An encounter with culture and life in the heights of Machu Picchu!
Who would've thought that at 2, 430 metres above sea level you'd find an impressive fortress habouring the history of a whole people's achievements, their way of life, diet, religion, culture and smiles full of love and determination within its walls? This corner of the heavens is an archaeological park or shrine named Machu Picchu, which means 'Ancient Mountain' in Quechuan, located in Cusco, Peru and today considered an architectural jewel built by the Inca Empire in the fifteenth century.
The Inca Empire was made up of areas in present-day South America, in countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina. The Incas are known for their many great feats and works, including some mysterious works of architecture, as their designs (such as Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman, both Incan cities) feature asymmetrical stones which fit together without the need for any joining material.
I've given this Machu Picchu Experience post the title of 'an encounter', as that is exactly what visiting is like: a very special encounter you spend many months preparing for, and when the moment arrives, the encounter itself absorbs you completely and the only thing left for you to do is to let yourself 'flow'. Flow among so much vegetation and natural beauty, admiring over 180 different varieties of orchids, fauna such as llamas, alpacas and birds, among which is the Cóndor Pasa, one of the most beautiful and famous Peruvian birds. Let's not forget to mention the Urubamba River, which brings yet more life into this archaeological site, caressing its green foundations.
Machu Picchu is made up of three important sections, the first being 'El barrio del sol' (The Sun District) which comprises of the sun temple and the room with three windows which, according to myth, the Incas emerged from on the day of creation. The second is the buildings the priests and nobility lived in, and the third, the houses belonging to the rest of the population.
Surrounded by this construction in the middle of the jungle, you feel small but not inferior when confronted with such perfection. You discover that human creativity is truly amazing, and that every people has its origins in a history forged by a contextual background of religion, struggle, war, peace, love, hope, work and growing roots.
I can now confirm why UNESCO named this mysterious place a World Heritage Site in 1983 and declared it to be one of the seven wonders of the modern world in 2007.
If you want to experience this magical place for yourself, first, come to Peru and then to the city of Cuzco. Once there, take the train from Ollantaytambo station to the town of Aguas Calientes.
From Aguas Calientes, take the bus to the archaeological site, or if you'd prefer an adventure on foot, there is always the option of the Inca trail, a 40 kilometre-long walk through this Andean empire from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu which takes around four days to complete.
Many tourist agencies can also be found in Cuzco, who can plan your travels for you, including booking hotels, restaurants and tourist activities. If you would prefer to make your own travel plans, this city offers hotels at all different prices, exquisite gastronomy, a cool climate, lots of archaeological sites (around nineteen), a warm welcome for visitors and something to suit every pocket. Live the experience, and live it in Latin America!
Content available in other languages
- Español: ¡En las alturas de Machu Picchu, un encuentro con la cultura y la vida!
- Italiano: Nelle alture, un incontro con la cultura e la vita!
- Français: Sur les hauteurs du Machu Picchu, une rencontre avec la culture et la vie!
- Deutsch: In den Höhen von Machu Picchu, ein Treffen mit der Kultur und dem Leben!
- Polski: Na wysokości Machu Picchu, spotkanie z kulturą i życiem!
- Português: Nas alturas de Machu Picchu, um encontro com a cultura e a vida!
A Place of Inca Magic
Peru is without a doubt one of the most fortunate countries in the world, not only because of its enormous diversity but also because of its huge cultural journey, thanks to its people who came to its lands thousands of years ago.
When we speak of Peru, we definitively think of a monument that is a source of pride for all Peruvians. This place is called Machu Picchu, and it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
To explore Machu Picchu is like travelling to the past without leaving the present. Not only that, it's like finding yourself after making the journey that has astonished so many similar visitors to this citadel.
Thanks to its lifestyle, Machu Picchu remained hidden in the vegetation after the ancient Peruvians abandoned it, which would not have happened if this sanctuary had been occupied by the Spanish during the colonial period. Perhaps in another scenario, we could have had a Machu Picchu built up, like the city of Cuzco is today, a city with a strong Inca presence in the buildings of its historical centre, but also with a clear Spanish influence in which the two worlds converge: Andean and Spanish.
