Machu Picchu is the must-ecperience location for any traveler in South America. It was at the top of my list when I first came to Chile, and of course, well worth the trouble.
Macchu Pichu is one of those destinations that has been perfectly photographed time and again and a lot of us have a preconceived notion of how awesome it will be. It is exactly like it is in the pictures, and slightly disappointing since you know what to expect and there isn’t too much excitement. The real experience is freely exploring the place on your own, taking your time to discover and appreciate the ancient city, hiking up Huayna Picchu, and actually getting there.
How to Get to Macchu Picchu
For Machu Picchu, part of the experience is the trip there. Ideally, you should do the Inca Trail, a 1-5 day hike (depending on the trail you choose) through the changing landscape like cloud forests and alpine tundra, beginning in Cuzco. We saw hikers with donkeys and hired porters to carry their gear and some backpackers climbing the mountain at designated areas as we rode past in our packed bus.
Unfortunately we didn’t have too much time, so we opted for the train which translates into waking up at an ungodly hour to take a taxi to the train station for a rather expensive ride to Aguas Calientes to then take a bus up to Machu Picchu. Although the train was a great experience gliding past some of Peru’s landscapes, it was all too quick getting from one place to another that all of a sudden you were at Machhu Pichu at 2,430 m above sea-level – prepare for altitude sickness! We lost out on travel experience points with the train, but I hope to hike there one day.
It has a beautiful central plaza, original Incan walls around the city, and baroque palaces and churches built over the ancient Incan city.
|Original Incan walls still standing without using mortar.
Qurikancha Temple of the Sun – Now the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo, it was one of the most important temples in the Incan Empire, Tahuantinsuyo, dedicated to Inti, the sun god. The walls and floors were once covered in sheets of solid gold, but were melted and taken to Spain.
The Sacred Valley
I thought seeing the sights in the Sacred Valley were much more insightful to understanding the Incans and part of Peruvian culture. We highly recommend spending an extra day or two in Cuzco to see them.
Sacsayhuaman – One a spiritual sactuary and battleground, it is a walled complex is made of large polished dry stone walls, with boulders carefully cut to fit together tightly without mortar.
Qenco – A sanctuary dedicated to the adoration of animals consisting of ruins.
Puca Pucara and Tambomachay – military ruins and Incan sanctuary dedicated to the cult of the water.
Moray – Incan experimental farm where enormous terraces allowed the old Incan farmers to experiement with a variety of plants in different altitudes and creating diverse microclimates in each terrace.
Maras – These salt pans are still used today to crystallize salt from water forming from an underground river source first used during the pre-Incan period.
Andahuaylillas – Home to a church that houses a colonial art treasure – the Capilla Sixtina of Peru, built over an Incan temple.