Most travellers include Machu Picchu on their must see ‘bucket lists’ and we were no exception. The journey to visit this incredible Incan City perched high on a plateau on an incredibly sheer mountain takes some effort – a scenic train ride, a twisty bus ride, lots of breath-taking steps at nearly 8,000 feet and a big wedge of your travel budget, but it all contributes to make the whole experience unforgettable!
Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they describe it perfectly as “An absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilisation”.
I’m guessing Incan construction workers had thighs as big as tree trunks, were supremely strong and would have been as fit as an Ironman! It’s a mystery how they actually built this isolated city of terraces for farming crops that are carved superbly into the mountainside, along with numerous staircases, houses and temples of perfectly cut dry stone blocks that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle without using any iron tools, the wheel or horsepower.
This massive city was built in the 15th century, its actual purpose is unknown. It could have been a mountain getaway sanctuary, just 70 miles away from the busy Incan capital city of Cusco for its elite Incan rulers, or it could have been a huge elaborate astronomical time piece for sun worshipping ceremonies and then of course there are those alien conspiracy theories! But by the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Peru the city was abandoned and Machu Pichu became ‘lost’ in the green verdant jungle. Rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham on an American expedition, the city has been renovated and reconstructed for a couple of thousand people to visit and wow over each day.
Our road to Machu Picchu started in Cusco, a 4 day trek along the Inca trail would have likely killed the Evans, so we opted to take the relaxing 3 hour but exorbitantly priced $90 dollar Vistadome train journey with Peru Rail. There was anticipation in the waiting room to board the train as people in various tan & green outdoor clothing lined up, it was as if we were going to take a roller coaster ride at Disneyland! It was indeed very exciting and for some a dream coming true.
The impressive train ride starts out through high mountain scenery where there are plenty of agricultural fields with cows roaming around, but as we descended further from a height of 11,000 feet at Cusco the landscape changed to lush jungle vistas as we approached Machu Picchu Pueblo.
This small shabby town exists solely for tourist visitors and is only reachable by the train or on foot. There are plenty of basic overpriced hostels and surprisingly excellent restaurants on offer, the raging chocolate milkshake looking Urubamba River pushes straight through the middle of the town.
To get to the Incan City you can walk a sweaty 4 miles from the town to the top of the mountain up lots of steep steps or you can choose to take one of the tourist buses that whizzes up the steep mountainside via a series of vicarious hairpin turns delivering you fresh and ready to explore, but $12 dollars lighter – I’ll let you guess which choice we made!
After getting the Machu Picchu stamp in our passports we headed straight up a set of stairs to the Guardhouse for our first view of the city. Visiting in the rainy season, I had low expectations thinking lots of low lying cloud, fog and drizzle would impair our view. But oh my goodness this was an intense mouth dropping fuckety fuck moment as the expanse of the city lay below our feet, framed by steep impassable valleys either side and towering Waynapicchu mountain at the rear. The clouds nestled on the surrounding mountain tops, it felt magical, yes I did swear but I did really well not to cry at this majestic sight!
Our Machu Picchu boots demanded a hike, we didn’t have one of just 400 daily tickets to trek up Waynapicchu mountain, it looked a tough hike upwards past the Sacred Rock that has been cut into the same shape as the mountain.
We opted to walk to Intipunku starting at the Guardhouse, Inti means sun and Punku is gate in Incan. At certain times of the year providing it’s cloud free the sun rises splendid from behind the mountains and through the gates. This is where archeologists believe Incan style bouncers would have controlled who came into the city and this is the place those who hike the Inca Trail from Cusco will be rewarded with the view of the sanctuary of Machu Picchu far below for the first time.
For most of our walk to the Sun Gate, the clouds were low, it rained and we couldn’t see the sheer drop to the Urubamba valley below. We needed a couple of rest stops at the Temple Rock and Moon Gate to catch our breath and help our popping ears with a sucky sweetie. People skipping on the way down would smugly but encouragingly say to our sweaty faces “It’s not far to go now” or “nearly there.”
When we reached the top we couldn’t see anything, clouds totally covered the valley. But after a few minutes the rain stopped, the clouds blew away and the sun shone down. A collective gasp of oohs and aahs came from the small crowd waiting expectantly for that wonderous photo opportunity.
We took a seat, air dried our coats, munched a Snickers bar and admired the fabulous view of all of the City, the winding brown Urubamba River far below in the valley, the mountains of Old Peak – Machu Picchu, Young Peak – Waynapicchu and Putukusi mountains that sharply poke upwards to the heavens. I was thankful we had been walking everywhere for the last few months and felt fantastic!
It was our turn to bounce back down the trail and to explore the citadel where llamas, alpacas and chinchillas roamed about freely. Lucky Leopard, our aging travel mascot smiled in a Cusco woolly hat for his finest photo yet!
In the City, the Incan architectural highlights included seeing the aqueducts and irrigation system that runs through the city, the Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Three Windows, Temple of the Condor and the Intihuatana carved rock, where twice a year at sunrise the sun will appear to sit on top of the stone pillar casting no shadow on the ground.
Machu Picchu certainly lived up to the hype. This outstanding Incan city built on top of a mountain is truly incredible, we were blown away by how big the site actually is, but more so by its remote location hidden in between this incredible tropical mountain range.
We feel really lucky to have been able to visit and tick this experience off our bucket list!