South America Journey, Part 3, Machu Picchu

Chris our guide….and The Jewel of Peru…Machu Picchu

The Sacred Valley turned out to be one of the best discoveries for us in our journey throughout Peru. The history of the Inca People, the temples, homes and fortresses they built so long ago, still standing today was “Wonder of the World” itself. Our Guide Chris set up our week with him, first visiting the Sacred Valley for a few days, mainly to get used to the high altitude. Cusco, Peru Altitude is over 10,000 feet, so taking it easy there, resting a lot and drinking mega water was the key.

Peru Rail Train to Aquas Caliente and Machu Picchu

And now we are off to Aquas Caliente, the small town at the foothills of Machu Picchu. We boarded out train, Peru Rail’s “Expedition Train”, in the small town of Ollantaytambo. The train enjoyed large glass windows on the side and the roof for observation. The trip lasted about three hours, and views of the river, mountains and glaciers were spectacular. I will say that we in fact wished we had the opportunity to stay that night in Ollantaytambo, which was beautiful, and train station close-by, instead of driving over an hour to it.

We arrived at the train station in Aquas Caliente and headed the 15 minute walk uphill to our awaiting hotel, the Jaya Machu Picchu. When I made the reservations, I had found good reviews on this hotel, but ya just never know, as they also called this little town a “tourist trap”. It is mainly used by tourists that come up by train, take bus up to Machu Picchu, and return to Cusco the same day by train.

I chose to stay two nights at the hotel, which gave me the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu twice if weather was bad the first morning, however, it wasn’t and we spent the next day exploring the town.

Machu Picchu Brewery……Lunch by the river

So after exploring the first afternoon in town, having a great lunch at the local “Beer Tavern”, and later dinner we enjoyed a good night sleep. We were up early the next morning to meet Chris our guide at the Bus at 6 AM for our journey up the mountain. We instantly realized why this time of year and time we boarded were so important, and advised by Chris. There was no line at the bus!

Bus and trail up the mountains.

The bus up to the parking lot at Machu Picchu Entrance was quite an experience, winding switchbacks, cliffs, and meeting busses coming down on the very narrow road. I will say that I am so happy we are not walking up the existing trails, a treat to us “older and experienced folk” πŸ™‚

Bus debarkation area, ticket booth and beginning of climb.

We finally reached the parking lot at base of entrance, and after presenting our tickets (purchased ahead by Chris our guide), begin the hike up about 300 stone steps placed by ancient Inca builders.I will say that the climb up these steps was well planned, and fairly easy to climb, as compared to other “ruins” we have climbed in the world. Wife Marsha had little or no issues climbing with her”climbing pole” with I suggest for anyone doing this, young and old.

Areas are setup for wheelchair access, and easy trails.

When we reached the top of the trail, Chris had us stop for what he said was “the money shot”, and was he ever right ! From this point and continuing with the entire climb and exploration of Machu Picchu, it was obvious to me that Machu Picchu is not just a beautiful example of the Inca Empire temples, buildings, walls, etc., although to some that is what they see. To me it became an extraordinary “Mystical Experience”. Every photo I took, with Inca buildings, walls, monuments, what I saw and captured was the “layers” of mountain ranges behind the photo, wispy fog, sunlight peeking through clouds and mountains. It was an eerie feeling of walking in footsteps of others long gone, and wondering if they looked at their surrounding as I did, mystified.

Getting on top of the mountain as early as we did, meant no crowds for the first hour or two (we were there about four hours), but that changed as we looked back along the trails and lines of visitors followed behind.

It’s Just frickin “Un-Belizable” πŸ™‚

At this point I would like to say one thing to those reading this and planning to visit Machu Picchu. The very best thing we did, and you should do, is hire a professional guide here in Peru. First off, they help plan you trip so you don’t end up ill with “altitude sickness”. They “pre-purchase” tickets for major attractions for you, like Machu Picchu, which in our case, were “sold out” when we were there. At all the sights we visited with Chris, we would never have known what we were looking at, or what things were built for, or history of them, had we not hired him. We would have missed out on so much, that was of so much importance to us to know. and he spoke perfect English!

You need to take many breaks, however you also need to stand up on those “rubber legs”.

As my wife Marsha had not to long before our trip, broken her ankle, which was pretty much now healed, I was concerned about the climbing ancient stone steps, un-even and along cliffs ! It doesn’t really matter young or old, anybody can trip, fall, and get very hurt. Walking sticks can help, but there’s nothing quite like a Guide that looks out for your safety.

