Machu Picchu – Part 1
Posted August 17, 2010on:
Machu Picchu is an amazing place that everyone should try to visit at least once in their life. Even with the multitude of tourists it still has a very tranquil and peaceful atmosphere.
Getting to Machu Picchu takes a bit of work. From Lima you first have to fly to Cuzco. At this time there are no direct international flights to Cuzco although they are building a new International airport there which will eventually have direct flights from the U.S. The flight from Lima to Cuzco is only about 1 hour. The next step is to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to the ruins. The most common and advisable way to get to Aguas Calientes is by train. There is apparently a road that eventually gets there but it involves a number of buses and other modes of transport and is not very safe. There are two rail companies – PeruRail and Inca Rail. PeruRail is the most well-known and is the one we took. The train leaves from either Poroy or Ollantaytambo. Poroy is about a 30 minute drive by taxi from Cuzco and Ollantaytambo is an hour and a half by bus. We left from Poroy and returned to Ollantaytambo. The first train leaves from Poroy at about 6:45am which means a very early morning to get to the station on time from Cuzco. Once in Auguas Calientes you have to take a bus up the mountain to the ruins. They run very frequently and it takes less than a half and hour.
Machu Picchu is very large and there are lots of things to see and learn. You can choose to “do-it-yourself” and explore the ruins at your own pace or, if you prefer something more organized, there are lots of guides at the entrance offering guided tours. We opted for the guided tour which lasted about 2.5 hours. It was not expensive and worth it as they explain a lot about the history, architecture and culture of Machu Picchu.
When you enter the site you start by climbing up a set of stairs until you reach the first point where you catch a view of the historic city of Machu Picchu. It is truly amazing and takes your breath away.
Exploring Machu Picchu involves a lot of climbing up and down stairs, some of which are quite narrow and steep. The Inca liked to build their cities as close to the sun as possible so they are often located high up on the steep mountain side. If you want to climb even more you can make the trek up to Huayna Picchu, the tall peak the stands out above the city, where the Temple of the Moon is located. The trail gets crowded quickly and is limited to 400 people per day so you have to start quite early. The view from the peak is apparently amazing! We didn’t do it as we didn’t have time. Another hike that is popular is to climb up to Intipunku, also known as the Sun Gate. This is where the Inca Trail ends and enters Machu Piccu.
Machu Picchu was built around between 1400 and 1450 at the height of the Inca Empire. It was abandoned just over 100 years later in 1572 at the time of the Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire. The site was re-discovered in late 1800’s and brought to the attention of the work in 1911 by American historian Hiram Bingham. The site received significant publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April 1913 issue to Machu Picchu. In 1983 Machu Picchu was declared a “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO and is one of the most treasured historical sites in Peru.
Even with its international importance Machu Picchu is on the watch list the 100 Most Endangered Site because of environmental degradation resulting from the impact of tourism and uncontrolled development in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes. There are a number of rules that visitors are supposed to follow while in the site such as no food and water in non-disposable bottles only, but these rules are not strictly enforced or followed.
Next time I will talk more about the buildings and the details of the site.