The big kahuna. The mustest of the must sees. The one place among all places in our three month trip that we knew we absolutely could not miss. That’s where we were set to head two weeks ago. It was finally time to go to Machu Picchu.
For all of the importance we and everyone else put upon it, you’d think we’d have made sure all of our ducks were in a row a little further in advance than the night before. We happened to do a quick check on how ticketing would work for the train ride we’d be taking to get there, and came to the stomach-dropping realization that we needed to have printed tickets to get on the train. Oh no. It was 9:30 on Saturday night and we needed to get up before 5 the next morning to make it to the train on time. In the age of e-tickets and smartphones we barely put a second of thought in to printing these days, but there was no getting around it this time. Some frantic searching and help from various policemen finally led us to what felt like the holy grail – an Internet Cafe with a printer. We were going to make it to Machu Picchu after all.
The three hour Vistadome class Peru Rail train ride was very pleasant on our way to Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu pueblo. We got a nice little breakfast, only minimal Peru Rail product pushing, and some great descriptions of the areas we were passing through. Be prepared to pay a premium for this train trip – even the cheapest class of train was upwards of $75 Canadian per person each way. Machu Picchu is like Paris. They know you’re going to visit no matter what so they don’t hesitate to charge you an arm and a leg for your trouble. In both cases it’s all worth it when you get there, though, so all you can do is try and forget about your quickly-emptying wallet and enjoy.
We could have saved a bit of money and done the two hour walk up to the site, but we were worried about running short on time and exhausting our legs before having to climb the long flights of stairs at Machu Picchu. Instead, we hopped on the bus for the half-hour trip up a series of sharp switchbacks that revealed more amazing mountain views at every turn. And then, there it was. Or at least a little corner of it.
The skies decided to open up just as we arrived at the entrance gate, but we refused to let it dampen our enthusiasm. We tried to stay upbeat, anyways. To be honest, we were a little worried that it would rain all day and that we really wouldn’t be able to get any good pictures at all. You know what they say – pics or it didn’t happen, right? Luckily, the rainclouds didn’t stop us from getting what I can only describe as a jaw-dropping view as we got a little ways in to the site. To think about how much work it must have taken to bring all of those stones up to that isolated spot and painstakingly place them to form buildings and public spaces, well, it’s pretty mind blowing. Pictures really don’t do justice to the magnitude of Machu Picchu. The fact that it’s so well preserved after all this time is pretty astonishing as well. There’s been some restoration work done, but much of the structures are just as they were when the Incas lived in them hundreds of years ago, unlike so many of the structures that were hugely changed or mostly destroyed by the conquering Spanish. To be able to see something still so intact from that time was quite the priviledge.
After spending the first two or three hours carefully sheltering our cameras from the the rain drops and trying to get some good shots through the clouds, the skies began to lighten. More and more patches of blue sky started to appear, and then the sun came out! You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief throughout the site as people shed their ponchos and felt their wet feet starting to dry. And let’s be honest, rain jackets don’t exactly provide the most flattering silhouette in photos. We went back up to the top near the caretaker’s hut and enjoyed the incredible cloud-free view.
I feel so fortunate that we got the chance to see Machu Picchu on this trip. Getting stuck behind a twenty person tour group as you walk around can be frustrating – it’s certainly not one of those hidden gems that you’ll have to yourself. That’s the price you pay for getting to see a wonder like this, though, and I’d say it’s worth it.