Machu Picchu goes by many names—The City in the Sky; A Wonder of the World; The Lost City of the Incas—but in reality, there aren’t really words to describe its magnificence. These majestic and spiritual ruins have always been known locally, so nationalistic Peruvians will fervently disagree with the notion that they were “discovered” by the explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911. Bingham did however bring Machu Picchu into the international spotlight more than 100 years ago—helping to create Peru’s most important national treasure and marking the beginning of Peru’s importance as a travel destination.
Visiting Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list for a long time and my desire to live close to such a wonder, was one of the reasons I zeroed in on Peru as my new home. For the first three months of living in Peru, I held strong that I wanted my first visit to Machu Picchu to be at the end of an arduous trek along the famous Inca Trail, and I was waiting for the perfect time to make it happen. Alas, there is never a perfect time, and a visit from my best friends pushed Machu Picchu to my do-now list. There was simply no way I could stay home while the best friends explored my dream destination.
We hopped on a train, bound for Machu Picchu, at a village called Ollantaytambo. To be more specific, the destination was Aguas Calientes, the little town at the base of Machu Picchu. An hour and forty minutes later, stepping off the train, you could immediately feel a difference in the air—it was warmer, more humid, and there was a notable buzz as hundreds of travelers prepared to make the visit up the mountain or had just returned. “Basecamp” Aguas Calientes was full of hiking boots, sunburned faces, and positive energy. We went to bed early that night so we could wake up early and catch the first bus at 5:00AM up to Machu Picchu. The next morning, it was still dark and the morning mist hung low in the air as we left our hostel and joined our fellow travelers on a bus that wound its way up the mountain—nearly 30 minutes of seat-clenching switchbacks to reach the ancient ruins.
At the entrance, our anticipation continued building as we waited to get inside. At last, it was our turn to enter through the gates and as we walked around the corner, we caught our first glimpse of the City in the Sky just as the sun rose and shown over the mountains. It was breathtaking!
We spent the whole day exploring the ruins, and could have easily stayed longer. Machu Picchu is divided into two sectors: the urban sector and the agricultural sector. The agricultural sector contains over one hundred terraces all built by the Incas and used for either growing crops or as a means of preventing soil erosion. The urban sector contains some of the most notable and sacred places within the ruins: The Temple of the Three Windows, The Temple of the Sun, and the Intihuatana stone. Llamas and alpacas wander the ancient terraces, lazily munching on grass while photo bombing tourists’ selfies and group pics. Many people claim they can feel a distinct spiritual energy, a connection to the Earth. What I can say is that when you walk through Machu Picchu, there is a distinctly inspirational power.
We also hiked to the top of Mount Machu Picchu, the mountain directly opposite the ruins, which was sacred to the Incas. In fact, Machu Picchu was built in this exact location directly Machu Picchu (“Old Mountain”) and Huayna Picchu (“Young Mountain”). The hike was about 90 minutes of rocky steps straight up. The climb through the thick jungle-mountain landscape made us all feel like we were on top of the world.
After Mount Machu Picchu, we made another hike, albeit a shorter and easier one, to the Sun Gate (“Inti Punku”). This spot, perched above the ruins, marks the very end of the famous Inca Trail. It was built in honor of the Inca sun god, “Inti,” and served as the main entrance to the sanctuary city when traveling from Cusco or the Sacred Valley. From this spot, you can view the entire expanse of Machu Picchu: the ruins, the mountains, and the surrounding rivers.
During our time in Machu Picchu, it seemed that around every corner there was something more spectacular! Despite the many other travelers, also exploring the ruins, the site is large enough that you can always find a peaceful, isolated spot to stare out into the expanse of mountain and jungle forest, imagining all the other undiscovered mysteries our world might hold. We ended the day perched on top of a large rock, watching the sun slowly move down in the sky, reflecting on the wonders of the day. Thinking about it now, we could have stayed there forever. There’s just so much beauty and such amazing energy! This definitely won’t be my last visit. Until next time, Machu Picchu.
– E. Child