A lost world. An ancient civilization. A location that soars above the clouds. A beauty that can’t really be explained. Everything about a visit to Machu Picchu will leave you awestruck. It’s a place that I came away from, not just with a bunch of great Instagram photos, but also with a real feeling of accomplishment. We made it to a place that the Spanish armies never laid their eyes on.
So many tourists trample down the Inca Trail each year and yet there are still so many questions. Why here, on this teetering hilltop amongst the mist? How did the Inca people manage to keep their secret for so long? And why, in the end, did they abandon the majestic Machu Picchu, and burn down all the bridges leading to it? Was it solely to hide from the Armada, or was there another reason they decided to leave what could have been the world’s greatest hiding place? We may never find the answers to these questions, and yet somehow that’s the beauty of it.
So, how should do you do it?
If you have the physical ability, trekking to Machu Picchu on foot is the way to go. Arrive in the striking city of Cusco and soak up the distinctly Peruvian atmosphere. Adjust to the incredibly high altitude (over 5000m!) and perhaps try a local delicacy of guinea pig before setting off into the mountains on the Inca Trails.
Three or four days of early starts, tough trekking, and some of the most amazing views will lead you to the town known as Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu. The more adventurous can choose to mountain bike, zip-line, and white water raft their way to the ancient city. Meanwhile, those who aren’t as physically able can easily hop on the scenic train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. After perhaps a brief stop in some relaxing thermal hot springs, all those hoping to see the mysterious lost city will arrive in Aguas the night before.
Its then time for an early night, setting your alarm for 4.00 am. You’ll awake in the dark and will either begin queuing up for the first bus up the hill or set off on the steep 90-minute ascent up the mountain. You will be following in the steps of Hiram Bingham; the man who first rediscovered the site. By 6 am you will have reached the top, a beautiful sunrise and parting of the misty clouds are scheduled for your first glimpses of the city. If you still have the energy, a trek up the Huyana Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain is perfect for a birds-eye view of the citadel.
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A guide is definitely recommended, as there are no information boards or maps cluttering up the ancient ruins. Be thankful you arrived early, as by 10 am the site will be overrun with tourists. The mysterious atmosphere of the striking remains gets somewhat lost amongst the hubbub and crowds. Get your passport stamped on your way out and catch the bus back down the hill. Find yourself a Machu Picchu souvenir in the sprawling souvenir market and then catch the train back to Cusco. You can be smug in the knowledge that you have navigated the teetering Inca trails, found your way to the lost city, and experienced its true beauty.
But, why should you go?
It’s a place that everyone should go, not only to see the ruins and feel their mysterious past but also to find that overwhelming sense of achievement. To see a place that might not be available to the public forever. To find a spot in your heart for the Incas and their incredible history. To visit an ancient wonder of the world in a far-flung corner of the globe. It won’t be cheap and it certainly won’t be easy, but I would urge anyone and everyone who has the means, to do it, before Machu Picchu becomes closed to the public and the city is lost once more.