Getting up at 4:30 am and the word “vacation” are two things I usually don’t put together, but it’s exactly what I did the day I visited Machu Picchu. The previous night my guide stopped by the hostel to discuss the next day’s plans. I think his original suggestion was to meet at 6:30am, but I decided I wanted to see the sun rise. So, we agreed to meet at 5:30 am (the buses from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu start at 5:00 am). I was grateful that Intrepid had secured me a private guide for Machu Picchu.
The next morning when my alarm went off at 4:30 am I mustered all my strength and hit snooze two or three times before finally rolling out of bed. It’s a sign that things start early when the included breakfast starts at 4:45 am.
I got dressed, gathered my gear, and headed to breakfast. As usual, I was way ahead of schedule (I have fears of being late) so I was more than ready when my guide showed up. As we made our way towards the buses I quickly noticed there was already quite a line. They have the system down to a science and it wasn’t long before we started the windy ride up the side of the mountain. The road is quite narrow and when we met a bus coming down the drivers quickly decided who would backup into a location that was wider. Still we were closer than arms length from the other bus…and, I have short arms (photo to the left taken from the bus I was on…yikes).
As we made our way up, my guide pointed out another way to get there…on foot. As the road winds back and forth up the mountain, the trail ascends straight up. I couldn’t have been happier to be sitting on the bus at that moment.
We arrived at the entrance around 6:15 am to yet another long line. Once again I was impressed at the speed in which they granted entrance (even with presenting passports).
HOWEVER, Mother Nature took away the glory that day. Fog was nestled in tight and even if we would have been there in time for the sunrise (which we were not) there is no way we would have seen the actual sun. There were small clusters of people waiting patiently with their guides while we were all assured the fog would lift soon. And, it did…kind of. We spent about thirty minutes watching the fog lift slightly and then fill back in. Even so, Machu Picchu was still breath-taking covered in the magical fog.
My guide finally decided the fog wouldn’t be lifting any time soon, so we headed down into the archeological site. Along the way, my guide filled me with tons of historical information and I imagined myself living there with the Incas. About one-third of the way down, the rain came. In Machu Picchu there are a few structures with thatched-roofs and that is where we all huddled once again waiting for Mother Nature to grace us.
It seemed to rain for quite a long time, but I’d guess it was really only 20 to 30 minutes. I was even lucky enough to capture photos of a chinchilla while it rained…thanks to my guide’s keen eye-sight…which isn’t saying much since it was practically walking up to me and I didn’t even notice.
When the rain subsided we continued along our magical journey, my guide filling me with more historical information than I could possibly remember. I always try to capture some tidbits that might not be in the guidebooks so here are a few interesting things I learned.
- Although Machu Picchu is considered the Lost City of the Incas, it never really was lost. It’s been “discovered” several times over the centuries.
- In the 1800s it was discovered by Herman Gohring, a German, who took many of the artifacts back to Germany.
- In 1911 it was “officially discovered” by Hiram Bingham (but according to my guide Hiram was there in 1910 and when he discovered there wasn’t any gold and silver he moved on later coming back in 1911).
- Hiram was given only three month to clear Machu Picchu. Because of the hast he used fire, which ultimately destroyed artifacts and wall paintings.
- Eighty percent of Machu Picchu has been excavated and of that 90% of it is original (no restoration).
- Machu Picchu has two temples not found in other Inca sites…the Sunset and Condor temples.
- Some of Machu Picchu’s terraces were destroyed to accommodate road access.
- Some walls in Machu Picchu have started sagging due to the underground cave system. Inca kings (obviously modern ones) and later celebrities would sometimes arrive to Machu Picchu via helicopter. They eventually decided that the thumping of the rotors was causing the caves to collapse further, so that is no longer allowed.
- In 1997, there was another fire at Machu Picchu and since then a smoking ban has been instituted.
- In 2010, there was severe flooding in the area. Many news agencies reported that Machu Picchu was nearly destroyed. The real story is that Machu Picchu Town (Aguas Calientes) was nearly destroyed. Machu Picchu itself was never in any flooding danger. Although, it was shut down for a period while roads were repaired.
- There are 25 llamas that call Machu Picchu home (24 females and one male). There are no alpacas because their hooves are too hard and would destroy the structures.
After walking me through most of the site, my guide left me to wander on my own. I was appreciative of his time and knowledge. By then, Mother Nature had finally graced us with sunshine. I eagerly made my way back towards the top of Machu Picchu to take in its full glory and take some photos of one of the most recognizable scenes in the world.
Just like most historically impressive sites, photos will never do Machu Picchu justice. For years it had been on my “travel bucket list” and finally I was able to put a line through it.
Some say the mountian behind Machu Picchu looks like a face…from right to left…brow, nose, mouth, chin.
The first couple of photos illustrate a rock splitting technique frequently used. They would chip out enough area to insert a piece of dry wood. They would then wet the wood causing the rock to split. Fascinating!
The Condor Temple
As I mentioned above, this is a unique temple to Machu Picchu. I hope the photo will do it justice. The wings are the natural rocks and the head is carved into the rock on the ground.