The hike to Machu Picchu Mountain



Hiking to Machu Picchu Mountain
Tips for visiting
  1. Purchase your entrance tickets at least a month in advance, 3 months if you want to hike Huayna Picchu during the high season. You can purchase them here for the best rate. (use Google translate if needed)
  2. Purchase your entrance tickets for a 6AM start so you can be among the first into the site.
  3. Purchase your BUS tickets for the ride up the night before your visit so that you can get in line at 4:30 AM the day of and be ready to go.
  4. Don’t hike up (unless you really want to) It is a very steep trail with BIG steps up and traverses the same path the bus takes (so you don’t get any different perspective) Even the most fit people in our group got to the top very out of breath and sweating. 
  5. DO get a mountain hike ticket! This ticket gets you 1 re-entrance (the normal MP ticket only gets you 1 so if you get hungry or need to pee… you’re outta luck) 
  6. Dress in layers. It is COLD in the morning but gets very hot during the day. Dress accountably. 
  7. Pack a snack. As previously stated, there’s no re-entry unless you have a mountain ticket.

Our Experience
We were up at 4 and heading out of our hostel with our guide and group by 4:30 to the bus stop. We got bagged lunches/breakfast from the tour company as our last remaining meal provided by them. By the time we got there (about 4:40) the line was already forming and we were maybe 1-2 bus loads from the front of the line… By 5 AM I’d say the end was 10 bus loads back. 
We were stationed right outside some convenience shops which did open their doors early for the queue of people. We sat on the curb in our line spot, some of  us cracking into our bag of snacks for some breakfast. Around 5:30 the bus officials came by to inspect both our bus tickets and entrance tickets against our passport. (Make sure you book your tickets under the same name) and by 5:40 the buses were rolling up to start moving people up the mountain. 
There were at least 10 buses in droves and we were quickly shepherded onto the bus with our group. The ride lasted about 20 minutes and the first half was pretty dark, but twilight illuminated the views for the 2nd half. At the top we got in line to wait the 5 minutes or so we still had before they opened the gates, and our fellows who hiked up met us in front of the line. 
We shuffled in showing our tickets a second time and were among the first people into the site so we immediately headed up to the terraces to get the best view. We took a couple shots of the group in a couple good locations before settling at the top of the terraces with our guide to learn some history. 
Most of what we were told were things we actually learned from either the Sacred Valley tour or the day before at Llactapata and it lasted about an hour. I wish we had walked among the ruins for our tour but that is a 1 way journey… so unless you have a re-entry ticket, you don’t want to walk around down there until you are ready to leave. 
Crowds moving in to watch the sunrise 

It WAS one beautiful sunrise- definitely worth the early morning

2 people walking amongst the ruins by themselves- looked so peaceful! In an ideal world, you go without a guide and 2 days so you have a morning to meander and a morning to climb a mountain! 
Around 7 we said goodbye to our guide and snapped a few more photos of llamas enjoying all the vantage points we could of the terraces before heading up for our hike to Machu Picchu Mountain.
So many llamas

Machu Picchu Mountain
This hike, wow, it was challenging. I’d say it probably is less so when it isn’t on the heels of a 4 day trek, but it is steep and long for sure. About double the height of Huayna Picchu, this trail takes around 1.5-2 hours to climb at a moderate pace. Expect it will take 3 hours round trip. We checked in at the gate to the start of the trail, showing our tickets once again and signing a registrar. As this trail was really more stairs than anything else, we decided to hike at our own pace and do our own thing for it. (my hiking partner got up to the top in probably an hour or so while it took me 1.5)
I’d say I’ve never seen so many stairs in my life (but that would be a lie after hiking around Mt. Huangshan in China) 
How the majority of the climb looks 
There are pretty spectacular views as you go. Pictured above is the ridge we climbed over the day before with Llactapata hidden in the clouds and the Llatapata resort seen in that cleared space just below the middle of the picture. 
The best part is every couple of flights you get another astounding view down on Machu Picchu. Once you get close to the summit, it takes you around the back which doesn’t mean less stairs, but it does give you a bit of a break on steepness, and makes cresting out on top that much more spectacular
First view of the summit from the stairs
Looking down on the river bend we walked the day before
Awesome views of Machu Picchi and Huayna Picchu
A brief respite from stairs as the Inca trail wrapped around the backside 
Above the ridge line from the previous days climb but still a little ways to go
The trail has frequent drop offs… Keep that in mind if planning to do this hike 
Finally on top! 
On top the view not only down onto Machu Picchu is amazing, but you are, in general, above the clouds and at the top of the world. Across nearby ridges you can see the top of Salkantay Mountain poking it’s head up (amazing to think we started our trek on the far side of that mountain) and the ridge we summited to visit Llactapata. The entire bend of the river is laid out and it is so much easier to see just how nestled among mountains the Incas built their temple. It certainly provides a post card view from the top. 
There’s a lovely little hut for getting out of the shade, and summit sign to pose with. I spent about 20 minutes trying to de-sweatify, taking in the views, and sharing the largest avocado I’ve ever seen with generous fellow hikers. After about 20 minutes, Shaenah and I headed down hoping to have plenty of time to check out other parts of the site. It only took about an hour to get down (making it well and truly 3 hours RT for me haha I am perfectly average on the hiking scale! Woohoo!) 
The top of Salkantay Mountain! We started our trek on the far side of that mountain! 

The trail down with steep drop offs 
Once we got down however, we were shocked by the loads of people meandering around. We took a break at the base of the hike to admire some llamas and soak up some sun but eventually it grew agitating even on the further part of the terraces being surrounded by people. We decided to head out through the ruins where you guessed it, even more people milled about! There were loads of guides with 15+ people groups randomly stopping to point things out in narrow corridors. It. Was. Stressful. And in the even we mostly just wanted to get out of there instead of being able to enjoy the peace and tranquility or what should be exploring stunning architecture and ruins. 
In a perfect world, I’d take 2 days to see MP- 1 day to get up early and get there first things so I can then explore the ruins on my own at 6:30 AM (most people don’t head down there as it is 1 way to the exit) maybe even climb Huayna Picchu since you get to walk through the ruins on the way to that mountain. And then I’d plan a second day to climb MP mountain. 
I have heard that if you don’t need to catch a train that day, the place empties out a lot an hour or 2 before close so you maybe able to have some peace then. 
So many people
It was cool to explore the ruins themselves, would’ve been cool to have a personal guide walking around pointing out specific structural intricacies that we may not have learned on previous tours. 

