Machu Picchu, Peru

Latitude 13.16553°S Longitude 72.54504°W

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

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Diary:

What better way to usher in a brand new year than a visit to the ancient lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu!

On January 1st, Keiko, Radhika and I were among the first to enter the ruins, perched high on a ridgetop at 2380m. The weather was gloomy and ominous, with occasional veils of mist rising from the depths of the valley far below to blanket the site with even more mystery.

We'd all seen many images of Machu Picchu before, but nothing could have prepared us for the uplifting feeling of actually being there. It was nothing short of sublime, and without a doubt, one of the highlights of our trip so far. It was not hard to imagine how the explorer Hiram Bingham felt when he stumbled across the site, completely shrouded by the jungle, in 1911.

Armed with a book on Machu Picchu written by a prominent archaeologist, we spent two entire days exploring the ancient city. On the first day we did most of the ruins, and topped it off with a climb up Huayna Picchu, which at over 2700m afforded absolutely spectacular views of the whole city. The trail to the summit of Huayna Picchu, while strenuous and exposed at parts, is a must-do climb. On the second day we explored more of the city and hiked back along the Inca Trail to Intipunku, the "Gate of the Sun". It was at this site that travelers along the original Inca Trail from Cusco would catch their first glimpse of the glorious citadel Machu Picchu.

Inca Trail or Not?

Most people who visit Machu Picchu arrive at the ruins by hiking the ancient Inca Trail. The most common route takes 4-5 days, however there is also now a 2 day option. The trail is by all accounts spectacular, rising to breathtaking mountainous passes at 4200m and dotted with numerous Inca ruins, but as there are no accomodations along the way it must be hiked with full camping gear, provisions, and nowadays, a registered guide is mandatory. While it was vastly tempting for us to do the trail, we opted out for a few reasons. The first was that we were now right in the middle of the wet season, characterized by freezing temperatures at night and torrential rains at any time. Also, since we were not properly equipped, we'd have to arrange an expedition and rent gear, porters, cooks, guides, etc. When we weighed up the hassle of this with the option of having a fairly relaxing time to spend with Radhika, our choice was clear.

We caught the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes early on the morning of New Year's Eve after torrential rains deluged the sacred valley the night before. The rains were so heavy that they caused a minor landslide which buried the railway tracks - we were delayed 4 hours until they were dug out. And from hikers who we met over the next few days, the rain had also caused extreme havoc up on the Inca Trail, with many hikers discovering their rented gear was completely inadequate to protect them against the elements. Soaked to the skin and with no dry clothes remaining, some had to cut short their trek and carry on non-stop to Machu Picchu lest exposure set in.

Aguas Calientes was very much a backpacker's town, not at all very picturesque and with rudimentary services. From here we caught buses up to Machu Picchu each day and entered the site via the main visitor's entrance. While New Year's Eve in Aguas Calientes was not one of our most memorable, this was more than compensated the next morning when we entered Machu Picchu by the feeble rays of the year's first dawn.

Whichever way you choose to visit Machu Picchu, you will be rewarded by one of the true wonders of the world.


Photos: (click on images to see full size)

The train finally arrives in Aguas CalientesMachu Picchu, New Year's Day 2003Magestic Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu in backgroundAnother view of Machu PicchuIntihuatana, the "Hitching Post of the Sun"Keiko and Radhika pose at the Sacred Rock,
which mirrors the profile of distant Mount Yanantin
The steep trail up Huayna PicchuEmerging into the light on Huayna PicchuKeiko and Radhika, triumphant on the summit of Huayna PicchuOn top of the Inca world!Machu Picchu from the summit of Huayna Picchu, 2700mApres Huayna Picchu blues
View from one of the PlazasOn the Inca Trail to IntipunkuAt Intipunku, "The Gate of the Sun"The Machu Picchu resident llamasLlama at Machu Picchu


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