A “big one” on my bucket list has always been to visit Machu Picchu. There is absolutely no question as to its status as one of the New 7 Wonders of the world. While many are able to visit it for a few hours, I was fortunate enough to explore the ruins for two back-to-back days.
Before I talk about the legendary Inca ruins, I’d like to address some questions that I have been asked quite frequently. Despite the warnings, I did not experience any significant altitude sickness throughout my stay in Cusco. However, when immediately stepping out of the airplane, I did feel the atmosphere change and feel “different”. But I acclimatized rather quickly within 30 minutes.
I stayed at the Taypikala hotel in Aguas Calientes, which is the town directly under the ruins. It is actually nearer to the top of the town, so there is a bit of upwards walking to do. This town is crazy, but in a good way. It is full of restaurants of pretty much any type of cuisine and souvenir shops. Every time you pass by a shop, there are people asking you if you want to eat or buy something. Any thing you need can be found in Aguas Calientes from post office, doctor’s office and internet cafe/pharmacy. One thing that I enjoy doing is trying the local delicacies from the cities and countries that I visit. Peru was no exception. For the first time, I tried alpaca fillets and cuy, or guinea pig. The alpaca had a similar texture to beef while the guinea pig was an interesting one….it did not feel like chicken or any other meat I’ve had before.
Oh yes, please make sure that you book your tickets to Machu Picchu at least a month in advanced as only 2,500 guests are allowed to explore the ruins daily. Also, make sure that you purchase your bus tickets as soon as you arrive for the following day. You do not want to take a risk and come all this way to find out they are sold out.
Now, if you are planning on seeing Machu Picchu, I highly recommend that you wake up incredibly early in the morning to catch the very first bus up the mountain. You can walk up at any time you want, but the formal gates do not open until 6AM. For my trip, I woke up excitedly at 4:30 AM and head to the bus terminal. The first shuttle leaves at 5:30AM and takes about 30 minutes to reach the gates and Sanctuary Lodge (a luxury hotel right at the gates).
From my extensive research for the best photographic spots, I quickly darted through the path to the “guardian house”, which is the only ruin home with a roof. The best part about going as early as possible is that only the hardcore adventurers are there in the morning so it is not as packed. Once it is 9 or 10 AM, the rest of the tourists from cruises start to flood the area. Anyways, another great thing about making your way up so early is that the scene is probably still a bit cloudy, but within a few moments, the clouds part and Machu Picchu is then revealed in all its wonder along with the sunrise. It was an amazing experience viewing the Incan ruins made popular to Westerners by Hiram Bingham III on a National Geographic Expedition. It was breathtaking to see Machu Picchu in the foreground and Hyuan Picchu in the back, all surrounded by gigantic mountains of the Andes.
As I stood for about an hour in the same spot in awe of this man-made structure up so high in the mountains, I noted a couple and some of their friends form a group a few feet away from me. And then something else unexpected happened. The man started talking about how this was a very special moment here at Machu Picchu. Not just because they are with all of their best friends. But then he kneeled down on one leg and then proposed to his girlfriend. She said yes on the spot! What a spectacular space to do this.
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