I had been planning to write something else about Peru before I got to Machu Picchu. But, once I saw it there was no putting it off. Spectacular.
Now, first. I like that you have different options for seeing it. I’m about as outdoorsy as an indoor cat. So, the 4 day Inka trail trek was not for me. But good on ya, to the people that do it. I imagine that finally seeing the ancient city is made all the more sweeter if you’ve spent the last 4 days trekking and striving towards it.
For those that don’t want to trek (and I did think about it, to be honest. But the goverment requires signing up at least a month in advance, and because of the limited number of people allowed on the trail at any one time- you should book months in advance. I started researching 5 days before I wanted to be there… whoops.)
ANYWAY. Back to me. If you don’t want to trek, you can take the train out to the town nearest Machu Picchu, called either Machu Picchu Pueblo, or Aguas Caliente, (named for the hot springs in town.)
I took the lowest class train, the Expedition. It was still very nice, with large windows and free snacks. The journey passed a lot quicker than I had expected, and soon we were pulling up to town.
Aguas Caliente was actually a pretty nice little town. Hideously over priced, and very focused on tourism… but nice.
Now, I had booked this whole thing as a tour from Cusco. Which was incredibly easy and maybe a bit lazy on my part. But all in all, I thought it was well worth the price.
The one thing the tour didn’t cover was the trip from Aguas Caliente to Machu Picchu. It is the nearest town… but it is still an hour and a half hike (uphill) or a 30 minute busride. I was with two other people, and we decided to take the bus, partially because we needed to meet our guide pretty early, and partially because we wanted to be able to get a good night sleep, and not worry about waking up at 4am.
We slept till 5:30. It would have been glorious, except the fact that the staff of the hostel we were staying at were partying and playing loud music until 2am. I found that rather unbelievable. If your hostel caters to people getting up early to go to Machu Picchu, have the decency to let them sleep. I won’t name the hostel, because I don’t like to do that- but the name is a shout out to a traveler icon, who died in Alaska.
Anyway. We decided on the bus, and went to buy our tickets the night before. It saved time in the morning, and we were soon on our way. The trip up on the bus is rather breath taking. The bus zig zags up the side of a mountain, and the views are incredible. This would be a feeling that stayed with me for the next 9 hours.
Machu Picchu itself was somehow not at all like I expected, but also everything I thought it would be. The city is amazing. The amount of detail that is present is really mind blowing when you think of how long ago it was built.
A note on that. Because it is an ancient city, and because I’ve never really researched the Incas before coming here… I was surprised to find out that it was built in the 1400s. I had just assumed that ‘ancient’ would have been older than that.
Now, a note about Cusco and Machu Picchu. Cusco also used to be a great Incan city, but when the Spanish came, they basically systematically demolished all of the Incan buildings, and built new Spanish style buildings on top of them. Many buildings in Cusco will have Incan foundations, but the actual structures will be more modern. Machu Picchu is extraordinary because the Spanish didn’t find it. It was abandoned when the Spanish came, and left alone hidden in the mountains until Hiram Bingham asked a local to take him some place interesting in 1911. Well done locals.
Much of Machu Picchu is based on the sun. So much of it is directly related to the sun that it starts to become a little blasé. But there are places where the windows are built in such a way that the sun will shine perfectly through them only on the summer and winter solstices. Howwwww do you build that? Do you wait until the solstice and then just build it really fast? And then wait a half year before you build the next window? Or did they really know exactly where the sun would rise on both solstices?
Another mystery about Machu Picchu is a common one with large ancient stone structures.
How did they get those giant stones up there?! They’re really big. And they’re really high up in the air. And they came from way the heck over in the quarry. And the Incas didn’t have large pack animals to pull anything. Have you seen an alpaca? They’re pretty small. The Incans also didn’t use wheels. Soooo… How did they get those giant stones up there?! My Cusco walking tour guide said it was because it was so long ago that the tilt of the planet was slightly different, and that meant there was less gravity, and therefore the giant stones weren’t that heavy. I think there are a lot of flaws in his theory… but nothing else really makes sense either, so I’ll just leave that there.
I don’t usually enjoy guided tours of touristy places. I feel like you only get to see the main things that everyone sees, and you can’t go at your own pace and just enjoy it. Not so with the Machu Picchu guide. A lot of what he talked about didn’t super interest me, but it was good to get the history of the place, and also to have someone to explain all the different places within Machu Picchu. Our trip included a two hour tour, and then we had the rest of the day to ourselves to walk around. Best of both worlds really. Ok, enough of the blah blah… let’s get to some pictures!
The llamas at Machu Picchu will gladly take selfies with you.
The room with the three windows. So named because it has three windows.
Inti Watana is a large stone used (probably) as an astrological clock or calendar. Our guide was pretty insistant that it was not a sundial. So please excuse the fact that it looks like a large stone sundial.
This is the sacred stone in Machu Picchu. It’s huge (people included for scale) and carved to match the shape of the mountain behind it.
…large stone structures… this was after the part with my guide, so I don’t really know what they are. But they were in a room, separate from the rest of the compound that was really quiet and made you feel like you were the only one there.
The same stone structures in the opposite direction, to give an idea of how big the place really is.
The mountains surrounding Machu Picchu are pretty amazing just by themselves. It really is tucked away in a spectacular place.
It wouldn’t be me without a picture of some flowers. I think these are pretty special. I’ve seen lots of red or orange flowers. But none with orange STEMS.
The temple of the Condor. I really liked how they used the natural rocks as the wings of the condor, and then carved the head into the stone below. Very large and impressive, just like the condor.
After visiting Machu Picchu I was burnt to a crisp, and my legs were covered in sand fly bites. I seriously looked diseased. If you’re going, wear sunblock and bug spray. Even if you don’t see any bugs. Sand flies are tiny, and you can’t feel them bite… you just see the angry red welts they leave behind. And they ITCH. For days. Mine were really bad for about a week, and though thank goodness the itching has stopped, the bites are still visible. To make myself feel better I went the hot springs in town. It was set up the mountain a little bit from town. Kind of a hike, but not really. I just wasn’t expecting it. And ‘hot spring’ is a bit of a misnomer. Could, more accurately, have been called the pretty warm springs.
Smelled like eggs, but was pretty refreshing.
So, that is my reaction to Machu Picchu, an obvious must see if you’re in Peru, and a reason that Peru should be on every person’s ‘to see’ list if they haven’t been there already. Flora, fauna, and a wonder of the world. Can’t really beat that!