Magic floating building. The Incas were magicians. 
  My last glimpse of the mountain as we exited the site. 
The exit was definitely a la Disneyland. There was a long line for the bus (took about 30 minutes) it was hot, and people routinely tried to cut in line. Again you had to have your ticket and passport out for inspection before getting on as well.
The bus ride itself was much more scenic this time since it wasn’t as dark and Aguas Calientes was a fun town to explore in the afternoon. 
Grilled Alpaca, quinoa, and my signature banana milk shake
We found a place for lunch where we sat outside on the sidewalk and watched a train or 2 go right through the city. Inside there was fun music we could hear and outside, even more street performers. (though the restaurant players tried to make us tip them even though we couldn’t hear them that well? So keep in mind if you choose a restaurant with live music, they are pretty insistent about being tipped) 
After lunch we wandered through some shops picking up a few more souvenirs and ended up with some gelato that we ate in the city square. We were both dying for a nap but after spreading out on some park benches for 15 minutes, we were asked to sit up by some of the city police. Eventually our time was running out and we had to head to the train station (which was PACKED) We sat there and had some free wifi (included in our fancy train ticket) which was nice. 
Then it was All aboard fancy pants train express. We all boarded with multiple other teams from Salkantay trekking that we recognized. A lot of people planned on napping and since there was a table you could put your head on, I swapped to get a window seat so I could see out! 
The fare included a pretty yummy lemon cake and a beverage of our choice. Then just as everyone was getting in the nap zone, our train turned into party city. It was actually hilarious and so unexpected. We learned a little bit about the culture and had a representative dance around our rail car. Then they put on a bit of a fashion show for different pieces (that unsurprisingly you could purchase later on) The women’s pieces all transformed into 2 looks one way or another however so she got a lot of cheers
Spectacular scenery on the train ride to Ollayantambo

Beyond the show however, the scenery was well and truly spectacular. I’ve never enjoyed a more scenic train ride. After all the fun, we had maybe 1 hour left in our train journey before getting out in Ollayantambo where we then caught another ride (2 hours) into downtown Cusco. We were dropped off at the Salkantay Trekking office to retrieve our luggage and then catch another taxi to our hotel by the airport. 
Apart from the taxi driver not knowing totally where he was going, we got the hotel and settled in around 9:30. Nothing spectacular with this hotel- I took a quick cold rinse (the hot water just took FOREVER to heat up) and hit the sack. It was one long day starting so early and ending so late. Definitely awesome checking off a bucket list item- I hope some of the tips offered here and our lesson learning in regards to crowds and time help you enjoy your experience there as well.
What an incredible trekking experience and awesome finale! I will do a summary post on all 5 days of our trek soon but for now, I hope the Salkantay Trek has earned it’s spot on every reader’s bucket list. 
Machu Picchu Day Costs:

Breakfast: Included in Salkantay Trek Tour
Return bus ticket from Agua Calientes to MP: $25
Machu Picchu entrance + MP mountain $40
Guide in MP (included in Salkantay Trek tour which was $405)
Lunch in Agua Calientes at Munaycha $17
Gelato in town: $3.75
Snacks and water purchased from shops: $13.50
Taxi to hotel from tour office in Cusco $13- $3.25 pp
Hotel near Cusco airport (with included airport shuttle): $57- 14.25pp

Total Costs for day at Machu Picchu: $116.75

Salkantay Trek Day 4- Llactapata


Salkantay Trek Day 4 – Llactapata 

Day 4 was our earliest start on the trail, with a wake up of 4:30 aiming to leave 30 minutes earlier. While we had electricity in camp the night before, the power was out for the area in the morning so it was DARK indeed. We ate breakfast using the collection of headlamps our group had ( I can’t imagine how they cooked stuff for us) and packed our stuff up as normal. This was our last morning with our chefs who we tipped and said goodbye to before hitting the trail at 5:30. The first few hours of the trail were steady uphill and we raced to be done with the uphill before the sun heated everything up. Watching sunrise over the valley was STUNNING and overhead flew parrots squawking and making a ruckus.

Epic views on the hike uphill to the ridge 

The trail this day was 100% Inca made and required permits to enter which our guide supplied at the start booth. After about 1.5 hours of steady sweating, we took a break at the only stand on that side of the ridge where people got fresh squeeze OJ for a dollar and others used the open air toilets (they were pink!) on the back side with the incredible valley view below. There was a cute puppy wandering around we all shared snacks with before pressing on for another 45 minutes or so to the summit of the ridge. Here there was another stand (closed) and we waited for everyone to regroup. Then it was about 20 minutes downhill to the Inca site Llactapata.


View from our break spot- Almost to the top of the ridge! 
Adorable dog at our break spot
Even though we were sweaty and most definitely tired of going uphill, some parts of this trail were just complete magic. 
Llactapata 
The name of this site means elevated place or at the top of  and has a direct view across to Machu Picchu (albeit a little higher up) and had an ornamental fountain and gate that framed Machu Picchu perfectly. A lot of the site was still overgrown meaning what we saw was only the tip of the iceberg here but wow, the view across to Machu Picchu as well as being able to look to the side and see Salkantay mountain was mind blowing. We’d come so far and were within sight of our final destination! We took another break here, eating snacks and snapping photos while Carlos explained more about the site and its connection to Machu Picchu. He explained it was used as a preparation place for the wealthier/ more important Inca families as they traveled to Machu Picchu. (so we were basically on the noble’s path) The site was initially reported by Hiram Bingham in 1912 (same explorer who discovered Machu Picchu) but wasn’t actually extensively explored and mapped until 2003.
The main buildings that are uncovered at the site 
Can you spot Machu Picchu’s terraces?
The central gate 

I loved exploring this site 
After a brief rest here, we pressed on another 30 minutes or so down steep, muddy switchbacks to another rest stop called Llactapata Lodge (you could actually spend the night here) where more toilets and snacks were available. At this point a few members in our group were struggling with the downhill (knee pain) so our numbers were spread thin as everyone moved at their own pace. We didn’t stop again for another few hours until reaching a small shack where we stopped to wait for Carlos to catch up at least and guide us on. He walked us 15 minutes further to our lunch stop at Aobamaba while he ran back up to assist the last people in our group. Lunch here was at a family owned restaurant right overhanging the river. We had a type of yellow curry over rice that was delicious and were able to rest a while and digest while waiting for the last of our members (who caught up to us) to finish their meal. We were finally about done with the uphill/downhill game but we still had a LOT of walking ahead of us.
View from Llactapata Lodge 
Continuing down the trail, we caught site of a beautiful waterfall just in front of the Machu Picchu site. So beautiful! 
After the restaurant we came to the long, and a bit scary suspension bridge that spit us out just below a waterfall running down from Machu Picchu. After the waterfall we reached the small town of Hydro Electric where you have the option (for $30) of riding the train the rest of the way into Aguas Calientes. A couple of people opted for this option to save their feet and knees but the majority of pressed on for the final 3 hours walk to our lodging for the day. The trail cut across 2 of the switchbacks the train takes through massive banana trees before then just following the train tracks the rest of the way.
Passing along the bottom of the same waterfall we’d seen in the distance. It was HUGE. 
Almost to Hydro Electric 
At hydro electric looking straight up the base of Machu Picchu Mountain. That line cutting across the center is actually where the Inca Bridge is (you can hike to it from Machu Picchu as part of your ticket)
It was a BEAUTIFUL walk with the river on one side, and often little streams or falls flowing in from the other side of the tracks. In a couple places you were forced to walk ON the tracks as there wasn’t a separate bridge for pedestrians. The trains passed us pretty slowly allowing for plenty of time to hear and get out of the way (there were maybe 5 trains that came while we were on the walk) After about 2 hours or walking we stopped at a restaurant for some popsicles and the toilets and Carlos actually caught up to us here. After another 40 minutes or so, he guided us off the train tracks and down to the road that would take us straight into town. Unfortunately for us, our hostel for the night was on the upper far side of town from where we entered which after 4 long days of hiking, we a bit of a stretch. We all settled into our rooms for showers to clean up and nap a bit before dinner. *Tip pack your soap and change of clothes in your day bag for this day as you barely get your duffel bags before dinner. The room was pretty nice in that it was cooler, with decently comfortable Clean beds! (after 3 nights in a sleeping bag, the sheets and bedding were welcome)
The trail cutting across the train track switch backs through epic banana tree forest

