I am incredibly fortunate to be in a profession that allows me the luxury of travel—to anywhere and everywhere. I have seen the amazon in Brazil, the grandeur of the Panama Canal, the clouds falling off Table Mountain in South Africa, but there is nothing quite like experiencing Machu Picchu in Peru; in the most wonderfully clichéd way, the site truly takes your breath away (and not just from the hike up there).
The site of the historic Incan civilization rests on a mountain ridge almost 8,000 feet above sea level and Sacred Valley, and loosely translated, Machu Picchu means “old pyramid.” The Incas supposedly began construction of the site around 1450 C.E. as a tribute to the Incan Emperor Pachacuti. Once you’re actually there, it is nearly impossible to believe that the whole site was built by hand over a mile up in the mountains when most people (myself included) struggle to merely walk up the stairs carrying only a camera and a water bottle.
The construction of the temples and city is impeccable; the Incas were known for their use of polished dry-stone, a technique in which the stones fit together seamlessly without mortar. The Incas refined this technique so well that some sections of the site’s walls do not even allow for a blade of grass to fit through. Also, each sun temple and Intihuantana ritual stone line up perfectly with the sun for their corresponding solstices. Aside from the impressive stone-work and calendar-like symmetry of the temples, there are also natural irrigation and drainage systems that ran throughout the site and are still functioning today, as well as the whole site is in the shape of a Condor (the Incan God of the Heavens) when seen from the air. The list of the site’s mind-blowing facts goes on and on, but the real power of Machu Picchu is the energy that radiates from the ancient stones, and ripples through the entire site. To be in a place of complete wonder that is an unbelievable testament of human capability is awe-inspiring, and a destination that should definitely be on everybody’s “To-Go” list.
Even though I have been more than once to Machu Picchu and many other amazing places on this planet, it still reigns as my “Favorite place on Earth”. There is just an incredible energy and wonder and awe-inspiring beauty associated with these ruins. Even though there are a lot of tourists, you can still have moments of solitude early in the morning where you are one of the only people there and it feels like you have been transported back in time…
A MUST-DO while there is the early morning hike up to the neighboring peak of Huayna Picchu. Huayna Picchu is the towering mountain behind the actual site of Machu Picchu. From a distance the mountain looks impossible to climb without the necessary tools but even though a strenuous climb with some parts where you will actually will need both hands and feet, the climb is quite possible for all averagely fit visitors. For many people climbing Huayna Picchu is one of the highlights when visiting Machu Picchu. The climb itself is interesting as you will see how the Inca did cut out some steps out of the rocks and as you wind around the side of a mountain will see Machu Picchu from different angles.
Before you reach the top you will also have to go through a tunnel carved in the rocks and the higher you get the more structures you will recognize on the top of the mountain. Some structures and terraces are built on impossible places that really speak to your imagination. Some structures are almost glued to the mountain side with a sheer drop of a couple of hundred meters on the other side. The views (on a clear day – on cloudy days sometimes you cannot even see the site from here) of Machu Picchu seen from Huayna Picchu are breathtaking and do really give you an impression of the magnitude of the site. You will also be able to appreciate the different sectors of the site as the surrounding landscapes with some snowcapped mountains. Out of the 200 people that are allowed to hike up there every day, we were number 3 to make it up there….This was PERFECT, because number 1 and 2 were able to take photos of us and then we all chilled and enjoyed the solitude before the rest of the hikers caught up:) It pays to be in shape for this hike!!