I am so very proud of wife Marsha, for tackling this challenge, and all the others on this adventure.

Because you are on a mountain top, above the world, every photo is a new experience, and the Inca planned this community exactly for this reason. The various views over, around and through the structures they build express this.

Yup ! They served lunch πŸ™‚ Kidding….but there were Llama’s up there “free-ranging”

I actually climbed a specific peak alone, where then ancient Inca “Sundial” was constructed, obstructed by nothing. I could actually feel the presence early priests “checking the time of day”, or was that a “Shaman” or “Witch Doctor” ?

I climbed that tower to see the sundial at top, the builders did have to keep an eye on the time πŸ™‚

It was amazing the history and designs of the community by the Inca, as explained by Chris. The fortress built where it is, was totally backed by un-climbable walls for security of the people living there, with only one way up from below.

You always have to watch your step.

Specific areas were constructed for “The Royals”, the workers, the “Agriculture Specialists”, the guards and others. Much of the food supplies were brought up the mountain, as at this altitude, growing crops was difficult.

The Tree

It’s simply amazing to see all the structures, intact just as they were when build so long ago. The Inca builders and Architects knew exactly how to place every stone so it would not move, ever! They fit like a glove or like Marsha says, “Like they were laser cut” ? Possibly by “Aliens from another planet”?

Nice to see ancient builder kept to “code” with 7 inch rise to those steps.

Although there were areas with grass growing I only remember this one tree, that comes up inside a small “courtyard” on a hillside.

Of course, if you do any research on Machu Picchu, you will find that almost the entire hilltop of Machu Picchu was covered up by the jungle after the Inca people abandoned it. The reason they abandoned it was of the invasion of the Spaniard’s in the 16th century, who destroyed many Inca temples and building in Peru during their conquest.

They remained under cover until 1911, when American Archeologist discovered them quite by accident. Bingham was actually looking for a nearby site when he mistakenly climbed the peak and discovered a few Inca buildings. He later returned clearing what is now “The Sacred City”, which after time has allowed millions of tourists to visit one of the worlds most famous “man made” wonders.

Yup…Paid Advertisement….Remember… πŸ˜‰

If you would like to know the statistics of exploring Machu Picchu, the entire mountaintop stretches over five miles of trails, with an impressive 3,000 stone steps within it. Believe me when you experience this, at the end of the day, you will know why the Peruvians love their “Pisco Sours”. πŸ™‚

If you plan to visit Machu Picchu I highly suggest doing as we did, spend two nights in Aquas Caliente, so you can take the first bus to the top, for both the cool temperature, small crowds and more importantly the spectacular sunrise.

There are two choices for visiting Machu Picchu, the way we did it, luxury train to Aquas caliente, and short bus to the site, or a 3-5 -day guided hike on Camino del Inca, or The Inca Trail.

They never tell you…No Banā on Machu Picchu…(bathroom).

Perhaps some 20 years ago when Marsha and I were adventurous (and fit), we would have done the Inca Trail experience. back then we actually descended the Grand Canyon and climbed back up in one day, something the signs there advised against.

Today and a bit older, the way we experienced Machu Picchu was exercise enough for us. In fact anyone of the older generations, or handicapped can and still should plan on visiting this wonderful destination. There is actually wheelchair access and ramps to viewing sites in Machu Picchu. Spouse and or family members can explore while you hang in the shade, watching them climb around, while still experiencing the wonders.

Drink lots of water and take frequent breaks because of high altitude.

All in all, Machu Picchu has exceeded my expectations on our month in South America, and is at this point, at the top for experiences throughout the world.

Well…for now…Chau ! (Goodbye).

However, that being said, we are not quite done here in Peru, as we head by the Expedition Train back down to Cusco for a few days exploring Cusco, before heading to Argentina and Brazil.

If you have not “Liked / Followed” my blog, please do so you won’t miss the next few blog posts about this trip, or next years October 2023 month-long experience in Southeast Asia.

Until then, I say… It’s time for a Pisco Sour with that Thanksgiving Turkey πŸ™‚

Gary ….The Pirate

About storiesbygary

I am a Freelance Writer / Photographer, writing travel related articles for international magazines, blogs and websites and my own published books.
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