Machu Picchu is a widely spoken of site. It is a truly magical place that provokes many emotions and sensations you can only feel when you see it with your own eyes. And you have to discover it piece by piece, walking, listening to its stories and seeing the perfect conjunction of nature inside it. Machu Picchu is a sanctuary that can be found in the region of Cuzco within the Peruvian mountain range, and its discovery is attributed to the American Hiram Bingham. Today, recent studies show that the settlers in the areas around Machu Picchu already knew about the existence of this marvellous place, and it was thanks specifically to them that the archaeologist was able to arrive at the lost city of the Incas.
I remember that during the government of Alan García, Yale University finally decided after almost 100 years to return the artefacts that the archaeologist Hiram Bingham had brought to the United States, with the aim of studying them. After many diplomatic negotiations, at last the archaeological artefacts came back to the millennial country from which they were taken.
There is no doubt that Machu Picchu is a place that provokes feelings of all kinds. There have been many reports interviewing multiple visitors to the Incan sanctuary, asking them to talk about the sensations provoked by seeing this marvel of ancient Peru. Their answers are varied: some come to be part of a globally known destination, others to recharge their energies, and others - as Peru's tagline says - to find themselves.
In order to come to Machu Picchu, it is necessary to plan your itinerary beforehand. In general, most visitors come through the city of Cuzco, and from there they embark on their journey to this most majestic site in Peru. In the city of Cuzco you will find a train station that will carry people who want to see Machu Picchu to the town of Aguas Calientes.
On the other hand, there is more than one way nature-lovers can take to come to their final destination of the citadel of Machu Picchu. A good example is the Inca Trail, but nevertheless you must keep in mind that if you want to do this trek, you should reserve your place at least six months ahead of time. On the other hand, if you apply to travel the Inca Trail with less than six months and you receive a "no" in reply, all is not lost. You still have other options of trails to take such as, for example, the mountain pass through the Nevado de Salcantay, which is said to be breathtaking, and well worth the trouble to hike.
The other route, which is the most travelled, is to come to Cuzco and from there take a bus along Ollantaytambo, and from there take a train that connects with the town of Aguas Calientes. Once you arrive at Aguas Calientes, you should buy tickets to go up in a bus, which will take you in less than 25 minutes to the entrance of the Incan citadel.
In my case, I've had two opportunities to visit Machu Picchu. The first was when I went on my first vacations for work, and some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins had bought a holiday package for traveling to Cuzco in one week. In my case, I arrived three days after they did, and for a moment I thought I wouldn't be able to enter the citadel with them. But, happily, it wasn't so, because I was able to visit Machu Picchu with them, and we had one of the most wonderful afternoons of my life.
The first time I went, I met up with a guide service that my family had reserved through a travel agency so they could take benefit from a local guide's first-hand knowledge of all the stories that Machu Picchu contains. On the other hand, it was also marvellous to be able to see with my own eyes the meaning of the things the guide was showing us while we hiked, each one of us, the expanse of the Inca citadel.
In this trip we took approximately two hours from when we arrived to take photos for ourselves, on every wall and corner that Machu Picchu had for us. Also, I have to mention to you that in Machu Picchu it is not allowed to bring food. The only thing you can bring with you is a bottle of water, so that was all I had with me to sustain myself for the whole afternoon.
At last you will see the tourist site of Huayna Picchu. Access to this part of the Sanctuary is also controlled, and the number of people permitted is not allowed to exceed a certain limit. I also remember a time when there were many arguments with Machu Picchu with regards to knowing what was the maximum quantity of people who should be able to enter the Inca Sanctuary.
At the moment, there is no onsite museum on which to show visitors the artefacts founds in Machu Picchu. Nevertheless, I have the understanding that this is one of the future plans that the Peruvian state has in the works, in order to provide visitors to this magnificent Peruvian tourist destination with a more enriched experience.
Without a doubt, Machu Picchu left me astounded, and even though I returned to see it a second time, this following occasion produced in me the same sensations as the first time. This second occasion, I had the good luck to get in touch with a friend from France through Couchsurfing, and together we decided to take a trip from my home city of Lima, and from there we were able to arrive in Cuzco. On this occasion, my friend went by bus and I went by airplane, because being Peruvian the cost of an airplane to me seemed more or less the same as taking the bus. In addition, I saved time, because on the bus it's nearly a day's journey from Lima, while going by plane takes approximately an hour and 15 minutes.