The train tracks are so scenic

View from the tracks looking straight up to the bottom of Machu Picchu
Crossing the tracks as there weren’t any pedestrian bridges 
Watching a train go by.
After 3 hours of flat walking along the train tracks we finally made it to Aguas Calientes. (the launch pad town for Machu Picchu) 
We walked as a group from the hostel to a restaurant where we had dinner (in much the same fashion as we had along the trail) and here you could also order drinks but they were not included in the tour price. (It was again difficult to pay for things when we were charged as a group for drinks… try to have close to exact change and small bills) After dinner we walked as a group to the bus ticket office a block away where we could purchase bus tickets to Machu Picchu for the following morning. Out of the 11 of us including Carlos, only 2 chose to continue the trail and hike UP to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. The bus tickets cost $15 pp round trip and was well worth it as the trail to MP from town was straight up LARGE steps offering no other perspective than what you can get from the bus. (and I wanted to actually preserve myself a bit for hiking MP Mountain) After the bus we were able to wander town a bit of we chose and make our own way back to the hostel. But with a VERY early morning the next day, most everyone headed back to bed.

Cusco- The Inka Museum & Qorikancha


Cusco Day 3- The Museums  
Following our EPIC riding tour in the morning, we still had an afternoon to play in Cusco and plenty still to see. What better way to polish our time off than with a trip to the Inka Museum and Qorikancha ruins.

First up was lunch at Ceviche in the Plaza de Armas. I’d never had Ceviche before but I am a fan of seafood and this restaurant brought the sea themes. The staff were the best and friendliest at any restaurant we visited. I got a delicious mint lemonade and roasted red pepper pasta (trying to remain frugal and not fully committed to trying Ceviche yet) While I didn’t try any of their seafood, the group did and said it was great, and the restaurant was beautiful!

After lunch we headed to the Inka Museum which I’d read was a little let downish but if you appreciate history and pottery, I think you will enjoy it. We breezed through most of it- reading what captions they did have in English. I loved learning about the different regions the Incas lived in, the types of food they ate in each location, and interesting pottery they made. 
The best part however was definitely the mummies. After visiting the Sacred Valley the day before and seeing some of the alcoves mummies were worshiped in, and learning about how cared for the mummies were, it was fascinating to see some! (even if they are in a dimly lit room behind a protective wall you have to peer through windows into) Like the cathedrals, the museum was a no photo zone so all I got was the one photo at the entrance! At only $3 it’s a quick (at your pace) interesting stop.
The museum is an easy walk from the Plaza de Armas. (no taxi needed) 
Inca Museum General Information:  
Hours:
Mon-Fri 8AM-6PM
Saturday: 9AM-4PM
Closed Sunday
Cost: 10s ($3)
The Koricancha as seen from the solar garden (by the street)
After, we headed to the Temple of the Sun- the Koricancha – which was my favorite building in Cusco. It’s a nice walk from the Plaza de Armas or Inca Museum so no taxi needed. The cathedral next to it is free to visit, but as the Koricancha is a type of museum, it also cost $3 to visit. Luckily most of the building was photographable because it was SO cool. 


About the Qorikancha
Originally, this building was dedicated to the highest of Inca dieties: the Inti or Sun and was built with the highest level of stone masonry the Incas used- interlocking boulders, free of any imperfections, and fitted together using the lego style with no mortar. They also built the layout in a way to resemble what they were worshipping with the temple with sunrays moving out from a central point. The temple housed mummies and so much gold, the name of the building still reflects it, Qori = worked gold and kancha = enclosed or building. While none of the gold remains and barely any of the walls, the foundations still stand the test of time. 
The Spanish built the Convent of Santo Domingo directly on top of it encompassing the walls of the temple and building a cathedral adjacent to it. It was pretty insane to walk into what looks like a convent on the outside and see the inner courtyard to match, then look to the side and see Inca walls and ceremonial rooms. You can walk around the rooms, or go out on the stone balconies to look down at the Solar garden (another amazing viewpoint for the building) Some of the convent rooms house more artifacts and pottery, and some of the stone walls still show the etched designs from the Inca times. 
An example of the “lego” stone pieces that were used for building the Temple of the Sun. 
The inner courtyard of the convent
Another view of all inner courtyard for this massive convent 
The Temple of the sun on the inside of the convent
Looking out one of the balconies at the solar garden
The inner courtyard from the 2nd floor
Continuing upstairs is neat as this is one of the few cathedrals from  where you can gain access to the choir balcony (though again no photos are allowed as it is part of the museum) Once I explored the convent and ruins, I visited the cathedral and met up with my friends outside so we could walk back. 
Awesome views of the Cusco hillside from the 2nd floor of the Convent
Qorikancha General Information:
Museum Hours:
Monday-Saturday 8:30AM – 5:30 PM
Sunday: 12:00 PM-5:00 PM
Adult Price: 15s ($4.5)
Child Price: 5s ($1.50)
Church of Santo Domingo Hours
Monday- Saturday: 7AM-7:30 PM
Sunday: 7AM-11AM and 6PM to 8:30PM 
Cost: Free
Mass: 7AM, 6:30PM, 7:30PM (Sunday only) no tourists allowed at these times 
It was about a 20 minute walk back to our apartment where we had just enough time to shower and change into warm clothes. (Seriously gets so cold in Cusco at night) At 6 we had a meet and greet/ debriefing with our trekking company to meet our tour guide and fell hikers. The office for Salkantay Trekking was a little confusing as it is on the 2nd floor of a market space. Once there, tons of guides came over to check if we were on their team. Finally we found our guide and were taken to a smaller room to sign our waivers and find out more info on the trek. The guide gave us a map and told us details on how long each section of trekking would take, where we’d get our meals, start times for each day, extras, etc. The best part of the evening was our guide’s side hustle- renting out his own trekking poles for 20s cheaper than the company rents them. (Carlos you will never live that down) We were all pretty happy to save some money, so we decided to just rent from him


A little bit of a walk back to our apartment but a cool one nonetheless. 
More beautiful lighting from sunset on our terrace in the airbnb. 
All in all, it took around 1.5 hours before we were released to go find our dinner, pack the things we wanted for our trek in our provided duffles, and head to bed. Carlos (guide) recommended a restaurant nearby called Pachappa which was very busy and for good reason. It had a beautiful outdoor eating area with lamps and space heaters and cozy tables inside. We didn’t have a reservation, so we took what table they gave us. I got lemongass lemonade here which was really good and some steak (also good) Service was slow though so we didn’t even get back to our apartment until almost 10. We packed in a fury preparing for our early start (3:30 wake up) the next day. 
Awesome time in Cusco (particularly riding) But the journey was just getting started
Cusco Day 3 Costs: 
Breakfast at Cusco Plaza Hostel Buffet  $10
Horseback riding tour $65 
Tour tip $4.5
Inka Museum $3
Lunch at Ceviche $15
Museum $4.50
Dinner at Pachapapa  $17.30
Airbnb $45 – $11.25 pp

Day 3 Total: $132.16

Horseback riding in Cusco

Horseback Riding to forgotten Incan Temples
While our first 2 days in Cusco were enjoyable, this day really BROUGHT it. It was one of the first tours I landed upon when searching things to do in Cusco for a half day and for only $65 riding, it really intrigued me. So far the only other country I’ve ridden in was Iceland, so I was definitely interested to see what tours were like in other countries. Luckily my friends were also game for a little riding adventure so we booked it, made sure to wear pants, loaded up on sunscreen, and got ready for out tour. 
We did NOT know what we were getting into, in the best way possible. This was hands down the BEST riding tour I could imagine, and possibly one of the best tours I’ve ever taken. 

