Machu Picchu – The lost city of the Incas
Machu Picchu, the mere mention of the name of this former hidden city in the clouds is enough to get any adventurers heart beating. It’s a city that was lost to the world for almost 400 years, after the Incas had left it in an attempt to save some of the Incan empire from the destruction of the spanish conquistadors. It was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an explorer from the USA, after he had heard rumours of a hidden city up in the mountains. The story of it’s rediscovery pales compared to the story of Machu Picchu itself, a story that will perhaps never be completely told as the lost city of the Incas remains almost as shrouded in mystery as it was when it was discovered.
After 3 days of trekking through the Andean mountains, up mountain passes and down thousands of steps we were finally close to the goal of our trek. As we woke up in the middle of the night, had a light breakfast and geared up we were a mere hour away from the first view of Machu Picchu, the Sun Gate. We waited for a while outside the gate to the protected area around Machu Picchu, and as we had gotten up early enough we were the second group waiting to be let in at 5.30 in the morning. As the gate opened we hurried up the path, guided by the headlamps of those ahead of us. It was a race against the sun, as we wanted to get to the Sun Gate to see the first rays of the sun hit the Sun Temple at the break of dawn. The pace was high and by the time I reached the gate I was heaving for breath and struggling to keep my videocamera still as I was trying to capture the moment as it happened.
The Sun Gate is located above Machu Picchu and offers a superb view of the valley below. We got the essential group pictures and continued to head on down to the Watchmans Hut where all the postcard photos of Machu Picchu are taken. As the first busses with tourists start arriving at 6am we were not the first to arrive, but we were definently not the last either. The busses that trudge their way up the winding road from Aguas Caliente in the valley below seemed to be smack full of tourists the entire day. I definently recommend getting to the ruins early as it does get a bit crowded later in the day. I even succeded in getting parts of the group in on my RTW travel video, which I will be editing and posting on this website within the next decade! I have learned from my previous expedition to Kilimanjaro that editing a video from a trip takes a lot longer than the 6 months you give yourself when you get back… It’s coming any day now guys!!
The first view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate is incredible, but I have to say that the view from the Watchmans hut when the first rays of the sun are illuminating the city below are simply staggering. There is an eerie beauty in the artwork of stone that is spread out below your feet, and the position of the city itself is a testament to the ingenuity and craftmanship that the Incas posessed at the time. The city itself was built around 1430 AD, but abandoned only a hundred years later. There are still many theories concerning what Machu Picchu really was, with the most likely one branding Machu Picchu as the commercial, political and military stronghold of the Incan empire at it’s largest and most powerful. It has also been designated as an estate of the legendary Incan, Pachacutec. He was the Incan ruler that started the expansion of the Incan empire from its meager beginning covering the area around the capitol of Cusco, to its height when most of South America was a part of it.
We started out with Juan giving us a guided tour while explaining about the construction and history of the place. It’s amazing that they had the technology and knowledge back in the 14th and 15th century to build and use advanced solar watches that could pinpoint events like solstices and solar eclipses. My three favourite sights in Machu Picchu was the three windows, the temple of the sun and the watchmans hut. It’s jawdropping to walk around the city trying to imagine what it was like when it was bustling with people.
After we finished the tour we met up in the small town of Aguas Caliente for a goodbye dinner at seriously inflated prices. It was worth it though as we got to say goodbye to a great group of people that we had gotten to know. One of the highlights of doing the trip this way was the chance to get to know people in a similar mindset as yourself as they to opted to do the trek instead of going there by bus.
Machu Picchu is a testament to a civilization that were the masters of their time in so many ways. It definently deserves its place in the new 7 wonders of the world and is worth a spot on your to do list if you’re into history and adventure. The government has put strong regulations on the amount of people that are allowed in per day as there is only so many people that can access the city through the monopolized Peru Rail to Aguas Caliente. Machu Picchu is among the many wonders of the world that is threatened by erosion caused by the growing amount of tourists. Although it’s obviously hypocritical of me to even be writing this since I have already been there myself while I was aware of the degradation caused by tourism I still feel that spreading the word will atleast help to spread awareness about the problem. Plans to build roads to Aguas Caliente would definently open up a flood of tourists and mark the end of the city as we know it today.
I can really recommend doing it the way we did by walking the Inca Trail. This way you are only a part of a 200 strong group of tourists that depart every day and you get to explore the Inca myth in a more in depth way than a half day trip to Machu Picchu via Aguas Caliente would ever give you.