With a very early start we were off for our last bit of the trail before we hit the majestic Machu Picchu. We started walking in the dark with our headlights on, but luckily being at a lower altitude and obviously walking at a brisk pace, we warmed up very quickly and the mornings hike was quite pleasant. As the light began to creep into the atmosphere you could see we were in a jungle type of climate. Everything was lush and green. Even though this mornings 2 to 3 hours of walking was flat and easy there was one more last brutal flight of steps, as if to tease us and remind us that this is after all ‘Incan land’. These last steps were so steep that some resorted to walking up using their hands, it was easier that way!
Up the steps and there it is, the ‘sun gate’, and down below in all its glory was Machu Picchu. We lucked out – it was a bit ‘hazy’ but there were no clouds and we could see the site quite clearly. An hour or so after our first view the haze totally cleared and the sun shone brightly giving us a most glorious day in this magical place!
A walk down the path from the sun gate, heading towards the ruins, bought us close up to some wonderful orchids and other flowers we hadn’t had the chance to see during our previous 3 days. Maybe now that we had reached our destination we could actually enjoy and ‘stop to smell the roses’ so to speak!
Approaching Machu Picchu from this angle really is a sight to behold. Even for those who do not do the inca trail, I would urge to at least try and walk up at least half way to the sun gate, so you get that magnificent approach view. It really is breathtaking to see the site nestled amongst all the peaks of the surrounding mountains.
After listening to our guide give us some history (which might I add changes depending on which guide you happen to get!) we had to go down back to the main entrance to get validated, put our trekking poles and extra bags in lockers and it was a chance to use a real toilet. From here we had free time to explore ourselves. While it is always nice to have a guide explain things to you, I found it very frustrating here in Machu Picchu. Firstly, as I have just said, nobody REALLY knows the TRUE story of the incas, why they vanished, why they built the site etc. Our guide kept rambling on and on, and while tourists might buy it, my (now) husband said that those stories were definitely never taught in Peruvian school classes. As we walked past other groups, we even heard their guides telling a different story to what ours was! Lol. Secondly, I just feel like this place should just be “felt”. It is definitely a spiritual place, you can feel the history in its stones. While it is obviously a busy place with all the tourists, you can still find quiet spots to sit and reflect. It was kind of annoying not having that chance early on before the bus loads of people came. We could of explored on our own at like, 8am, and had the chance to have the place to ourselves (seeing we did wake up at 3am for the supposed privilege). Instead we listened to our guide prattle on for hours, and only got alone time when it was crazy busy already. This was a tad disappointing.
Anyway after our walk around we were exhausted, and I especially was starving after my days of not eating and being anxious. So we went to the overpriced cafe at the entrance and I got myself a big slab of pizza and a coke. My god it was good (you would want it to be awesome considering how overpriced it was!). Even though we had more to explore we had had enough. It is a huge site to explore, and while I definitely recommend walking to it if you can, it does mean when you finally get here you are exhausted, tired, dirty, drained and probably sore. The thought of trying to walk up another huge slope (Huayna Picchu) was just too much.
This brings me to what I think is the most important tip I can give someone who walks the trail. Stay an extra day in nearby Agua Calientes and come back the following day to truly, really explore ALL that Machu Picchu has to offer. I’m sure after a rest in a room, a hot shower, some good food and a big sleep, going back the next day would be a whole different perspective. You could start early, climb Huayna to see Machu Picchu from its unique perspective, relax and take it all in. We saw a lot, but we also, in hindsight, missed bits too. Things we missed through sheer exhaustion. Luckily for us, we will be back in the future, to show baby A the history of her father’s homeland. I look forward to seeing Machu Picchu again with her.