Machu'ing the hype - Machu Picchu lives up to Expectations

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South America » Peru » Cusco » Machu Picchu
March 8th 2008
Published: March 18th 2008
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Now pose nicely for the postcard!Now pose nicely for the postcard!Now pose nicely for the postcard!

The classic view of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

After waking up at yet another ridiculous hour (Not for the first time on this trip it has to be said!), our group excitedly set off for the walk up to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Hoping for a great clear morning to see the famous sunrise over the ruins, we awoke to mist and drizzle, not the most promising start!

Its a 500m vertical height gain up a path from the town of Aguas Calientes, which takes around an hour and a quarter. As we walked up the path, we moved actually into the cloud, getting wetter, and at the same time sweatier as we climbed. It wasn´t looking great for the picture postcard photograph over the ruins!

At 6am exactly, the gates to the site opened and we moved in. The thick mist covering the site made the ruins seem somewhat spooky, as each building drifted in and out of the cloud. Going to the highest point within the ruins, the guard house, the view was, well, limited. Occassionally cloud would clear slightly, giving a slightly better view across the site. But still bits were always obscured at this early stage.

Undeterred, we set off on a tour around the ruins with a site guide, giving us lots of information on the site. The town is essentially divided into 2 sections. On the right is the agricultural section of the ruins, with lots of terraces cut into the hillside. It was here crops were grown and stored in store houses at one end of the terraces.

The second part of the site is the main part of the town of Machu Picchu. Here are numerous houses where the families lived (possibly around 500 people in total). There is also the sun temple in this area, as well as the main town square. The centrepiece of the town area is the "Hitching post of the Sun". Located on a hill above most of the houses, this was thought to act as an astronomical observatory, marking the passing of the seasonal equinoxes.

As our tour went on, it appeared luck was going to be on our side. Gradually, the clouds and mist began to lift, exposing the full spectacle of Machu Picchu. And magnificent it really looked. So this was what we had been missing, hiding behind the clouds! Eventually, by 8.30am, the cloud had completely lifted above the ruins themselves, as well as from the top of Huayna Picchu, the peak which towers behind the ruins. Strong sunshine was now beaming down on us and it was off with the Gortex and on with the suntan lotion. What a contrast from the rain of the previous day!

Machu Picchu really is an amazing site to walk around. For starters it is much larger than i initially imagined it would be. Also, the buildings are in amazing condition, and it is easy to imagine the Incans going about their daily lives as you walk through the streets.

Not wanting to waste the opportunity of some great views, we quickly moved over to the Huayna Picchu side of the ruins before the clouds could come back over. Its possible to climb this (at times) near vertical peak which is situated just behind the ruins (Its the one you see on all the postcard images of Machu Picchu!). Despite the very tough climb, we were rewarded on top with fantastic views down onto the ruins. It gives a great impression of the location of the town, surrounded by steep, towering Andean peaks on all sides. It is so isolated it is no wonder the Spanish never found it.

Walking up to the Sun Gate, on the other side of the ruins, is also a great location to take in the whole expanse of the town. Sitting there, looking down on the town, it looks very strange to have the cleared site of the Machu Picchu ruins, when compared with the jungle covering all the surrounding hills.

Despite the large numbers of people who visit the ruins every day, there is a great feeling walking around the ruins. Bacause the site is so big, its easy to get lost among some of the less famous ruins, and feel on your own walking around them.

Looking at the stone work of some of the buildings makes you wonder how on earth they constructed the town at this location. Particularly the stone used in the temples and royal residences, are finished very cleanly, with no mortar used between the stones. They fit perfectly together. There was huge attention to detail in building these parts of the town. The average family homes are finished less perfectly, however, they are still impressive to look at.

Eventually all of us from the trek filed back down to Aguas Calientes for the train back to Cusco. All tired but in awe of this really amazing sight. Its definitely worth the trek to the ruins and i would have to say a must see in South America.

Additional photos below
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18th March 2008

I said it before and I will say it again, I am very jealous! What an amazing adventure.
21st March 2008


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