For many world travelers, Machu Picchu is cherry on top of the ice cream of their trip and so far I can certainly count myself among these travelers. The late great Inca city of Machu Picchu, now known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is perched high atop a mountain in the Andes nearly 8,000 feet above sea level towering over the Urabamba river in the valley below. Until recent years it was a nicely secluded remnant of the great Inca civilization known only to the locals who called the mountains and valleys around it home. Today however, it is a must see destination for anyone traveling to South America and certainly for anyone who enjoys history and archeology. It is a destination that will not disappoint.
This great city was thought to have been built around 1400 but was abandoned only 100 years later due to the great Spanish Conquest in Peru. Remarkably, the Spanish never learned of Machu Picchu which is a prevailing reason the ruins have remained so intact over the years.
While widely thought to be discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911, Machu Picchu was actually discovered previously by a number of explorers even appearing on maps as early as 1874. Hiram Bingham was just the first to tout the discovery greatly to the rest of the scientific community and the world. Since that time, Machu Picchu has become one of the most sought after destinations for travelers and no journey to Peru, let alone South America, is complete without gracing these worn Inca staircases into the cloudy mountaintop city.
For me, Machu Picchu was one of those pictures that became etched into my brain since the first time I saw it. I was mesmerized by the history (as I always am) and the astonishing site these people had chosen for their great city. Your imagination can’t help but run away with you at the thought of a city so remote and yet so advanced resting within the clouds of the Andes mountain.
For the weeks before I started the trek on the Inca Trail to meet Machu Picchu, I felt like it was the night before Christmas. The anticipation and sheer wonder wouldn’t allow sleep to come easily and the lone thought that tomorrow would be the big day kept me in disbelief.
Entering at the Sun Gate, Intipunku, where all trekkers on the Inca Trail make their entrance to Machu Picchu, I was excited to see Machu Picchu at sunrise. It was actually one of the main reasons I decided to hike the trail. As luck would have it, Machu Picchu and all the mountains around it were shrouded in clouds the day I arrived. I would have thought I’d be disappointed not to see the sun rise, but gradually seeing the clouds clear and the mysterious city of Machu Picchu poke through the thick drapes added a layer of mystery you wouldn’t get on a sunny day. It actually made the journey all the more worth it.
As Machu Picchu rose from its cloudy slumber, we all had our own private reactions to our first glimpse of the great city we’d worked so long and hard to meet. For me it was a moment of great satisfaction and pure unadulterated awe. Its still amazing to me that you can see something so majestic in pictures a thousand times and still never really grasp the magnitude of what it will be like to lay eyes on it for yourself.
Later in the day the fog cleared and as we explored the city with its intricate walkways, buildings and temples I was continually impressed by the thoughtfully laid out plans for a city so remote from the rest of the world even in its hay day. The terraces lining the sides of the mountain were used to grow crops and were supplied with the proper amount of irrigation due to the drainage systems that the modern world has only in recent years grown accustomed to using. Evidence of many different types of fruits and vegetables were found that few areas of the world can claim to harvest like in this region of Peru and by the ingenious people of the Inca civilization.
The religious centers and temples further displayed the thoughtfulness of the creators in the precision used to carve out these structures. While many structures displayed building techniques of the many civilizations conquered by the Incas over the years, the Temple of the Sun was precisely crafted of huge rocks laser cut (or you’d think so) to fit magically together. There are still debates regarding the building techniques used to achieve this design at Machu Picchu and other Peruvian Sites such as Sacyshuaman perched above Cuzco. The Temple of the Sun is also intriguing for the way that it was woven around existing boulders in line with the Inca belief of harmony with the natural world.
Winding my way through the various buildings and poking my head into tombs left me feeling like I was in a dream state. I still feel a little like that today, where I know I was there, I have pictures to prove it but it was such a special experience I still sometimes wonder if it really happened.
To make seeing Machu Picchu that much better, as if it needs any help, for those that dare you can also climb the Hauyna (Wayna) Picchu mountain that looms over Machu Picchu. It gives you a 360 degree panoramic of Machu Picchu and the Urubamba valley below and is also a bit of a death defying experience to crawl your way to the top. The reward of the view and the additional cityscape on top of Wayna Picchu is certainly worth it but this climb isn’t for the faint of heart.
At the end of the day, I was exhausted by 4 days of hard trekking both on the Inca Trail and throughout the lavish site of Machu Picchu, but I also had a strong feeling of accomplishment. This was not only the fact that I had fought the limitations of my body or the strenuousness of the trail but that I had made it to one of the places I never really thought I’d see with my own eyes. That was one of those days that I couldn’t imagine still living the life I used to in Corporate America and missing out on something so grand along my journey.
Have you had a similar experience or feeling? What place was like that for you? I’d love to hear your stories!
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