The thing about winging it is that we never have an exact plan of where we will be until pretty much the day before, or on some occasions an hour before. This has not been a problem so far but did mean that Machu Picchu could not be booked in advance and for many things associated with Machu Picchu, booking far in advance is exactly what you need to do.
The first challenge is to know to what the name Machu Picchu is attributed and the answer is – everything. The feeder town that you arrive in, previously known as Aguas Calientes is now called Machu Picchu pueblo; the Inca ruins and overall site is called Machu Picchu and the highest mountain within the site is called Machu Picchu mountain. 2,500 visitors are permitted per day to the overall site, 800 a day are permitted to climb Machu Picchu mountain and 400 the Huayna Picchu mountain which although lower than Machu Picchu has a number of Inca ruins. Needless to say the tickets for Huayna Picchu sell out up to 6 months in advance so we weren’t going up that. The Inca trail is also in high demand and booked up months in advance so that was out. However, we managed to successfully score ourselves some tickets to get into Machu Picchu and to climb Machu Picchu mountain which was a real positive, but I had the secret fear. After climbing up what was effectively a mound in comparison in Copacabana and virtually requiring CPR I was envisioning the need to be airlifted off the mountain two minutes into the climb and the thought of it was bringing me out in a sweat.
However, on journeying from Bolivia to Peru there was a significant reduction in altitude. We stayed in Ollantaytambu in Peru, a small town one and a half hours on the train from Machu Picchu pueblo that had a number of its own Inca ruins, naturally on the side of mountains. We did a quick practice run clambering up there and I didn’t die so I felt a bit more positive about the MP climb.
The day for Machu Picchu arrived, we were up at 3am and on the train. On arrival in Machu Picchu pueblo I couldn’t help but notice that the weather was pretty rubbish with reducing visibility the higher we climbed. I pointed this out to the guide I happened to be sitting next to on the bus to the entrance and he assured me it would all be gone by 10am. As our designated slot for beginning to climb the mountain was between 9-10am I was pacified.
On getting into the site our first hike was up to the sun gate, the former entrance to Machu Picchu and as it was the 21st June and winter solstice it was a biggy for this place and a lot of people were there to leave gifts and give thanks to Pacha Mama and the sun god’s. At sunrise winter solstice the sun is supposed to shine through the gateway lighting up the temple. Sadly the sun slept in that morning or at least stayed hidden by the fog so that phenomena was missed.
The time then came for us to sign our names in the book of arrivals to climb Machu Picchu. I had been so caught up in the excitement of the whole experience I had momentarily forgotten that my mountain goat of a husband views every incline as a challenge, every hill as a race and every other hiker as competition. We set off at a steady pace and his happiness levels increased with every person we overtook. As time went on the steepness of the mountain intensified although with every turn the views remained constant – fog. Having been walking for about three days by my count I noticed that the weather was not in anyway dissipating and began to curse the guide that had promised clear skies by 10am. Lies. Then I hit a wall and I began to lose enthusiasm for a hike that was shaping up to have no reward. People began to pass us and Jamie turned on his ‘tough love encouragement’ which got him nowhere except a near black eye. However, after huffing and puffing for a good 10 minutes, my own competitive spirit emerged from the ashes and we did mission the final stretch passing the helpful people on the way who assured us it was a only a little bit further. So we joyfully reached the summit to the following views…
They close the top of the mountain at 12.00pm and from the time we reached the summit we and most other people in our time slot sat hoping in vein for a clearing of the clouds to present us with the view of Machu Picchu. However, 12.00pm came and the weather was just the same, the mountain goat got his hooves back on and we started galloping back down the mountain. However, halfway down we came through the cloud and on a particularly hazardous bend screeched to a halt to finally get our first look at Machu Picchu. It was worth the climb up if only for this view on the way down, it was spectacular and we finally saw what all the fuss was about.
Machu Picchu was a royal estate built around 1450. It managed to avoid destruction by the Spanish in the 1500’s as it was never found but the Inca’s abandoned the site around the same kind of time, probably due to a combination of plague and internal fighting, although the full reason is a question that historians have never entirely been able to answer. It has been agreed however, that the architecture and building work was way ahead of its time and the ruins are still in pretty good shape considering the number of tourists that used to be allowed to climb all over them.
Walking around the ruins was incredible but we also walked to the Inca bridge which was the old draw bridge and protection of MP. Although this is closed off to tourists to walk on now (thankfully) you could see the path the Inca’s would have followed across the mountains and let’s just say they were not afraid of heights or mountain ridges!
Walking around the ruins of Machu Picchu despite the number of tourists, it was still possible to be awed by the amazing strength and skill it must have taken to build such a complex city at such a great height. Getting both water and food to feed circa 1,200 people was a feat in itself and there was a lot of ‘wowing’ that went on during our day there. MP is now a UNESCO heritage site covering nearly 33,000 hectares and was first discovered in 1911, it is absolutely fascinating and worth every step.