We were picked up at a hotel near by our Airbnb (easier to coordinate) by a private taxi driver at 9AM who drove us around 15 minutes up past the San Blas neighborhood and  Sacsayhuaman ruins to a small farm where the horses were already tacked and ready to go. There we met another couple slated for our time slot making our group once again- 6. (the magic number of Peru groups apparently)

The ONLY con of this tour was there were not bathrooms at the ranch. Meaning those who had too much coffee to drink had to head for the bushes before we started. (for once I wasn’t among that group) We fitted our riding helmets which the guides were very explicit that we had to use, and then met the horses. Out of our group, I was the 2nd most experienced rider, though there were 3 of us that had decent experience. Then there were 3 beginners. Our guide, Holgar, matched us to our horses, with me getting a horse named Seos (who wouldn’t spook at my camera being slung around my side) and the most experienced rider got a horse named Fuego. We got a very brief safety/ riding demonstration before we were all helped to mount our horses. 
Holgar getting ready to mount his horse for the “riding demonstration”
The ride started off following the road past the ranch just a little ways before skirting off up a decently steep hill through beautiful woodlands. We spent the next hour or so going up and down hills, passing lush farming fields, and with incredible views of Cusco city below. We mostly rode in order of the horse’s preference so I got lucky to go in 3rd and could hear the guide the whole time. 
The entirety of Cusco laid out beyond the hill
Holgar pointed out a field that was growing the grain they use for their local beer, and also spotted 2 big Condors just getting ready to take flight! Half way to our first destination, he started introducing a little bit of trotting in short bursts and would check how everyone was doing. I found it a blast to trot and even canter at times through the trees and hillside. (My horse really wanted to MOVE, every time a spot opened up where he could go faster to catch up, he broke right into a nice canter) So beyond the scenery, the riding experience in and of itself was the BEST. 
We eventually got to our first stop where we dismounted and had a short walk along an “original Inca trail” (you’ll hear that a LOT from guides around Cusco) and this trail had one of their irrigation trenches as well. When we got to a hill overlooking a lush valley with a river flowing through we split up into 2 groups to visit the Devil’s Balcony. We kept our helmets on to protect our noggins from bumps when climbing down the rocks to get to the balcony (though there really wasn’t much climbing involved- fear not) and came to a small natural little cave with a balcony overlooking the river and very colorful rock across the way. It was so tucked away and hidden, you’d never know it was there unless a guide or local showed you! 
We then returned to the overlook while the other 3 people checked it out before heading down to the river to peer into the lower cave/ tunnel where the water flowed through. I would’ve loved to trek back into the cave but I have a feeling it would’ve gotten our feet wet and Holgar wasn’t keen on guiding us down there. We did however learn a bit more about how this site was a “Temple to the rainbow” either from the culture pre-Inca or the Incans themselves. You could see some hints at foundations around and it would make sense they would make use of the cave and natural balcony. 
Climbing down through the rocks to visit the balcony

The balcony overlooking the river as it flowed out of the center of the rock

Temple of the Rainbow
The big cave is in the lower left and the balcony the upper right- almost around where the bushes are. 
While everyone took photos with the cave I snuck away for my quick visit to the bushes and we all headed back up the hill to where we left the horses. They had a backpack with bagged snacks and water bottles waiting for us there which was perfectly timed after the walk. The snacks included some cookies, an orange, crackers, and a few hard candies. We had about 15 minutes to eat/drink and enjoy the view from our sitting spot where they even laid out the saddle cushions in a row for us to sit on. SUCH SERVICE. 
The view in the other direction from our snack break. The devils balcony is over (out of frame) to the right. 
Remounting our horses
We remounted our horses and headed back the way we came- this is where I stress if you do a riding tour to always make sure your stirrups are comfortable! The guide at the beginning set my stirrups to the perfect length and when we got back on the horses after the stop, another guy shortened them! As he didn’t really understand English and I didn’t realize just yet how uncomfortable the stirrups were going to be I left them but OH MAN. Big mistake. My knees were killing me by the time we got past the ranch and to our 2nd stop. So make sure, like a squat, your knee isn’t jutting out over where your toes sit in the stirrups. No amount of sitting back in my heels or getting my feet almost out of the stirrups would release the pressure on my knee.  
So apart from my knees killing me most of the ride back, it was still super exciting to walk and trot around the hills. 
Eventually we came to our 2nd/ last stop: the Temple of the Moon (another spot above Cusco) where we dismounted and walked around learning about it’s initial discovery and the different purposes of the rooms. Holgar pointed to one cave opening where they just recently discovered a mummy ! 
I will note here that while the devil’s balcony is quite out of the way and more difficult to get directions to, the Temple of the Moon is an “easy” hike from Cusco. The path actually follows the Inca highway to Antisuyo leaving from the Plaza de Armas and rising up through San Blas, passing Sacsayhuaman, crossing the Avenida Circunvalación and eventually flattening out. The site is free to visit and is frequented by locals who visit for exercise and spirituality. So if you aren’t a horse back rider, don’t care to find another sort of tour to visit, and would like to make the trek yourself- it IS an option. (Pair it with a visit to Sacsayhuaman though that does have an entrance fee) 
After walking around and learning a bit more about the Temple of the Moon, we remounted and had a short but FAST ride back to the ranch as the hills were gone and now we rode done a dirt road. WOW Since the stirrups were too short, we lengthened them and I was on my tiptoes at that point. (Not sure how we couldn’t find the magical spot the stirrups were at from the beginning of the ride..) so the bouncy trot was a little more terrifying- luckily my horse cantered where he could and we made short work of the road. Back at the ranch we were once again reunited with jackets and backpacks and said goodbye to our sweet horses. The same taxi driver as before drove us back into town and dropped us off in the main square so we could find lunch and continue our city exploring right around 1. 
AMAZING tour and even better value. If you’ve ever wanted to do a riding tour and find yourself in Cusco- even if only for a day- I recommend this. It was quite literally- my favorite thing we did and saw in our first 3 days.
To book, visit here 
Seos also thinks you should book this tour. 😉 

The Sacred Valley


The Sacred Valley
What is a trip to Peru without a visit to the famous Sacred Valley?
About as important a visit as seeing the top wonder of the World, Machu Picchu, the many sites and towns along the Urubamba (sacred) river are a must see. Preferrably over a few days with time to spend in each place. But if you are on a time crunch like we were, 1 day on a tour is what you get. 

