Slowly I place one foot carefully in front of the other and moderate my breathing as I chug up the ancient steps walked by thousands of Incans far before my time. “I think we’re almost there,” my brother calls out, pausing to take a sip of water as we both stop to snap a photo of two stones perched at a narrow passage in the crevice of a mountain above us. “Don’t stop now!” our guide calls out, “you’re about to see something very special!” Keeping my head down and stepping upwards, I picture in my mind what I have been imagining for months now – a view of the “Lost City,” Machu Picchu from Intipunku, the Sun Gate.
Capturing your first glimpse of this UNESCO World Heritage site from the Sun Gate is perhaps the most memorable way of seeing Machu Picchu for the first time. Most people take a train into the “town of Machu Picchu,” Aguas Calientes and ride a bus 30 minutes up to the site, their first impression of this special place consisting of crowds, long lines, and bus exhaust (I would know – this is what I did on my second visit!) On our Peru: Machu Picchu Multisport Adventure, you ride a train to Kilometer 104. Upon disembarkation, you’re left with your guide to hike the last 8 miles of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu stopping along the way to visit sites like Chachabamba and Wiñay Wayna.
Machu Picchu is one of those sites where #1, you could spend days looking at all the ancient architecture, and #2, you need an educated guide to fill you in on the awe-inducing history of the place and the Incans who lived there. Machu Picchu is made of up of more than 150 buildings ranging from simply constructed houses to intricately constructed temples, the stones fitting so snugly together (without mortar) that not even a playing card can be inserted between the stones – and this was done without modern day tools! To discover the mystery of the site, you need to physically walk up a few of the hundred sets of carved stone stair cases, touch the smooth, precisely carved stone work, or stare wide-eyed at a 300 ton piece of granite that not even scientists can fathom how it ended up at the top of a mountain.
Even though nothing compares to walking in and among the ruins of this awesome Incan empire, I think one of the best (and truly thrilling) ways to take in the site as a whole is to “climb” up Huaynapicchu Mountain. I say “climb” here because you ascend stairs for a whole hour all the way to the summit, grabbing onto “side-of-the-mountain” cables and sometimes scrambling up ancient Incan stone stairs using only your hands on the steep step above you for balance. (Might I mention that you are also over 7,000 feet above sea level?!) The allowance of only 400 hikers a day on Huaynapicchu gives you a special experience that not many who explore Machu Picchu can say they’ve had the opportunity to do. The view from the top is spectacular and truly rewarding (as long as it’s not a foggy day)! Hiking up this mountain was truly a highlight for me, although I wouldn’t recommend it for those who fear heights!
To summarize, I’ve retained nothing but remarkable memories of my first visit to Machu Picchu – the incredible history of the place as a whole, the mysterious disappearance of the Incas from this well-planned site, and the idea that a past civilization built this masterpiece from the ground up without the use of tools, wheels, or the Internet is completely and utterly extraordinary! The best part about telling you about my trip is that this was only a fragment of our Peru Adventure – between rafting the Urubamba River, walking the colorful streets of Cusco, and mountain biking to ancient salt pools and mines, I wouldn’t know where to begin my story next!
Get out and explore!