For this second trip to Machu Picchu, we did the train journey from the city of Cuzco to Aguas Calientes. I took one of the moderately priced trains, and it was much more enjoyable than the first time when I travelled with my family. The countryside you pass through on the journey to Machu Picchu is also a point in its favour, because without a doubt you will fall in love with all of the things you see, from the mountains, the nevados, the rivers and you'll see how little by little the environment changes as you pass through sierras or what is known as the "eyebrow of the forest. "
When we finally arrived at what is known as "Machu Picchu town" or also has the name "Aguas Calientes, " my French friend told me that he didn't want to take the usual buses and what he wanted to do was climb up the mountain by way of trekking. I had no choice but to follow him, because over the course of our trip I had also spent most of my money. Without a doubt, I did not regret this decision, because although the hike was a little difficult, when we finally came to the entrance of Machu Picchu I felt every inch a winner.
Along the path of this short hike, small but powerful, we met with many other people who were also doing the same as us. Some had already come to the sanctuary of Machu Picchu, and they gave us confidence that we could keep going, telling us that it was only a little bit longer to the end of our journey, but to our great surprise we saw that we still had a long way to go to arrive at the entrance of the Sanctuary.
Along this journey you will also come across a pathway of steps that is clearly signalled, so don't worry, because there is no way you'll get lost. You should only have a little bit of training in hiking, because although the path isn't very long, the effect of not being accustomed to walking in high altitude places can take a heavy toll. Nonetheless, if you are not bothered by these types of things, then you should have no problem hiking. You will travel along bridges and wildlife, all of it completely signalled so you don't get lost and you arrive safe and sound at your final destination: Machu Picchu.
Once we arrive at the entrance, I felt totally complete, since I realized that yes, it was worthwhile to complete this journey, and the fatigue of the hike vanished immediately, because I remember that before we entered we ate a little bit of fruit, which were a couple of mandarins, and afterwards we entered the Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.
When you enter Machu Picchu, you will find that there are many pathways. Basically, there are some that will bring you along the bottom part and others along the higher part. It's precisely that of the higher part that will take you directly towards the part with the panoramic view, where you will have a spectacular vista of area. Another delightful aspect of Machu Picchu that you can find are the llamas that wander throughout the grounds. They are peaceful and you can even take photos with them before you continue on your journey.
On this second occasion I travelled to Machu Picchu, I didn't do it with a tour guide, because I was adventuring as a backpacker, and what I did was hang out close to the groups where there was a guide speaking in Spanish, so that I could listen in on what they were saying about being in Machu Picchu. So I saved money on a guide and enjoyed the tranquillity of every one of its corners.
My friend and I explored much of Machu Picchu, and I remember that we positioned ourselves in the upper part of one of the viewpoints in which we found a sort of platform covered in grass, where we decided to rest for almost half an hour before continuing on our journey afterwards. It was very gratifying to be able to explore Machu Picchu, because the things that it had for us were majestic, and there are many different environments that you can visit in Machu Picchu.
Here you can read a small review, so that I can help you better understand the places that you can find in the Inca city:
"The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is located 130 kilometres to the northeast of Cuzco, in the province of Urubamba, at the crest of Machu Picchu hill.
Archaeologists have divided Machu Picchu into three large sectors:
- The first sector of Machu Picchu is the Sacred District, including the Intiwatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Three Windows.
- The Temple of the Three Windows, a symbolic representation of Tamputocco, or hill with three windows from which, according to the myth of the Ayar brothers, the Incas came forth on the day of creation.
- The Intiwatana, or "place where the sun is moored". This stone is the central piece, and the most important, of a complex system of astronomical measurements to determine the dates of the start and finish of the agricultural calendar, also known as a solar clock.
All the buildings of Machu Picchu follow along the lines of the classic Incan architectural style: the constructions with walls of polished, square-cut stones in regular formation, perfect seams between blocks of stone and a light slant or inclination, so that the base excels lightly with respect to its finish; empty, always trapezoidal and using niches and sculptures as architectural ornaments.
Machu Picchu can also be recognized as the city of platforms, stairways and water fountains. Of the first stairways and platforms, you can count more than a hundred, some of them with more than a hundred steps or more. In some cases, a staircase of eight or ten steps has been sculpted entirely out of one block of granite.
In the whole area of Machu Picchu, there are many cisterns and fountains of water called "pacchas, " styled out of stone and interconnected by canals and drains perforated in the stone.