About our tour 
On our 2nd day in Peru we opted to do a Sacred Valley Tour through Salkantay Trekking (the same company we were using for the trek) The plan was an early morning – start in Pisac and finish with Ollantaytambo – Chincerro district, effectively circling through the Sacred Valley and finishing on different sides of Cusco. The tour included our transportation, lunch, and guide but did not cover our entrance into the sites. There are 2 ticket combinations you can purchase- 1 which is comprehensive and covers the sacred valley AND the localized ruins around Cusco such as Sacsayhuaman and costs 130 soles. The other which just covers the 3 we were seeing plus Moray. As we didn’t think we’d have time to visit the many other sites, we opted for the cheaper ticket at 70 soles. 
We bought yogurts and bars from the store the previous night so we gobbled those up at 6:30 before the guide picked us up just before 7. Our group only had 1 other couple in it making us a 6 person group which was nice for a more personalized trip. 

We headed up the road learning about how Eucalyptus was planted around Cusco as it grows fast and provids fast wood for building- then stopped at our first stop just past the Sacsayhuaman ruins at an alpaca/ llama farm.

While the layout of this stop was largely commercial (also voluntary, they did give us the option of skipping the stop)- learn about how alpaca wool is harvested/ dyed/ and woven- then try to get us to buy some, I still appreciated the stop. We got to feed the alpacas and llamas which was fun and pet the ones who’d let us. The farm also had a couple Vicunya which are the smallest of the camelid family and by far the softest. It was great interacting with so many of the animals and I did find the types of materials they used for dye interesting. That being said… I also got guilted into buying a very expensive pair of socks – $30 (cheapest thing I could find) woven from baby alpaca wool that I figured would make a decent gift for Braden. (Hope you love them babe! )
My favorite guy: This is a great time to point out that Alpaca don’t have top front teeth… only bottom giant ones! 
A cute little Vicuña, the smallest of the camelid family! 
And a llama
Looking down the center of the farm. Llamas on the left, alpacas on the right. 
Then onto our next stop! 
A viewpoint of the Sacred Valley we stopped at on our way to Pisac. 
After the farm, it was another hour or so onto the archeological site of Pisac. We didn’t have nearly as much time at the site as I would’ve liked, but we walked around learning from the guide and grabbing a few photos of the view down the valley.
The temple sitting at the top of all of the site. 
About Pisac
The coolest part about Pisac is the astounding view and many terraces that laid out beneath the ruins. The view down the Sacred Valley is incredible and the terraces make awesome photo additions. This was our first taste of the ingenuity of the Incas as we learned not only were the terraces built for farming but also to prevent land slides and erosion beneath their temples. The site itself is divided into groups – the Temple of the Sun (where we walked around and at the very top), altars, baths, and water fountains. There were multiple rooms that the priests would live in (many people to a room) that had “built-ins” for holding golden idols. All pretty mind blowing to think about when standing in a stone room without a roof. The site was estimated to be built around 1440 and occupied until the Spanish destroyed it in the early 1530s. The town below wasn’t started until 1570. We learned a bit about the daily life at the site ending our tour with the “guinea pig” house room. A room with a smaller stone base built in with tiny little doors that the guide said the guinea pigs were kept and cared for in. 
A small room that was used as a lodging for the priests in the temple 
Views of the lower site 


Next up we visited the town Pisac (below the ruins) where we had an hour to shop, visit the market, etc. Again there was a “demonstration” on how they make silver jewelry at a shop but the shop had fancy/ nice bathrooms so for the 3 minute demonstration, I found that a decent trade off. (Also didn’t get guilted into purchasing anything this time lol)

We wandered down the street to the colorful Pisac market which was really nice and apparently only runs on Sundays/Tues/Thurs so we got lucky there. While I’d already bought a few things at shops in Cusco, I enjoyed bartering a bit more with the street sellers in the market and winded up buying way more than I should’ve considering I had to haul it all home in a little carry-on! We met back up with our group and guide at the silver shop before travelling another hour or so to the town/ archaeological site of Ollantaytambo. 
Views in the market 

About Ollantaytambo 
Again I would’ve loved to have more time to explore the site (without the guide) and take more photos particularly as this site itself was probably my favorite of the day. While the view isn’t as spectacular, the site is huge with multiple running fountains still, and had the most interesting history to its name. Tambo- which means resting place and “Olly” comes from a famous general named Ollantay who fortified himself in that temple while leading a rebellion to win the love of an Incan Princess. The site also has awesome history as it became the main fortified retreat for the Inca Manco who lead the rebellion against the Spanish in Cusco. It’s defensive position was one of the more successful against the Spanish as the Incas were able to flood the valley and defend the high walls above the terraces. That being said- it like many other ruins were abandoned for stronger jungle foot holds and was eventually… ruined by the Spanish. 
It’s also shaped like a llama which we’ve determined, I’m quite obsessed with. 
The town at the base of the ruins (Would definitely stay here to explore the Sacred Valley more if we’d had more time) 
Across from the temple/ fort were more ruins used as granaries and food storage
The balcony path we took to head down a different way
This site also had the best example of the incredible masonry of the Incas (that we visited). In the distance it was possible to see their main quarry (higher up on a mountain) from where they moved boulders weighing more than 50 tons about 20 km, sanded down and chiseled away, and created “lego” like locking pieces so that no mortar was needed. The stones fit together exactly creating an incredible strong and beautiful wall. There were a couple places where you could see the face of a jaguar caved into the rock or Chanakas (the Incan cross) which were incredibly neat with how they have withstood erosion. We learned more of how the Incans moved the boulders with wood and smaller rocks to roll them on before we took the balcony path down to the baths/ fountains. Again there was amazing masonry work as you could see the ornamental carving around the still flowing ceremonial fountains.
By the time we walked through the fountains we were pushing 2:30 and everyone was getting a little hungry, so another 20 minutes down the road we arrived at our lunch spot. 

Lunch was glorious- honestly one of the best parts of the day tour. The restaurant was cleverly open air- with live musicians playing very mountainous Andes music, and buffet style options for every taste. We left feeling very full after sampling a little bit of everything. 
Another view point we stopped at on our way back toward Cusco
After lunch we headed to our last stop and point of interest: Chinchero. Specifically the colonial church there “Iglesia Colonial de Chinchero” This town was at the summit of our adventures that day, sitting at 12,350 feet above sea level, (the highest altitude we visited in Peru thus far) and was once again built on Incan ruins. The large terraces are largely still used today for agriculture as the soil in Chinchero is the most fertile in all of the Sacred Valley. At the colonial church you can see the original Incan foundation from the temple that once stood there. The inside of the church is perhaps even more beautiful than some of the big cathedrals- every wall and ceiling space decorated/ painted with floral and religious symbols. Since we got there later in the day we missed most of the crowds but if you are looking for a more local themed market- their Sunday market is said to be much more “local” than the larger market at Pisac. The town is very quaint so I enjoyed the little “uphill “ walk we had between the parking lot/ government checkpoint for tickets and the church. 
We also got to see some dancers/ festival going on by the church which was also awesome to see! (considering we missed the parade in Cusco again this day) 
The church courtyard with Incan foundations
Walking around town 
The town has QUITE the steep streets 

After Chincero, we had a shorter 45 minute drive back into Cusco. We were dropped off back by our apartment where we changed into warmer clothes for the evening and set out to explore a bit more. For dinner this round we chose a place previously recommended from friends that was good, though maybe not as spectacular as other meals we had. It was amazing how cold it got in the evenings but luckily this round I prepared with my puffy before heading out. Since most things were closing up, we just walked around more parts of the city near the apartment enjoying the lights and evening vibes. Then it was back to our home away from home.

