Is there somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, but haven’t made it there yet? This is how we felt about Machu Picchu (MP).
I like how Mark Adams describes the place in his book “Turn Right at Machu Picchu”, which I’m currently reading. It’s described as a “spectacular granite city…built in a spellbinding location: high on a secluded mountain range, in the misty subtropical zone where the Andes meet the Amazon.”
This modern world wonder was discovered over 100 years ago, but archeologists are still trying to reveal the mysteries of why it was constructed, the purposes it served, and the cause for its abandonment. One thing is for certain – it is spectacular.
Instead of trekking the Inca Trail to MP, we decided to take the train to Aguas Calientes (the nearest town) and make the strenuous climb up from there.
It was pouring down rain when we started the climb up to MP at 5am. I wondered if we would have any views at all once we arrived. Between all the rain and sweating, we ended up completely soaked.
Upon arriving at MP, we headed straight to the guard station for the Machu Picchu Mountain (Montaña) hike. We were the first to start the trek that morning. It was a relentless climb up.
MP is located in a cloud forest. When we got to the top of the mountain, we were surrounded by clouds. We waited on the summit, hoping the clouds would part so we could see the ruins below.
After 90 minutes on the summit, waiting and hoping, the clouds opened up and the ruins came to life before our eyes. It was a magical moment.
After two hours spent on the summit, we headed to Sun Gate. From there, we could see the switchback road that leads up from Aguas Calientes to MP.
The weather can change very fast in Colorado, and we learned the same is true about MP. Our first day there, it seemed every 15-30 minutes, it went from rainy and cloudy, to dry and sunny, and back to rainy and cloudy again. I was continually taking layers of clothing on and off. (Packing tip: bring lightweight layers that are easy to take on and off.)
We felt lucky that the skies parted and we enjoyed some sunshine, given it’s the start of the rainy season here.
Our second day at MP, we arrived at the ruins at the 6am opening time. It was a cloudy, misty morning, which gave the ruins a mysterious feel. And, with hardly anyone at the site yet, it was easier for me to imagine what this place might have been like back in its heyday.
At 7am, we started the hike up Huayna Picchu. This is the mountain seen in the backdrop of all the iconic MP photos. It is the closest mountain to the ruins. Looking at the mountain, it would seem scalable only with climbing gear. However, there are stairs (very steep ones) all the way to the summit. At times, you are essentially on all fours, using your arms to pull yourself up.
After passing a few people at the start of the trail, we were the first ones heading up. We hiked up fairly fast, wanting the solitude of hiking without hearing or seeing anyone else.
We really enjoyed this hike and even had about 15 minutes on the summit before anyone else arrived. Once on top, we soaked it all in.
As with the day before, the sky was filled in clouds. After about 20 minutes on the summit, the clouds parted enough for us to see the ruins below, although not completely.
Instead of heading straight back down the Huayna Picchu mountain, we decided to do the extended hike that circles the mountain.
After the Huayna Picchu hike, we walked to the Inca Bridge.
As with most things in life, the pictures of MP don’t do it justice. I am thankful for the opportunity we had to see and experience it for ourselves. Our time at MP was an experience I will treasure for a lifetime.