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Find Yourself on the Journey
Find Yourself on the Journey
What if I told you in just five days or less you could see vibrant jungle, watch fluffy llamas, experience culture that is over 5 centuries old, walk through an ancient city in the clouds, and see one of the seven wonders of our world? Would you be interested?
Well, lucky for you, you can do all of this and more by visiting Machu Picchu in Peru. Furthermore, if those reasons are not enticing enough for you, Machu Picchu also has impressive architecture, unsolved mysteries, an array of ways to get there, and a unique landscape that will help you build your social media and retain serious bragging rights over your friends and family.
Accolades of Machu Picchu
History and Mystery
By the 1570s, Francisco Pizarro and his crew of Conquistadors had destroyed and pillaged all the Inca empire, or so they thought. Hidden high up a sacred mountain in a sacred valley stands Machu Picchu: the Inca city that was never discovered by the Spanish.
Fast forward hundreds of years and historians knew little of the Inca Empire, except the tale of a secret lost city of gold that many historians and adventurers unsuccessfully searched for. Other than folklore, certain aspects of who the Incas were seemed to be lost forever, until one fateful day when Hiram Bingham, an American historian and adventurer “accidentally” rediscovered Machu Picchu. Bingham, like many before him, was searching for the lost city of gold when he learned from the Peruvian locals of an ancient city high in the mountains. Though the city he found was not in fact the city he was searching for, what he found may well be worth more than he could have hoped for.
Though Machu Picchu helped Historians understand more about the Inca people, it left many questions about the purpose of the site itself. Was it an education center for religious officials? Was it a religious retreat for the Emperor and their family? Was it a religious site for special occasions? Furthermore, why was it undiscovered by the Spaniards and many others for so many years?
These may be questions that will never have an answer, however, isn’t it worth it to grab your magnifying glass, your best Sherlock Holmes hat, and a ticket to Peru and try and solve the case yourself? (or at least go marvel at its beauty)
Architectural Genius of the Inca
When you think of beautiful bathhouses and aqueducts, you probably think of somewhere in Rome or Greece or Turkey, but did you know the Inca had these too and their technology rivaled the more well-known Eurasian predecessors? Along with sophisticated water transportation technology and Romanesque amenities, the Incas had a great understanding of agriculture and the importance of terraces. Terraces carved into the side of the mountains where the citadel stands not only assisted with farming but helped prevent rock falls that could have wiped Machu Picchu from existence long before Bingham discovered it.
What is more impressive, is how these structures were designed. The Inca people only seldom used any form of mortar to keep their stones together during construction. Instead, the indigenous peoples relied on geometry.
Many Inca buildings are built with polygonal shaped rocks instead of rectangular stones. The reason for this, is so that the Inca could shape the stones to fit together perfectly. Due to the unique shape of the stones and their weight, these structures have survived the test of time in many places, including Machu Picchu. In fact, these stones were lined up so perfectly that one could not fit even a knife edge in between two stones.
Breathtaking in More Ways Than One
Not only is the site full of colorful history and unique architecture, the views from the site are spectacular, and they will take your breath away, even if the altitude has not done so already.
Standing on the citadel looking outward you can see the gorgeous Andes Mountains almost magically disappearing and reappearing in the fog. With the clouds lower than you in most places, you feel as if you are standing at the top of the world on Machu Picchu – home of the original skyscrapers.
Not only is the site incredible, but the journey to get there is gorgeous as well. No matter which route you take, you are almost guaranteed to see amazing beauty. You may be hiking and see the beautiful orange head of the Tinku, AKA “the cock of the rock,” Peru’s national bird; or you may see a condor soaring around the great Andean mountains. From a train or bus, you can see the beauty of the northern Amazon as it pours into the rapid Rio Urubamba, that only the most dauntless people raft. Whether you are standing at over 7000 feet or marveling at the beauty, Machu Picchu is guaranteed to take your breath away.
Hiking, Buses, and Trains Oh My!
One of the coolest things about this trip, are the different options to get to Machu Picchu. If you are an adventurer, you would most likely prefer one of the several hiking options. However, if you want a more relaxing trip, you may prefer the train and bus route.