Sacred Valley Day Costs 
Breakfast- groceries from previous day
Tour – $50 *Included lunch but not drinks
Drink at lunch $5
Tour guide and driver tip $7.50 
Entrance to archaeological sites $21
Dinner at Los Toldos Chicken $10.30
Airbnb $45 – $11.25 pp


Total: $100 pp 

Fall Carbon County ATV ride

Fall Carbon County ATV Tour

Let me start off this post by saying that not only did this tour far exceed my expectations, but the entire area did. If you hear Carbon County, most people immediately ask “what is there to even do there,” “where is that?” Then you mention “Price” which is on all the road signs when you head from SLC to Moab and you get a few nods. 
WELL, time to change that.

I cannot believe I have lived so close (less than 1.5 hours!!) from such a beautiful place! Our tour was organized as part of the 
FIRST ANNUAL CARBON COUNTY FALL JAMBOREE

ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE:
The tour includes both breakfast before the ride, and lunch halfway through, organized leaders who will make sure you stay on the right path/ don’t get too separated from the group, and are ok in case of emergency. Not too mention you are guided with some of the best HISTORY experts on the area. We learned so much about the history of coal mining in the area! And did I mention the cost of this was $25 for first person on a vehicle, and only $10 for passengers?! 
**You do need your own or rent and haul in an ATV/ 4-wheeler/ QUAD/ whatever you want to call it

The tour was a full 8 hours and went up above 10,000 feet at Bruins Point passing old coal mine construction (more on that below) and incredible fall colors. Then it descended down Dry Canyon  to 9-mile canyon (basically the red rock desert we all know and love) before climbing up Cottonwood Canyon to alpine plateaus with WILD HORSES and back down to the starting point. Basically THIS. PLACE. HAS. IT. ALL.

Map of the route we took.

We met at 8 for what has to be the best breakfast I’ve ever heard of : Breakfast Pizza! with coffee and orange juice. We picked up our swag bags which included genius buffs (but bring your own just in case!) as well as a map of the roads we’d be taking, an awesome Carbon County Patch, water bottle, and more info on the area. We had a brief safety debriefing/ information meeting with the leaders of the group and then loaded up.

THERE WERE 37 MACHINES/ &70 PEOPLE
It was awesome! I’ve never experience what it is like to ride in a biker gang, but I’m pretty sure it was similar to this. Everyone lined up, flags flying, ready to ride on a beautiful fall morning. 

Oar Buckets on the 3.5 mile long cable way 

We rode a ways up admiring the fall colors that were changing, some old ruins of homes (from the early 1900s) as well as gawking at still standing, original and unaltered, oar buckets on a cable line. The towers supporting the cables were all still standing, and by all appearances untouched by time.

Half way up the mountain, we stopped to keep the group together, admire a tower up close, and get a little history lesson. The cable line that ran between the towers was constructed in the 1920s and ran 3.5 miles each way, making the line a total of 7 miles altogether. At the time, this was the longest continuous cable in the US. 

MORE ABOUT THE SUNNYSIDE COAL MINE 
1. Coal mining in the area got its start in the area in 1883 with the introduction of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad company that needed coal for the trains.
2. Sunnyside started out as Whitmore Coal (in Whitmore canyon) in 1896.
3. The coal mined in the area was of good “coking” quality which means it was excellent for making steel. (by baking the coal in giant ovens, it forced out impurities leaving mostly Carbon behind) Giant coke ovens (650 of them) were created in the area to easily coke the coal before shipping it to areas in the Western US.
4. By 1909, the sunnyside mine was mining 3000 tons of coal/day and by 1914, furnishing nearly 300,000 tons of coke coal per day.
5. Unfortunately the the railroad and copper smelters that were the primary customers of the coke were switching to use of coal directly which made the Sunnyside mine less useful in the 1920s-30s. Luckily though, in 1942, Geneva Steel in Utah valley, and a steel manufacturer in California found plenty of use.
6. With the exception of the war years however, demand for coke was dropping off so the mine struggled. The ovens themselves operated until 1958 when they closed as well.  

 Pretty fall colors as far as the eye could see

We stopped once more to see the tower where the cable originates before really stopping at the summit, Bruins Point. Here we took a slightly longer break for bathrooms (in the woods, no toilet here) and views of the fall colors surrounding.

 
Katie and I on the summit!

Then back on our respective rides to drive a longer ways down into the desert?! All the sudden it went from fall woods, to red rock canyons.

 TIPS TO HAVE THE BEST ATV ADVENTURE:
1. Wear layers! In the morning shade it was very chilly and at the top of the mountain all day it was windy and cold! Make sure you have a warm jacket/coat, and maybe a blanket to cover your legs!
2. On that same note, bring a good thermos to keep your hot drinks warm in the morning
3. IT WILL BE DUSTY. Don’t wear your Sunday best, make sure to wear sun glasses/ goggles, and have a buff or scarf to cover your nose and mouth when it gets real dusty.
4. Also on that note, bring some nice wet wipes or baby wipes to periodically clean the dust from your face and hands. It makes a huge difference.
5. Bring a map of the area! We were in a tour led group, but there were diverting roads and paths that without a leader or a map could get tricky!
6. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH GAS FOR YOUR JOURNEY
7. Bring a speaker for music, cool drinks for when it gets hots, and have a blast!

 Stopping for another short re-group break. Amazing turn out for a first annual event!

 Driving through what felt like the Grand Canyon!

Before I knew it, we were admiring our first look at the Indian rock art in the area (which hardly anyone gets to see as we had not yet made it to 9 mile canyon)

See the rock art?

A short time later we were at our lunch stop in the Daddy Canyon Complex where a pit toilet was available, short hiking trails, and picnic tables were located.

We had our packed lunches (good sandwich, apple, bag of chips, and small dessert) along with our chilled beverages from the cooler, and then went exploring during our 1 hour break. We walked back in along the canyon admiring so many more petroglyphs!

Taking my best guess at what some of the art means! 

Taking a lunch break to go for a walk in the desert

ABOUT 9-MILE CANYON & THE ROCK ART 
1. Wondering how 9-mile got it’s name? There’s a few stories out there, but the most likely comes down to when John Wesley Powell (ring a bell?) was exploring the Green River in 1869 ad used a nine mile transect for mapping the canyon.
2. 9-Mile Canyon was inhabited by native peoples for over 8,000 years with the most prolific artists of the area hailing from the Fremont people who lived in the area from 1100-1200 AD.
3. The canyon is often referred to as “The Longest Art Gallery in the World
as the entire canyon has amazing wall art in abundance.
3. Main points of interest include: An original homestead cabin at the cottonwood Glen Picnic Area, a Granary (ancient building walls) as well as a pit house, and tons of rock art. The most popular sites there are located around Balanced Rock and the Great Hunt Panel.

