One of the best things on my trip to Peru in June was seeing Machu Picchu, one of the Wonders of the World. Visting Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list since I was a little girl in part due to my mom, who had a picture of the famous mountain in her office and had a serious interest in the Inca culture. I remember staring at the picture, thinking how green the landscape was while wondering about its history (its funny what we remember from childhood, isn't it?). Thanks to this trip, I was able to visit Machu Picchu and check it off my bucket list as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The history of Machu Picchu is still a mystery. It is believed the site was built as an Inca citadel during the height of the Inca Empire, tucked into the Andes mountains to protect its people and remain hidden, but there are other theories as well. The real mystery surrounds the architecture of the site which consists of thousands upon thousands of stones and blocks cut to fit together without any sort of mortar. These stones and blocks are said to weigh on average around 50 tons, so how the Inca's got the stones up the mountain to the site and laid them in the intricate buildings fit with astronomical designs, and into structures for their agriculture and water system is mind blowing. It is thought that some of the stone was chiseled from the mountain, while other stones were carried up the mountain. Either way, the fact they were able to create the structures without modern tools and technology such as iron or wheels, is what really boggles researchers.
Another mystery of Machu Picchu is why it was abandoned by the Incas. The reason is unknown, but thought to have been vacated in the late 1500's due to the Spanish Conquest. When it was abandoned, the site sat for years before it was rediscovered in the early 1900s by an American professor from Yale, Hiram Bingham, who brought its attention to the world.
The trek to Machu Picchu is not an easy ordeal. From Cusco, we were picked up at 4:30am by our tour guides and started the adventure by driving 2 hours to the train station. From the train station, we took a 2 hour train ride to the base town of Machu Picchu, where we then had to take a 30 minute bus up the mountain to the entrance of the site. All in all that process was about 5/5.5 hours with the waiting time between transports. THEN, once you are at the entrance of the site, you have to hike. This part came as a surprise to me, as I truly had no idea how large the surrounding grounds were. The hike up is literally like a 90 degree angle, so it isn't an easy stroll in the park. I was also a little unprepared in booties in faux leather pants, but hey, I figured I may only see this once in my lifetime, so I may as well look good in my pictures.
After the tour of Machu Picchu, spending some time in the base town, then beginning our train and bus trips back it was almost 11pm when we arrived at our rental apartment in Cusco. It was definitely a long day, but well worth it. You can also stay at the hotel at the base of Machu Picchu, The Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, however the cost per night can start at $500 and go into the thousands. That said, the cost can include meals, drinks, and your tickets for Machu Picchu, depending on the time of year. If you are traveling with your significant other, I'd recommend looking into this splurge for at least one night, to make your experience that much better.
We entered the site with a tour guide who moved way too fast and was rushing our group through the grounds, so my dad and I decided to tour the site on our own so we could take our time, rest in the shade when needed, and take as many pictures as we wanted along the way. This was by far the best decision we made. While it would have been nice to learn more detailed information about the grounds and structures, I personally had a much better time with my dad taking our time and planning our route through Machu Picchu on our own time and leisure.
Once I got over the fact that we had to hike, I was completely enamored with the site. Seeing the structures and mountain views firsthand is truly a special experience and something I will never ever forget. Being there in person, you see how Machu Picchu has remained a mystery in its architecture and engineering. I was struggling just carrying a backpack climbing all the stone steps, so I can't even image pushing huge stones and blocks all the way up the mountain, much less designing the layout of the ancient citadel (but then again, I'm no engineer).
The good thing about touring the site on your own, is you can choose where you go and how high up the mountain you want to climb. We decided to climb higher up, as you get the better views. We went high up first, so the rest of our time would be spent going downhill and less strenuous. If you ever go, I highly recommend this approach. Although the climb can be difficult, it is manageable and the views are worth every drop of sweat you'll work up. There also were not as many people higher up, so you can get better pictures and rest more when you need it in the shade of the trees that line some of the paths.
My main takeaways from the experience are to bring lots of water and make sure you have your cameras fully charged- which is a no brainier, but I'm just reiterating the point. Each view is more impressive than the next and the extreme awe I was in while looking at this ancient wonder, was enough for me to snap picture upon picture to ensure I captured everything so I'd never forget this incredible experience.
The town at the base of Machu Picchu is a shopping mecca. It is filled with markets and shops with local handcrafts, alpaca goods, and textiles that are just waiting to come home with you. I considered this to be some of the best shopping on the trip due to not only the selections, but the prices as well. We were told to do our shopping at the end of the day before boarding the train as the
shop owners will be more willing to make deals later in the day rather than early. Make sure you have cash for the markets, and definitely bargain with them!
1. Wearing comfortable and supportive shoes is key (my pewter Seychelles booties were actually very comfortable, but a more supportive hiking boot would have been best).
2. Layer your tops and wear clothing that is easy to move in. Avoid dresses or skirts like the plague!
3. Pack lots of water and some energizing snacks like trail mix, granola, or dried fruit. You'll want to spend as much time on the mountain as you can, so keeping your hunger off is key. My dad and I gave in after about 2.5 hours and left in search of food and a cold beer at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, although we were happy with all the grounds we covered.
4. The only bathroom is outside the main entrance of Machu Picchu, so definitely go before you enter the site. The way the paths are structured have one main entrance in, and one out, so its not easy to get in/out of the site, although you are allowed to re-enter the site twice.
5. Be prepared to hike. I wasn't, but I got over my hatred of hiking quickly when I saw the fantastic views.
Blonde in the District