Brief History of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, meaning ‘Old Mountain’, was discovered July 24th (my birthday) 1911 by explorer Hiram Bingham. Bingham unknowingly discovered an archaeological wonder. For years Machu Picchu was believed to be the Lost City of the Inca. This ‘Lost City’ was supposedly the stage of a years-long battle between the Spanish conquerors and the last of the Inca rulers. However, the Lost City of the Inca was later discovered elsewhere, leaving Machu Picchu a mystery.
As there was no mention of Machu Picchu in the records of the Spanish invasions then it is believed that the Europeans never discovered this wonderous site at all. Studies have suggested that it held 500-750 people. Some have suggested that it may have been for the more elite who wanted to escape the city’s congestion.
These are just theories however and no one actually knows what the purpose of Machu Picchu was and what happened at this ancient site. It is estimated that it was built around 1450 AD.
However, It is clear that there are very different types of stone work located here. It is understood the Incas were not the first people to inhabit this area. The famous stonework, which was constructed without any mortar, is amazing and must be seen to be appreciated properly. These structures were made with such precision using a technique called ‘ashlar’. You cannot even fit a needle between most of these puzzle pieces. The same kind of megalithic constructions can also be found on the streets of Cusco, on Easter Island & in La Paz (hence our route). These baffling structures are still, to this day, not fully understood.
Machu Picchu is 2,430m above sea level. If you are planning on trekking up to Machu Picchu it is highly recommend to get acclimatised to the altitude of Cusco beforehand. Chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea will help with any sickness you may feel.
We were coming from La Paz, which is 3,650m above sea level, so we had certainly acclimatised beforehand.
We did however feel altitude sickness in La Paz when we first arrived so know how it feels. Literally like a bad hangover for a few days. I drank the coca tea while my partner never and I recovered much faster, so it is highly recommended.
How to get to Machu Picchu
There are many different options to visit this wonder of the world. Some of them are listed below. First, I will share will you my experience. We found an offer that we just couldn’t pass up. A 2-day tour by bus for approx. £60. Suffice to say you get what you pay for and this trip was not smooth sailing.
Arriving by Bus
We were picked up at 7:30 and had a 6-7 hour drive to Hydroelectrica (Aguas Calientes). This is where you would hop on the train if you had chosen that option. We did stop once at Ollantaytambo for 20 minutes and once at Santa Teresa for 30 minutes to grab a bite to eat. We were told we would have an English-speaking tour but once we arrived at Hydroelectrica we were swiftly told some instructions in Spanish and left to our own devices.
This was ok though, as we knew we were taking the trek along the train lines and not actually using the train. I highly recommend taking this option. The views were breath-taking and you certainly wouldn’t be able to appreciate them as well from the train. This was a 2-3 hour walk but you can go at your own pace and it is fairly flat. Just be careful of the passing trains, especially when walking through the tunnels.
The town of Machu Picchu is beautiful and certainly looks as though it has money. Many people were just turning up and looking for a place to stay. There are lots of hotels/hostels to stay and restaurants to eat at. There are also hot springs close by if you had enough time. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t.
Ascending Machu Picchu
The next morning we took a hike up to Machu Picchu. This took us around 1 hour 45 minutes from our hotel to reach the top. This was tough. I thought I was pretty fit but with the sun shining down on you it got rather strenuous. Definitely take your time to appreciate the views on the way up and stop for rest if needed.
There is an option to take a bus up to the top if you don’t feel physically able and many people were taking this option. I believe it was around $20.
We entered the site with our tour guide but unfortunately there was only a Spanish speaking guide available. We ended up going off on our own and taking in the views at our own pace.
Once our time was up we then had to take the trail back down the mountain and across the train tracks for the 6-7 hour bus ride back to Cusco. It was two very long days but for £60 who can complain.
The overall consensus from the other travellers we spoke to was that the tour operators are unreliable. Many did not receive the trip that was offered to them. It can be rather hit and miss and you must prepare to stay flexible.
Overall just enjoy this spectacular historical site.
What is it actually like at Machu Picchu.
Like many other travellers we saw the pictures and read the history and always wanted to go. The site was breath-taking. Surrounded by the lush landscape, beautiful greenery as well as ancient architecture, it was simply amazing. However, there are A LOT of people there. A lot. You join a makeshift one-way system around the site and fight the crowd for your turn to take a picture. It was incredibly hard to take some pictures without 10 other tourists in it also.
I felt as though the hustle and bustle of it all took away some of its magic. But I am being unrealistic, this is a world wonder, tourists by the hundreds are fully expected.
The Train Hike
One of the best surprises from my time at Machu Picchu has to be that amazing trail along the train track lines. It was so much fun to take in all the surroundings, mountains, huge boulders and flowing rivers. Although we did end up walking the last part in the dark. Bring your torch just in case.
Other Hike Options
This is the most popular route to Machu Picchu. The treks are usually between 4 and 7 days depending on which option you chose. As so many tourists have taken to this trek the demand has been taking its toll on the ruins. To try and counteract this you need to pay for a permit to go along the Inca Trail. Make sure you either get these yourself or your travel company includes this in the price.
You should really do your research before booking your trip and make sure it is tailored to your needs. There is a huge difference in the prices I have found but they offer varying amenities. It really depends what you are looking for during your trip. For example there is a 5 star rating 4 day trip to Machu Picchu through Viator. The price for this trip is $757 (approx. £570). There is also a 4-day trek through Kanoo Tours which is priced at $499 (approx. £370). This however doesn’t include the bus journey between Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes unlike Viator. You will also be able to get cheaper offers once you are in Cusco but this way you will not be able to secure your Inca Trail Permit beforehand.
You just need to weigh up your options and do what is best for you.
The Salkantay Trek is a less travelled route to Machu Picchu so you will come across less tourists. This is a cheaper option too at around $200-$300 depending on whether you take the bus or train back. There is also no permit to purchase on this route and I have heard it is an equally beautiful hike.
This is very similar to the route we took but instead of trekking 2-3 hours along the train lines you actually jump on the train. Obviously this is more expensive and a great choice if you really don’t want to do much walking. You can get the train to Machu Picchu town and then the bus up to the top of the mountain. No strain and you still get to see the views on the way up. I however loved the walk as you can really absorb the views and listen to the sounds of your surroundings.
Whichever route you choose you will be in for a fantastic sight. Don’t let anyone talk you into doing a route that you don’t want to do or are not able to do. They all lead to the same amazing destination which is Machu Picchu. Take your time looking around this historical site.
What do you think it’s purpose was and how did they build those spectacular structures?