We had one more stop along 9-mile canyon to see the giant art of “The Great Hunt Panel.” A stop definitely worth checking out! In fact look around the corner to see a buffalo!

At this stop we were about half way through our tour and one of my new friends from the group, Boyd, offered me the chance to drive his side by side Polaris! Um YES! I was thrilled, so this backseat bystander transformed into a Motocross racer on a Side by Side. 

We turned up Cottonwood Canyon which while still being mostly red rock, seemed a different sort of dessert and transformed into more open high alpine plateaus. It was up here that we were treated with the icing on the cake so to speak:
WILD HORSES

 I’d always heard Utah was home to some wild horses, but had yet to see them with my own eyes. We started off spotting only 2 or 3 here and there before coming across the rest of the herd of around 20 horses, that all started running by.

At this point, my day couldn’t get much better but I guess I’d been impressing my ATV companion (with either my driving skills or chatting abilities.. I’m still not sure) and I was allowed to continue on driving. Needless to say, I’ve got a great new friend(s) from this experience!

Cottonwood Canyon eventually connected us back up to Bruins Point and we headed back down Spring Canyon past the old Oar buckets and finished where we’d started at Sunnyside park. 
A whole lot dustier than we started, but grins on our faces that couldn’t be wiped off. 

This was just the start of my discovery in Carbon County. More posts to come on hikes, historic towns, more ATV trails, and NBD: Stock Car Races. Stay tuned. 
**Sorry for the China post interruption, wanted to get this info out while there was still time left in the Fall season to enjoy!

I lucked out with amazing friends with ATV’s but if you have neither the ATV or connections, here’s a few spots you can rent one from. (Keep in mind you need to be able to transport the ATV from Spanish Fork to East Carbon, about 50 miles as there is currently no rental spot in Carbon County.)

1. TRAX® PowerSports of Provo: 801-613-8729

  • ATV (can fit 2 people) will run you $156-$195 per day depending on length of rental 
  • Side by side (2 people) is $196-$245 per day 
  • Side by side (4 people) is $220-$295 per day depending on model and length of rental
2. Summit Motorsports in Spanish Fork:801-405-7433 
  • Call for prices 
3. Toyitup Rentals in Spanish Fork: (801) 489-8697 
  • Call for prices 

A tour of mainland Greece- Visiting Delphi

Greece Day 2: For the 2nd and 3rd days of Greece we booked a tour through Astoria Travels/ G.O. Tours. It would take us to Delphi and Meteora with a few stops along the way!

The tour picked us up around 8 AM and we were off with a few rest stops and got to Delphi around 10:30/11.

To the left: The Mountain of the Muses (as seen/ photographer from a moving bus. sorry for the terrible quality)
The bus ride to Delphi took us through so many gorgeous mountain passes! One of the most scenic bus rides you can take.

 To the right: the town Arachova (again as seen from bus) This town is referred to as the Mykonos of Winter as it is a huge skiing town with great night life in the winter. It is also the gateway to Delphi so our bus drove us right down the middle of the VERY narrow town.

The entrance of Delphi or also called “The Sacred Way”: it leads from the Sanctuary of Apollo to the Temple. It was was erected to hold monuments and also little shops that would sell idols. 
The Treasury of Athens (reconstructed) which was built to commemorate their victory in the Battle of Marathon. 
The theater that was built just above the Temple of Apollo where spectators would have a view of the entire Sanctuary of Apollo. 
A view of the Temple of Apollo from the Theater. 

 The Stadium is at the top of all the Delphi ruins and is about at 15 min. (avg) hike up from the theater. It is well worth it as I can’t imagine a stadium as scenic anywhere else! The pines surrounding as well added to the wild ambiance.

 Left: Looking down from the temple onto the Athenian treasury (no roof). Unfortunately it was a super hazy day. Our guide told us the reason for the haze was from a lot of dust and sand blowing up from North Africa.

Brief history of Delphi’s origin: Zeus determined the spot when he sought to find the center of his “Grandmother Earth” (Gaia). He sent two eagles flying from the eastern and western extremities and the path of the eagles crossed over Delphi where the navel of Gaia was found. This is how Delphi came to be known as the center of worship, or even the center of the world.
(There is an actual navel stone at Delphi that is known as the navel of the world)

How the Sanctuary became dedicated to Apollo: Apollo, as an infant of only 4 days old, set off to find a place to call home which in this case he decided would be the location of Delphi. HOWEVER this spot was a sanctuary to Gaia so he shot his first arrow to slay the serpent Python, the son of Gaia, who guarded the spot. This effectively made this Apollo’s sanctuary however to atone the murder of Gaia’s son, Apollo was forced to fly and spend eight years in menial service before he could return forgiven.  
Information about the Oracle: You couldn’t actually see the rooms the Oracle would’ve occupied as they were in the back of the temple below ground. The Oracle had to be older woman of blameless life chosen from among the peasants of the area. Alone in an enclosed inner sanctum she sat on a tripod seat over an opening in the earth (a chasm) where according to legend the body of Python body fell after he was slain and fumes arose from its decomposing body. Intoxicated by the vapors, the oracle would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit. Priests of the temple would interpret her ravings as she prophesied.

After Delphi we stopped for lunch (at a very expensive restaurant so I only got a coke) and continued on our way toward Kalambaka. We made one more stop in Thermopyles to see the “300” monument erected there.
We got into Kalambaka for the night around 6:30.

Included in our tour price was a triple room at the worst hotel of our trip the Kosta Famissi hotel. The beds were terrible with comforters none of us would even sit on as they just felt so grimy and unwashed and we spent the first 30-40 minutes in the room inspecting every inch of the mattress for bed bugs. None found we inspected the rest of the room where there were used Q-tips from previous occupants on the heater and some hair in the bathroom. Apart from the cleanliness issues and terrible uncomfortable mattresses, it did have a balcony with a pretty spectacular view and AC (which in Europe is always a plus) so considering the 3.5 star review.. you get what you get haha.
Kalambaka I will say is a very charming and affordable town. For dinner we went exploring and ended up at this Nom Nom place with EXCELLENT burgers and even more delicious crepes which was only $5 for both! WIN!

So budget in review:
Breakfast from a bakery in Athens: 3 euros
Lunch: 2 euros for a coke and extending the life of my snacks from home
Dinner: 5 euros
Tour cost pp including all bus transportation, AMAZING guide, entry to Delphi & Meteora, and hotel 125 euros pp
Total cost for day: 135

A walking tour of Ancient Athens

Greece- As many of my friends and family know I’ve booked A LOT of trips this year! And I’m so stoked for all of them! But many people have wondered A. how the crap can you take so much time off? and B. how do you afford them? So I’ll try to include my budgets/ spending habits for my trips starting this year! (I do have… a tad of back posting to do: Havasupai from last year, Zion National Park/ Kolob Canyon/ Las Vegas from this year, and also a 2nd road trip to Bryce Canyon & Capitol Reef National Parks to post about. I Will get to those but first… I’m too excited to post about my Greece trip so doing that first.