From Aguas Calientes you can take one of the many inexpensive bus rides to Machu Picchu. Keep in mind, there are many options for trains and buses. Basically, the more money you are willing to spend on these transportation units, the more comfortable you will be.
Another hiking option that is much less crowded than the traditional Inca Trail route, is the Salkantay Trek. This trek is 5 days instead of four days so you can better acclimatize yourselves to the elevation difference however the peak elevation is nearly 2000 feet higher than the aforementioned option. Additionally, Salkantay trekkers will be able to experience more local culture in villages that many tourists never have the chance of seeing. Furthermore, this trek focuses more on nature and demonstrates a wide variety of natural biomes and waterfalls in the area. After hiking for four days in the jungle and atop high mountains, you arrive in Aguas Calientes where you can take a much-deserved shower before your bus ride to the citadel the next morning. You will see one other archaeological site but not as many as you do on the traditional Inca trail.
Now, if archaeology and history are the main reasons that you decided to travel to Machu Picchu, you need to consider the Choquequirao trek with Machu Picchu extension. This nine-day trek is not for the inexperienced hiker. The trek is arduous, long, and you will come out stinking to high heaven, but you will see some incredible archaeological sites with basically no crowds in sight. Not to mention, due to the lack of crowds, the site is more preserved and intact then the more commonly visited Machu Picchu. As I mentioned before, this trek is a difficult one to say the least. It includes over 8 full days of hiking up and down mountains sometimes at altitudes higher than 4000 meters (over 13,000 feet), but if you are up for the challenge, the opportunity to see both of these incredible sights, is difficult to pass up. Unfortunately, my father and I have already planned our trip to Machu Picchu in 2021. Due to the time constraints and previous itineraries, we will not have time to do this trek when we go. I will say, however, this is my favorite trekking option and I guarantee that one day I will take it and I hope you guys are here with me when I do!
My Favorite Part - Food!
No matter how you decided to get to Machu Picchu, one thing is for certain, you cannot miss out on the food. Whether you are acclimatizing your body in Cusco, relaxing after a long hike in Aguas Calientes, or enjoying a nice stop in a local village during your trek, you must take time to try the local cuisines. Let me tell you what, Peru has some good food! Here are just a few options to get your mouth watering:
Other Incan Street Foods
If you really want to experience the local culture, you must do what the locals do and eat as the locals eat. There are many street food vendors in Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes and other Peruvian cities and villages. You can try Many local favorites, including: anticuchos (Andean kabab-type dish dating back to ancient Incan time), rocoto relleno (stuffed spicy peppers), and alpaca jerky.
Drinkin' like an Incan
Do you enjoy alcohol and trying new drinks? Then Peru may be the place for you. Peru is well known for several sweet, fruity cocktails made with pisco, a popular liquor from the Pacific Coast of Peru. However, if you are looking for a truly unique drink, you must try chicha, a low ABV corn-based alcohol like beer.
What makes this drink so fascinating, is how it is traditionally made. Now, most places make chicha with barley for fermentation, but the drink was originally made and is still made in some places to this day with fermented saliva. Swapping spit with older Incan women just might be the highlight of the trip.
Long ago, the Inca would enjoy this drink that was essentially corn chewed up and spit out, then fermented and finally enjoyed with some nice cuy and yuca frita – sounds delicious. Like I said, most places do not make the drink traditionally anymore. However, this does not mean that you cannot find somewhere that does. In fact, in rural towns along some of the hikes to Machu Picchu, you may see houses with red flags or red bags attached to their doors. This is a common symbol that shows that these locals serve chicha. Drop in, support the economy, enjoy the added effects of alcohol at high elevation, and try not to focus on the teeth that chewed and spat your beverage.
Instagramable as a Mofo
Instead of making you read more about all the vistas and ruins and food that will push your social media accounts to new levels, check these out:
But, probably not!
For these reasons and more, Machu Picchu has earned the place at the top of my bucket list; and I urge you to reserve a spot for it on yours as well. Please comment below some of the top places you want to see before you die and/or your personal experiences at Machu Picchu.
I love people and animals and lust after adventure. I am always up for the next trip, something I find to be integral to my soul. Sharing my love of cultures and nature is foremost in my aspirations, and I look forward to sharing them with you.