“Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to the eternal fusion with the cosmos; where we feel our fragility. It is one of the greatest marvels of South America. A resting place of butterflies in the epicentre of the great circle of life. One more miracle.” – Pablo Neruda
Machu Picchu has every right to be listed as one of the new seven wonders of the world. The great Spanish poet Pablo Neruda summarises it to perfection. I cry reading his words they are so beautiful and true. Spiritually I’m connected. I do have mixed feelings about the journey but let me tell you about this marvellous ancient site first.
The layout is intense, the Inca thought of everything. They put many of today’s city planners to shame. The building structures are made from gigantic stones cut perfectly to fit together without mortar, some still standing over 300 years later. The sophisticated irrigation system running through the terraced fields. Zoned areas for farming, residential neighbourhoods, a royal district and a sacred area. The perfectly positioned temples that align with the stars. Preserving food…. they were set for an apocalypse!!
I’d say, unless you were a sacrificial virgin or a lamb, life would have been great until the Spanish arrived.
It has been said by the experts that the Spanish may not have invaded Machu Picchu in the late 1500’s because they didn’t see it. It’s perched high up in the Andes (2340 meters amongst the sharp peaks). Other experts believe it was Small Pox that killed everyone, brought in by travellers. Some have said that it was a place for elites to escape the bigger cities, like a retreat – I do like that idea. Some say the farmed terraces could not provide enough food for the entire city so they left. What ever it was, I’m grateful it’s been found again for us to appreciate.
Everywhere we walked there was something amazing. Machu Picchu’s most distinct and famous structure is the Intihuatana stone, a sculpted granite rock that is believed to have functioned as a solar clock or calendar. I wanted to learn more about this giant rock but I couldn’t hear our guide we were being shunted past very quickly by the next group wanting to see. This is the downside to Machu Picchu and selfish me wanted everyone to disappear so I could have it to myself.
This is how the real Machu Picchu works on a daily basis, this is in no way a dig at the Peruvians (they are lovely kind hearted people), I’m just giving you a bit of a heads up on what to expect when travelling as a tourist. It starts way back in Cusco at 3am when many of us have to catch the bus to Ollantaytambo. They are small and cramped shuttles, from memory it was about 3-4 hours. You heard me say 3am right? Everyone is trying to sleep but no one can apart from the guy that’s leaning against me.
From Ollantaytambo we boarded a train, there are several so make sure you know which one you are on. This was about another hour on the train through the valley. You’ll arrive to the local town called Aquas Calientes and this is where I started feeling like sheep being herded into the yards.
Machu Picchu allow 2500 people daily, if you don’t have a ticket you can’t get in. So theres pretty much 2500 people waiting to get on the shuttles to take us up the zig zaggy road to the site. I have to say though, these drivers had the system under control. There was not one empty seat on each of the shuttles, they would go through the line shouting uno or dos (1 or 2). When we heard dos we knew we’d be next to get on (there were two of us), that’s how they ensure no empty seats. The driver drops us off, turns around and descends back down Aguas Cilientes to collect his next load of sheep.
At the entrance to the site there are swarms of tourist trying to push their way up the line, it was almost too much for me. I really struggle with large crowds, if anything its probably the waiting I don’t like.
Once we’ve all been herded in with our guide, they take us around giving the history of the site. If you are going I do recomend hiring a guide, we learnt a lot from him. However, they move you through so quick and because there were about 30 people in our group I could barely hear but its still good to take a guide. There are other guided groups with us the whole time.
I didn’t get any photos of that entire process, I didn’t want to.
When our guide finished at midday I walked off and up the hill to here, the Sun Gate. It takes about 1 hour and because we are so high we still have to deal with altitude sickness. Fortunately I’d been in the Andes a while now so had acclimatised. Even the look on my face says it all.
I sat here for a while then found a nice little grassy terrace and went to sleep until 4pm. Best sleep too. When I woke up there were several other backpackers asleep, maybe we’d all been thinking the same thing.
I walked back down to Machu Picchu and thats when the spiritual connection happened. Most people had gone. It was quiet and beautiful.
This is when I thought that the 200USD I’d spent on this day was worth more. Wow its amazing. If only I could stay here for ever.
Many people say you must go to Machu Picchu and if you’d asked me before midday I’d say bugger off! But because I came back down to see it without the swarms of tourist I’m glad I was there and yes you should do it. Just be prepared.
One last photo, I wanted to show you how the terraces were built high above the river. You wouldn’t want to slip.
Oh and the return back to Cusco was just as terrible as the morning. We were exhausted, didn’t get back to the hostel until 11pm.
- Spiritually enlightening
- Learning about the history and seeing it up close was awesome
Things I didn’t like:
- To many tourist, go in the afternoon if possible or early morning to see the sunrise
- Wished I’d known that you can arrive earlier to see the sunrise, also allows you to get in without be crushed by the crowds
- We paid too much, 200USD – 300NZD. too much when you convert to NZD.
- All throughout Cusco their are operators selling tickets. We brought ours and then seen tickets for 100USD.
- Book in advance
- You don’t have to take the train, some people walked. Most of them were the hard out backpackers though. Research online before you go and talk to other travellers. It wasn’t until we got back that I realised we could have done this another way
- Highly recommend staying at Hospedaje Familiar Jhuno, its a family run hostel situated in central Cusco. Its cheap and our host Rosemary and Edson are really nice people.
- Some people choose to stay in Aquas Calientes, town at the bottom of Machu Picchu. We thought if we’d know we would have found a cheap backpackers and stayed there. Its a beautiful area to explore
Happy travels 🙂