 First off: FLIGHT. I have an amazing friend who watches flight deals (particularly out of SLC or nearby airports) and posts them to Facebook. So last Thanksgiving when all the airlines were throwing fare wars, we booked a trip to Athens for mid May at a cost of $450 RT from SLC with Delta airlines. Now Delta tried to change our itenerary about 39499834 times BUT we called them up and ended up with a quick flight with 1 layover in JFK. AWESOME.
So we flew out bright and early at 8:50 on a Thursday morning and overnight from JFK and arrived in Athens shortly before 11 AM on Friday the 12th. It was pretty easy to buy metro tickets from the Athens airport into the city (although it only runs on the half hour so we had to wait for the 11:30 train) and cost was 8pp with the 3 person deal. Normally 10 pp to Athens.
We checked into our airbnb around 1, changed and off we went! First stop: The Temple of Zeus.
Left: main gate for temple with the Acropolis hill in the background.

 Our Airbnb was awesome! A small apartment in the city (about at 15 min walk to the Acropolis) and only cost $60 which we split between 3 people so $20 pp. The walk to the Temple of Zeus was crazy! You just round a bend and these huge columns just rise out of no where!
Plus you get stellar views of the South slopes of Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon!!!!

 Pro tip: The pass to visit all ancient sites is only $30 and will save you a lot of time standing in line, particularly at the Acropolis. If you visit all of the sites on it, it will also save you a few bucks! We visited 4 of out of the 7 places and it was awesome to skip all the lines.
The Temple of Zeus is just a 5-10 min walk to the Acropolis entrance and is an easy do before hand!

  We decided to visit the New Acropolis Museum next. It is not included in the pass but is only $5. sooo worth it for the incredible art work, history, and air conditioning!!!! The set up is really cool as it is built directly over archaeological digs of ancient Athens so there’s glass floors everywhere to allow you to look down on the ancient city.

The museum is however SUPER picky about taking photos and although there are NO SIGNS ANYWHERE, there are several employees who will tell you no photos. Luckily they do allow you to take photos with the ORIGINAL Caryatids (although you cannot use flash) from the Temple of  Erechtheion on the Acropolis hill.

 We had decided to save the Acropolis for last so after an hour or so in the museum, we strolled through the Plaka markets to find some lunch. Ended up spending around 3 euros on a cheese sandwich and continued to the Roman Agora on the North side of the Acropolis. This site is relatively small in comparison to the Ancient Agora but still a great place to visit and is one of the few that actually gives you an informational pamphlet at the entrance to learn about what you are seeing.

 So quick history lesson: An Agora is essentially a large public open space for meetings and markets. Highlights of the Roman agora include the Wind Tower (pictured behind me in the above picture) and the Gate of Athena Archegetis. The Tower of the Winds is essentially a giant time piece and featured a combination of sundials, a water clock, and a wind vane. (although now it is more of an empty tower but still cool to imagine) It was actually constructed prior the the other parts of the Agora.

 After the Roman Agora, it is a quick walk to the Ancient Agora which seems to be at least 4-5 times the size with incredible views and statues!
The Ancient Agora includes tons of different archealoical sites but my favorites (pictured below) are the the Stoa of Attalos, Palace of the Giants, and Temple of  Hephaestus.

The first thing you see as you enter the Ancient Agora complex are the statues from the Palace of the Giants and the North slopes of the Acropolis. We immediately headed to the Stoa of Attalos which is on the West side (and by far one of my favorite places in Athens) 
A Stoa is essentially a covered walk way or portico and this one was reconstructed (so def not the original but impressive all the same!) 

The giant Stoa of Attalos 

This stunning building was beautiful to photograph from just about every angle. On the first level it houses the museum of the Ancient Agora (included in entrance fee)  which is largely a collection of bronze statues and various pottery. My favorite is the massive bronze shield that was used by the Spartans.
On the second level is a collection of statues.

 2nd level of the Stoa of Attalos looking over at the Temple of Hephaestus. 

 The view of the temple as you approach. (not too many stairs here and this view makes it appear MUCH smaller than it is… see below)

 I really loved this temple because A: it’s huge and B. unlike the Parthenon it is not covered in scaffolding, the frieze along the ceiling was all beautifully in tact, and I loved the effect of seeing all the growth of grass and wild flowers within.

 The view of the Acropolis hill from the North side
 Me standing along the side of the Temple of Hephaestus. 
 Front view of the Temple of Hephaestu. (You can catch a glipse of the inner frieze in this photo) 
 Side view where you can see some of the outer frieze. 

Now it was time to backtrack through the plaka to go up the south slopes of the Acropolis for some sunset views! It’s ordinarily about a 20 minute walk back (made longer by some stops for souvenirs along the way) We tried to visit Hadrian’s Library (which is in the same area and also included in our ancient sites pass) but it appeared the entrance was closed and we couldn’t find any other way to get in. So we viewed it from the fence and carried on our merry way.

 The Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theater on the south slopes as you climb the Acropolis. 
 View of south Athens (and the sea) as you climb. 

 It’s a bit of a climb (especially if you have already been walking all day) but the Parthenon really is incredible. It is HUGE and I can’t wait for them to finish with the restoration projects. The bonus of going later in the day was that we largely had the place to ourselves so we had a rest and enjoyed the view.

Looking back at the Parthenon with the Greek flag blowing in the wind. 
 View of the Erechtheion with the porch and Caryatids statues on the side. 
 The Caryatids up close. These statues were easily one of the things I was most excited about seeing in Athens. 

There are 6 caryatids that support the porch of the Erechtheion temple which was dedicated to both the gods Athena and Poseidon. 

Fun facts: I was actually thrown off as to how much smaller the porch was than the rest of the temple. I learned that the porch was actually constructed to conceal the giant 15-ft beam needed to support the southwest corner after the building was drastically reduced in size and budget following the onset of the Peloponnesian war. 


 The Propylaea/ Monumental Gate or in other words the Entrance to the Acropolis. 
 View North from Acropolis hill of Athens. 
 A cute cat we passed by on our way out. 
We finished around 6:30/ 7 (with plenty of time to spare as most of the ancient sites are open until 7:30 or 8 this time of year) and grabbed some souvenirs from the plaka shops closest to the Acropolis entrance. (I find shopping for birthday/ Christmas to be easier on trips.) So in a mere matter of 5.5-6 hours we saw the  4 main ancient sites and most of central Athens.  The we headed back to the Airbnb. I’d gotten zero sleep on the plane and had actually worked the night before flying out so by 8 Friday I had officially been awake for 48 hours so I pretty much showered and passed out within an hour of being close to a bed. 
Total cost on day 1: $30 ancient site pass that got us in everywhere except the Acropolis museum
$5 entrance fee to the New Acropolis Museum
$3 cheese roll for lunch
$8 Metro pass from airport to city center 
$20 Airbnb cost 
Souvenirs: Let’s not talk about that. haha I also had a water bottle on me that I would fill up/ top off whenever we came across one (museums) so I didn’t have to buy water! I also had brought some snacks with me from home for the plane ride left over that I munched on for a light dinner before passing out. Breakfast was served on the plane. 
Total cost day 1: $66