.
Read more about Karen’s adventures on this trip to Machu Picchu in these pieces:
Machu Picchu overland cruise ship tour itinerary info and tips: For full details on the whole trip, read my Machu Picchu overland cruise ship tour itinerary info and tips here: https://cruiseshipkaren.com/machu-picchu-tour-itinerary/
Don’t be coy, try a cuy – Eating guinea pig in Peru: Here’s my full story about my experiences eating guinea pig here: https://cruiseshipkaren.com/dont-be-coy-try-a-cuy/
Cusco Suenos: I was staying in a very pretty Spanish colonial style hotel in the historic quarter of Cusco. During this three-day trip from a cruise ship to Machu Picchu, I had a very vivid dream that turns out, might not have been a dream at all. Read it here: https://cruiseshipkaren.com/cusco-suenos/
Machu Picchu – What to pack for a three-day overland trip with a cruise ship? Packing for a trip to Machu Picchu can be very tricky with changing temperatures and trying to travel light. Here I outline what you really need, including a printable PDF checklist: https://cruiseshipkaren.com/what-to-pack-for-machu-picchu/
21 Tips to avoid altitude sickness in Machu Picchu and Cusco: Cusco is over 11,000ft above sea level, and altitude sickness is a real concern. Here’s 21 ways to avoid it. https://cruiseshipkaren.com/21-tips-to-avoid-altitude-sickness-in-machu-picchu-and-cusco/