High in the Andes sits a citadel shrouded in mystery and has become a symbol of Incan civilization. Machu Picchu was built around 1450 and abandoned a century later, before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. It was mistakenly referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas” as the complex was abandoned and unknown to the Spanish. The locals did know about the city and I just wonder if they did mention it to the Spanish who may have disregarded it since the city was abandoned, just my theory. The colonial Spanish and the rest of the world had no idea of the city until Hiram Bingham introduced it to the world in 1911. He became aware of the lost city from a local boy who described it to him. The boy led him up to the mountain and, as they say, the rest is history.
Traveling to Machu Picchu will require a ride on the Peruvian rail. You can do a one day tour from Cusco if you’re strapped for time. At 4 a.m., you’ll be picked up from your hotel and driven to the train station which is about 30 minutes from the city. The train ride isn’t direct so it will make stops along the way and the ride will take about 3 hours. You’ll arrive at the town of Machu Picchu Pueblo (aka Aguas Caliente) just below Machu Picchu. Then, You’ll have to find your way to the bus stop where you’ll board the bus that will take you to the citadel. After you retrace your route, you’ll arrive at your Cusco hotel around 9:30 p.m.
I chose to spend a night in Machu Picchu Pueblo. After touring the Sacred Valley, I took the 7:40 p.m. train from Ollantaytambo to the Pueblo and spent the night at a hotel there. The next morning, I chose to do an early visit to Machu Picchu in order to avoid the large crowds of tourists. I met my tour guide at the bus station at 7 a.m. and we took the bus together up the mountain. This bus system is the only way up to the mountain and runs about every 5 to 10 minutes.
In the days leading up to this moment, I had kept my eye on the weather as rain had been forecasted this day. The weather was cloudy but dry in town. But, once we arrived at the entrance, it was raining. It was just a light drizzle but misty with bad visibility. We enter the complex and our way up the path to the opposite peak above the citadel. This is the view point where those Instagram moments happen. The defining spot for the whole visit. That iconic view of you and Machu Picchu behind you, that moment where you can exhale and say to yourself “I made it”. Well, that moment didn’t quite happen for me. It was more of a moment of despair and disbelieve. I was covered in a poncho to keep me from the rain and the view was covered in the mist. I could only see it in small pockets. My guide took this time to fill me in on the history of the site in hopes that it would eventually clear up. After about 30 to 40 minutes, I had come to the conclusion that the weather would not change and that I would enjoy my time here no matter how dreary it was. We start down the path that would take us from the guard tower down to the old entrance of the walled citadel.
After five minutes, the rain had stopped and the mist covering the mountain top had disappeared. I could now see how amazing Machu Picchu was. It’s a maze-like complex made of very large and smooth stones stacked together without the use of mortar. It was like my faith and resolve was being tested and when I came to peace that just being here was good enough, I was awarded with the disappearance of the rain and mist.
My guide and I made our way through the maze and he explained the history of the complex to me. I was trying to pay attention but internally I kept telling myself “I can’t believe I’m here.” Just imagine all the times I had seen Machu Picchu on television or in photos and now it was my time to experience it first hand.
Moments like this make the world seem that much smaller and that I could accomplish almost anything. Tourist aren’t the only living beings on this mountain top, llamas also make there way here to graze on the grass. My guide had told me that chinchilla also reside within the complex but it wasn’t the right season to see them. With my sharp eye, I actually spotted one sitting on a rock. Of course, I thought it was a rabbit with short ears. My guide corrected me and advised me it was a chinchilla.
When you tour the site, unfortunately, you have to follow the path and it flows only in one direction. It’s a way to keep people from walking and destroying the fragile site. It’s a price you have to pay to protect the integrity of the complex. My time at Machu Picchu ended unceremoniously with a park employee blowing her whistle at me for trying to go in the opposite direction. I wanted to go back and enjoy the complex just a little bit longer. I even tried to hide behind the stone wall and wait her out, but she must have seen this trick before. After a few minutes, I made my way through the path again but she was ready for me. I accepted my fait and made my way to do exit, slowly as possible.
Words and photos can’t come close to describing how I felt. The time I spent here was special. Machu Picchu deserves to be on everyone’s list and it won’t disappoint. The long road to this mountain top is well worth the effort as this wonder of the world is truly an exceptional experience.