South America

Exploring Machu Picchu

After a 25-minute bus ride, a near four-hour train ride and another 25-minute bus ride, we made it from Cusco to Machu Picchu. We spent the past two days exploring the ruins of the old Inca city, which many now consider to be one of the seven wonders of the world.

It took the Incas about 80 to 100 years to build Machu Picchu. They started building the city around 1450, then abandoned it in the 1500s, for fear that the Spanish would take it over like they did so many other Peruvian cities at the time. The Incas left Machu Picchu unfinished – as evidence shows in many of the unsmoothed rocks that make up the city structures – and trekked to the other side of a nearby mountain with their artifacts, mummies and other valuables. Unfortunately, the Spanish found them in their new living place and conquered them there. The Spanish never found Machu Picchu and, until it was refounded in the early 1900s, the entire city was completely overtaken by jungle.

Machu Picchu is breathtaking from every angle. There are so many parts of the city that prove the Incas to be incredibly intelligent in their design of Machu Picchu. Houses, temples and structures dedicated to running the city’s agriculture make up the ruins. There is even a seasonal “clock” in town, and on every winter and summer solstice the sun hits a certain part of a large, carved rock on the exact same point. This is how the Incas measured the time of year.

No one knows the original name of the city, but the ruins lie between two mountains – one which is significantly larger than the other. The larger mountain is called Machu Picchu, which means “Old Mountain” in the old Inca language of Quechua. The mountain directly behind the ruins in most of the famous pictures of Machu Picchu is Huayna Picchu or “Young Mountain”.

Today, we hiked Machu Picchu mountain, which is a three-hour trek round trip. The hike is incredibly steep, and the path is made entirely of stone steps that ascend almost straight up the side of the mountain. With no exaggeration, we stopped nearly every minute or two to catch our breaths. The worst parts for me, though, were the times the path wrapped around the mountain with nothing but a straight drop to one side of us. This absolutely petrified me and I walked as close to the the side of the mountain as possible, mumbling curse words until the path was finally enclosed by plants and trees again.

While we are on the topic of terrifying edges, the 25 minute bus ride from Aguas Calientes (or Machu Picchu town) to the entrance of Machu Picchu also got our hearts pumping. The roads were no more than 15 to 20 feet wide in some parts and curved around the mountain in an “S” shape. In most places, these roads did not have guard rails and, similar to the Machu Picchu mountain hike, were nothing but a steep cliff to one side. At points, two buses would have to pass each other, requiring one to back up (or down) the road.

We spent the night in Aguas Calientes, which is a town that runs almost entirely off income from the tourists of Machu Picchu. I absolutely adored this town. It is a small mountain town, comprised mostly of restaurants, hotels and a central market, and is tucked perfectly in a little nook of the Andes. Like Cusco, the walk around town is constant hills, and the people were incredibly accommodating – as everyone we have met so far is. To complete our visit, Eric and I bought a pair of pajama pants from the market to keep us warm in our hostels the rest of the trip.

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