Some say there’s no difference between hiking and walking. I say no one “hikes” to the top of Machu Picchu — you hang on with all fours.
The saga began with a three-hour train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, and a bus from our hostel in Aguas Calientes directly up the mountain to Machu Picchu. Crashes are common because everything’s old — the buses and the pavement on the hairpin turns. (If you’re wondering why we didn’t take the Inca Trail, my friend Ashley and I opted to save the two weeks of pain in favor of time at Rio de Janeiro’s beaches. Can’t beat that.) But after you get off the bus, heaving and crying, the view at the top will brighten your mood.
It rained off and on while my friend Ashley and I explored the ruins, so the guides handed out colorful ponchos which made it easy for us to pick out tourist hot spots. Mostly, visitors clung to the outskirts of the complex, peering over the edges of the mountain at the steps leading up to it or some of the small outposts and houses sitting on the outcrops.
Though the fog rarely lifts completely from the mountains at this altitude, pockets will open that reveal pieces of the view you’re missing. The fog will sit in the valleys below, and the Andes mountains become looming shadows like ships at sea.
The architecture is stunning, as can be expected. The Incans used three types of stone construction depending on the use of the building. The more difficult and airtight design takes far longer to build and is used for religious or holy buildings. Another type is used on the wealthy families’ homes and other public buildings, and the final on peasants’ homes. Below is an example of the second type, where stones are slightly shaped to fit one another but are not exact, as on religious buildings.
The windows slant inward toward the top, making them resilient against bad weather for over 600 years.
Some places you see when you travel require a photo album to remember the details, but Machu Picchu is not one of them. I hope you enjoy these snapshots, but they can’t do justice to the feeling of sitting in the fog at almost 8,000 feet above sea level in a city built by an extinct empire. I promise, the bus ride is worth it.
–Tara for TKGO