Peru wedding and honeymoon, 1999. Seattle reception, 2000.
Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with history. Two ancient civilizations in particular have captured my interest most, Egypt and the Inca Empire. National Geographic pictures of Machu Picchu left me in awe. I am happy to report, that despite my great anticipation, it was much more than I ever imagined. It was one of the most memorable aspects of our Peru trip and I have no doubt that we will return again.
The ruins known as Machu Picchu, a World Heritage Site, are built on a saddle between the peaks of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. Huayna Picchu that looms above the ruins. The structures of Machu Picchu are believed to have been built in the 14th or 15th century, possibly as the country estate of an Inca ruler. The Spanish, mercifully, never found it and it remained unknown to the outside world until discovered by an American explorer in 1911 (which explains its nickname as the lost city of the Incas). It remains the best preserved site of the Inca empire.
Machu Picchu can be reached by a three hour train ride from Cusco. Leaving Cusco is quite an adventure in itself. The train is faced with climbing a steep hill which needs to use a series of switchbacks. The train heads forward up the hill a bit, then shifts backwards onto another part of the tracks, and kind of zig-zags its way up the hill in a stop and go fashion. The train is very comfortable and offers spectacular views of the countryside along the way. Machu Picchu itself is at about 8,000 feet, and the descent from Cuzco's 11,000 feet is readily apparent from the lush vegetation and wetter climate.
Although it is possible to visit Machu Picchu for the day from Cusco, and many do, you will not experience much beyond a whirlwind tour and hoardes of people. The crowds, however, clear out around 3:00 pm and after that, the place is magically transformed. The only way to experience this solitude is to stay at the site in the Hotel Ruinas, or as we did, in the nearby town of Aguas Caliente and either walk down at the end of the day or catch a shuttle bus.
My appreciation for the site was greatly enhanced by climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu (about ninety minutes straight up) and surveying the area from that lofty perch. Unbelievably, the Incas built agricultural terraces at the top of Huayna Picchu and it is a tribute to their skill as engineers and builders that these terraces and the steps up to them remain intact to this day.
It is impossible for me to adequately convey the grandeur of this place. The stonework simply boggles the mind, especially the labor to cut and move thousands of huge blocks on the mountainside. The setting in steep mountains that fall away to the river valley below is like no other I have ever experienced.