On the other hand, I can also tell you that one of the areas that most caught my attention was that of the solar clock, known as Intihuatana, because it was there in the two times that I went that I found people stopped around it, stretching out their hands in hopes of receiving the energy that Machu Picchu has for each one of them.
As you have probably already realized, Machu Picchu is the principal tourist destination of Peru. In truth, as my tourism teachers have said, "Machu Picchu doesn't need to sell itself, because it already sells itself. " It is a destination known worldwide, and one of the principal tourist destinations in this part of the world. There are many people who come every day to Peru with the intent only of visiting the Inca sanctuary of Machu Picchu.
I remember when Peru started its campaign to be part of the competition. When Machu Picchu was selected as one of the seven marvels of the world, it was a moment in which many Peruvians could celebrate, and which filled with great pride to this very day.
Nevertheless, there is something that I also want to emphasize, because having Machu Picchu in our territory brings with it a responsibility, social as much as economic. On one hand, this place is the Mecca of tourism in Peru, but on the other, what we have to do is foment this touristic development for the benefit of the entire population living in the Cuzco region. Day by day, we would have to say that Cuzco survives off of tourism, but there is still so much more that can be done and can be completed. All of this enriching experience of knowing the Lost City of the Incas, not only for the sake of outside tourism, but also to encourage domestic tourism in our country, ensuring, for example, that people living in the forest or in the north of the country also have the opportunity to come to Machu Picchu, and that they take full advantage of every one of these benefits that the city has for them.
When one goes to Cuzco, one realizes that there are many more things that one can see. In my case, for example, as I told you, even though I went twice, and I stayed for a week in both instances, I still am far from fully understanding the alternatives that you can take in Cuzco, being as it is the principal entry point to the citadel of Machu Picchu.
In Machu Picchu you can find not only the archaeological part, but also the wildlife aspect. Many native animals live there, in addition to wild plants along its outskirts. Perhaps it's not very easy to see them, but it is through them that Machu Picchu ranks so high to its visitors, because it is a true gem, and one of the remaining mysteries to solve of the history of humanity.
A root has formed from all this, the desire to know how it was possible to bring these enormous stones to build the foundations of the Inca citadel, and moreover to make in many of its parts a truly hydraulic work, such that even present-day engineers are envious of the creativity and the vast knowledge that the Incas had to be able to make this work in perfect harmony with nature. In this, Machu Picchu is special, because its location practically in the middle of nowhere gives it this touch of originality and distinction.
When it was time for us to return to Machu Picchu town, also known as Aguas Calientes, we felt a great vitality for being able to make this journey by foot, because without a doubt Machu Picchu charged us with energy and gave us that spark that we needed to continue on our way. The return journey was easier than we hoped, because to tell the truth the journey, since it was downhill, made us feel it in the absolute. In less time than it take a rooster to crow, we found ourselves back in Aguas Calientes with a fierce hunger for some tasty food. As the town is a little pricey, I remembered from the first time that I came the location of the market... since the town isn't very big, it isn't difficult to find your way around. There we ate pork rind with potatoes and Andean cream at a reasonable price.
In my first trip, I also forgot to tell you that after eating, I took the chance to visit the thermal springs that you can find in the town, and it was there I ended up to relax, and there I found more Peruvian nationals than foreigners, perhaps, children playing among the different pools of thermal springs that you find in the place, a truly relaxing experience after trekking across a good part of the Inca city.
One of the anecdotes that I can also tell you is that which is said in regards to the mountains, that if you look at it from a vertical perspective it appears as though it was a silhouette of one of the most important poets of Peru, . I refer to the great Cesar Vallejo. When you come to Machu Picchu, try to do this test and see that I'm not lying to you, and that I'm in earnest.
Dear friends, the way we were able to see Machu Picchu is a jewel that has a certain beauty, and today every single Peruvian has the firm conviction of preserving it for future generations.
I hope you have no doubts, and that if you still haven't come to Machu Picchu, you take the opportunity to visit it and enjoy to the utmost every one of its details, and live it as an unforgettable experience, which I am sure will mark you for life, just as it did to me during my two trips to the lost city of the Incas.
Thank you so much for reading this! I hope that this experience will be useful for you for when you come to see the marvellous experience of Machu Picchu. Goodbye, and until next time.