I always thought flying in an airplane was the closest thing to being up in the clouds. I was wrong. I traveled to Peru in December of 2013 with my dad and my sister, Olivia. I did not know much about Peru – I really did not know why my dad wanted to travel there, so I did some research and soon realized what the hype was all about. Two words: Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu, also known as “The Lost City of the Incas” is located at an altitude of 7,972 feet above sea level. Machu Picchu is believed to have been a sacred and religious site for Inca leaders up until the 16th century when Spanish invaders swept out all civilization. For hundreds of years, no one knew that Machu Picchu existed until an archaeologist named Hiram Bingham discovered this beautiful, historical site in 1911. In 2007, Machu Picchu was designated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Since then, hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world hike up one of the world’s most famous manmade wonders.
My family and I took a three-hour train ride from Cusco, Peru to Machu Picchu, and as we learned, this is the most common way to arrive at the base of Machu Picchu. Before our big day of hiking, we made sure to hydrate ourselves with mate de coca, also known as coca tea. We were advised not to drink alcohol or eat meat when we first landed to prevent altitude sickness. Peruvians believe coca tea, a herbal tea made from the leaves of a coca plant, is the best remedy to cure the sickness. When we finally arrived at the base of Machu Picchu, we were escorted to our hotel, Inkaterra Pueblo Hotel. Inkaterra is located in the cloud forest below the Incan ruins, so everything about this hotel was beautiful. Eager to start our hike the next morning, we nestled into our cottage and went to sleep.
Wake-up call was 4:30am, which provided us enough time to see the sunrise. Not very well-rested, we put on our hiking clothes, lathered on sunscreen (later we learned we did not put enough on), we set out to stand in line at the bus stop; the only way to get up to Machu Picchu. After a few minutes of waiting outside, we all crammed into a bus that took us up to the top, which surprisingly took longer than I anticipated – roughly forty-five minutes. By this time, it was close to 7:00am, and we did not want to waste any time. After standing in a line to get into the gates of Machu Picchu, we finally arrived! A tour guide assisted us, which is recommended because they explain everything from the history of Machu Picchu to the limestone that the Incans used to build their territorial grounds.
The first stop is Temple of the Sun. From this point, tourists can continue to hike up the hill or walk back down. Keep in mind we walked past hundreds of people hiking Machu Picchu. Along the way, we were lucky enough to see a man propose to his girlfriend, now fiancé, on top of Machu Picchu (gentlemen, take note). We encountered about fifteen alpaca that were free to leisurely walk around this main area. We learned that the Incans would carry hundreds of pounds of limestone over twenty miles just to create the barriers to protect Machu Picchu. The tour guide had a smile on his face the entire time he was with us. After three hours with him, we were certain he told us everything we needed to know about Machu Picchu.
After our tour was over, my sister and I insisted on hiking further up to see Inti Punku, more commonly known as, Sun Gate. My dad decided he had enough hiking and sun for the day so he opted out and went back to our hotel. From Temple of the Sun, Sun Gate is about an hour and a half hike uphill and it is not meant for everyone. It is a very strenuous walk, and I bashfully admit that I had to stop numerous times to catch my breath. No matter how long it takes you to get to the top of Inti Punku, you will be sure that it was well worth the hike. Reaching the top of Sun Gate was like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I could not tell if I was sweating profusely down my face or crying tears of joy once we finally made it to the top. The view was jaw dropping and hands down the most phenomenal view in the world. After catching our breaths, Olivia and I took a couple dozen of pictures to prove that we made it to Sun Gate. We realized that the hour and a half hike up the hill also meant hiking an hour and a half down the hill. Machu Picchu does not allow anyone to bring any food or drinks into the park, so we were becoming very dehydrated, especially from the high altitude! Once we made our way back down Sun Gate to the Temple of the Sun, we were exhausted. By 3:30pm, we decided that we did more than enough hiking at Machu Picchu and made our way back to Inkaterra.
Being the most popular hike in South America, I am extremely lucky to have been able to experience Machu Picchu. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would say yes in a heartbeat. If I had more days visiting Machu Picchu, I would have done things a little differently. First, I would have allowed my body to become acclimated to the high altitude. High altitude sickness involves anything from a headache to vomiting and is only treated with time. I also would have tried out different restaurants at the base of Machu Picchu. We were pressed for time, so we only ate at Inkaterra and on the train while visiting. I also would have taken another day or two to hike up Wayna Picchu, or Huayna Picchu. This is a very steep mountain towering the south end of Machu Picchu. According to our tour guide, this is where high Incan priests would reside. The path uphill is even more strenuous than Sun Gate. That being said, Wayna Picchu is restricted to four hundred visitors per day and tickets must be purchased in advance. Maybe one day I will get to go back and discover the beauty at Wayna Picchu.
Until then, I will drink my coca tea and reminisce through the pictures I was able to take during my time at Machu Picchu. I can now cross off my bucket list that I went to one of the Seven Wonders of the World and only hope that I can continue to travel the world to discover more phenomenal manmade wonders.