You may know the story of Hiram Bingham III, a historian and lecturer at Yale University, who rediscovered Machu Picchu (Quechua meaning “old mountain”) in 1911. National Geographic and Yale University funded another expedition in 1912 followed by a National Geographic article that put Machu Picchu on the world map (and did a lot to make the small upstart magazine the global brand it is today). Since the publishing of Bingham’s work and the National Geographic article, the world has marveled at the Incas’ engineering- the perfectly carved stones and pathways/ roads, the water system and canals still used today and the agricultural terraces.
On Day 4 on the Inca Trail, we set out for Machu Picchu. Up until this point, we had gorgeous weather, but we woke on Day 4 to pouring rain and a cup of coca tea delivered to our tent at 3:30 am by the awesome Valencia team. (Valencia is truly one of the best guiding companies with which we have had the pleasure of traveling.) It was actually a torrential downpour, but spirits were high. We all joked that the rain completed the Inca Trail experience. So with our rain gear on, head lamps, walking poles and backpacks, we set out for the checkpoint to Machu Picchu.
At the checkpoint and a little soggy, we waited for about an hour for it to open which was actually a good thing as the rain subsided while we waited in the protection of the overhang with ~200 fellow trekkers and guides. (The porters do not join the guests to Machu Picchu as there is no need and they hike down with the 70 + lbs they carried up to catch the 5:30 am cargo train back to Ollantaytambo.)
During days 1-3 on the Inca trail, we joined many other people on the trail, but it was not the steady stream of people that we experienced to and at the Sun Gate and in Machu Picchu. Regardless, walking the ancient, Inca, stone path carved into the gorgeous Andes mountains and sometimes carved into sheer precipices was a surreal experience.
After about two hours of hiking single file with a steady stream of people, we arrived at the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate was the main entrance to Machu Picchu and the point at which the Incas entered and exited Machu Picchu.
Following the Sun Gate, we were not only hiking with our ~200 fellow Inca Trail hikers over the last three days, but the day trippers to Machu Picchu. From the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu, the hike was only about another 30 minutes and all downhill. We passed many panting visitors going in the opposite direction hoping for the clouds to clear (no chance on that day). Finally, after 4 days of hiking, coming around the corner to view the classic photo now associated with Machu Picchu is awe inspiring- even with some clouds. And the the sheer number and size of ruins surrounded by the beautiful Andes peaks is quite a site.
The site is divided into an urban sector and an agricultural sector, and into an upper town and a lower town.
In Machu Picchu, there is one engineering marvel after another to explore.
The photo on the left above is believed to be a sundial. The photo on the right above is believed to have been designed as an astronomic clock or calendar by the Incas.
Even after visiting Machu Picchu, it is difficult to describe where we have been and what we saw because the words and pictures do not do justice to the work of the Incas. Many believe the site is still a powerful and mystical site and believe there is energy to harness while visiting.
After spending the day at ruins, we took the bus to the town of Machu Picchu (or Aquas Calientes) for a celebratory lunch with our team which was followed by the super scenic and beautiful train ride back to Ollantaytambo (and then a bus ride back to Cusco to end the 18 hour day).
So haku, haku (Quechua word ) to Machu Picchu! Check out our other posts on Peru, Cusco, and the Inca trail here.