The lost city of the Incas
[Machu Picchu, Peru]
Coming to Machu Picchu felt like a pilgrimage of sorts. We’d been making our way towards it for 2 days now, and this morning, we still had a 20-minute bus ride separating us from these ancient ruins.
We walked out of our hotel just after 7 am and were relieved to see the sun peeking out from behind the mountains around us. Our prayers had been answered and it looked like we were going to have at least a couple of hours of blue sunny skies before clouds and possibly rain set in. There was no line at the bus station, as the really hard-core people had already gone up before dawn. The road up to Machu Picchu is a hair-raising one. In most places, it’s just wide enough for one bus, so there were a couple of times when we had to go backwards to make room for a bus coming back down. In addition, the route is really steep as we gained over 400 m (1200 ft) from Aguas Callientes. The person with a window seat next to me was pretty much staring down at the abyss below us.
We spent the next 6 hours wandering around the grounds of Machu Picchu. I am pretty sure everyone’s seen that one signature shot of the ruins, but there is so much more to see!
We first explored the East agricultural terraces and enjoyed some pretty amazing views of the valley below. The sky was blue with just a few puffy clouds, making our pictures look surreal.
We then made our way on the lower end of the runs through a complex that, from above, looks like a lizard. We made our way to the entrance to Wayna Picchu – the mountain you see in the background of the ruins.
There is an option to hike up that mountain for even better views, but the path is really steep and narrow and it takes a good hour to hike up to the top, so we preferred to stay down at the ruins.
We then made our way to the guard tower, stopping on the way to take some photos from that signature angle everyone is familiar with, and continued on to the highest points of the ruins.
We took a short break and marveled the views, then decided to take a 45-minute hike to the Sun Gate. It’s located East of the main ruin and provides amazing views of the ruins, the road that leads up to Machu Picchu and the valley below. It’s also the entry point to Machu Picchu for all the hikers that come up the Inca trail. The hike was just long enough to be challenging but not too tiring, and the views from the Sun Gate did not disappoint. We could see Machu Picchu from there but the ruins were so small that it made us realize how for up and away from MP we’d hiked.
After another break at the Sun Gate, we came back down to the main ruins and checked out the upper complex of MP. By that time, it was already early afternoon and we had walked around the entire complex already, in certain places even twice.
It was really awesome to spend this much time at Machu Picchu and really enjoy the ruins and the views we got of the surrounding mountains from it. We tried to imagine what the mountain had looked like before the Incas came and built up their sacred city – was it already flat at the top like we saw it now, or did they have to carve out every inch of space that they used? Did they start from the top and work their way down? How long did it take to complete it? And what did Machu Picchu look like when Hiram Bingham re-discovered it in 1911? Was it in pretty much pristine condition, or was it overgrown with vegetation?
After spending most of the day at MP, we went back down to Aguas Calientes to grab a late lunch, then caught the train back to Cusco around 3 pm.
I really enjoyed Machu Picchu; it was a completely different experience than any other destination I’d visited. Its sheer size required more than the usual hour or two you’d spend at, say, Taj Mahal or most other man-made structures, and Machu Picchu was even more unique because it was such an amazing example of humans and nature working in harmony. It was breath-taking and amazing from every angle and every viewpoint, and we both felt like we could just sit somewhere up high and stare at it for hours. The amount of time and preparation it took to get there made it that much more special, and my day at Machu Picchu today will forever remain one of the most cherished memories of my life.