Machu Picchu was one of the significant highlights of our Peru trip. We left our hotel early in the morning and traveled by bus to the trail station in Ollantaytambo. Once again, we were asked to pack only enough clothing for the 2 night stay while the rest of our belongings would meet us in Cusco. There are no roads to Machu Picchu so there are only two ways of getting there. If you are extremely adventurous, you could take a variety of buses and cars to Santa Teresa. From Santa Teresa you would then hike a few hours by foot. Or you take the train.
We traveled from Ollantaytambo via Peru Rail to Aguas Calientes and the entire route followed the mighty Urubamba River which provided fabulous scenery all the way there which included more Incan agricultural terraces. My attempt at photography of this journey was limited to setting the camera on Auto and pointing it out the train window.
Aguas Calientes is the closest community and access point to Machu Picchu and has many restaurants and hotels to serve the tourist industry. It was founded in 1901 as a railroad camp during the construction of the railroad between Cuzco and Santa Ana before the discovery of Machu Picchu. After arriving in Aguas Calientes, we headed straight to the bus station after dropping off our overnight bags and hopped on one of the many dedicated buses that travel back and forth to the Machu Picchu site. This is one of those times we were very thankful of traveling in an organized group since our guide already had our train and bus tickets and we were able to breeze through the lineups. The Machu Picchu site is approximately 3.7 kilometers away or 15-20 minutes by bus and we traveled a series of switch-backs in order to climb to the top of the mountain. This portion of the trip is not for the faint of heart as there are no guardrails and the road was very narrow. When the inevitable meeting of the buses happened, one of them had to usually back up to let the other pass. I tried to take a video with my iPhone but the road is pretty bumpy and there is plenty of vegetation along the side of the road but you can see my attempt at this link. Bus ride to Machu Picchu
To access the site of Machu Picchu, you must also obtain an entrance ticket which are limited to 2500 visitors per day. Once again, we were happy that our guide had all of our tickets and we were able to gain entry without any delay. There was a kiosk where we could get a souvenir Machu Picchu passport stamp on your passport (which is an apparent no-no).
We climbed up a steep walkway and there it was. Ouimet Canyon near Thunder Bay, Haleakalā in Maui and now Machu Picchu. What do these three locations have in common? Places that can only be described as jaw-dropping. After all the hype and anticipation, we were not disappointed. We were there for the next 6 hours and what first started out as a visit to a tourist attraction became more of a life experience. I can only hope that I would be able to convey our experience through the images I captured this day with the 5DMKIII and a 16-35 wide angle lens I rented for this trip from my good friend Martin Galloway at Canada Lens Rentals.
The discovery of the lost city of Machu Picchu is officially attributed to American archaeologist Hiram Bingham on July 24, 1911. At the time, Bingham was searching for the lost city of Vitcos, the last capital of the Incas and enlisted the help of the local inhabitants who guided him to the ruins which were mostly covered with vegetation except for the cleared agricultural terraces and clearings that were being used by the local farmers as vegetable gardens. In 1912, Bingham returned to Machu Picchu with another expedition that was sponsored by Yale University and the National Geographic Society. This expedition cleared the vegetation over the next three-four months and the full extent of the site was finally realized. Machu Picchu is unique because of the fine Inca stonework and the well preserved nature of the ruins which had not been disturbed since it was abandoned unlike other Incan sites.
The first spectacular views of the city are available quite soon after entering the complex via the tourist entrance and it was a very popular spot for everyone to pose with the city and the distinctive mountains in the background. It is where the image of Dianne and I are was taken while posing in front of the city at the beginning of this post. You can see a larger version by clicking on that image.
Arguably, the most recognized attribute of Machu Picchu is Huayna Picchu which is the mountain peak that rises over the city. According to local guides, the high priest lived in a residence on top of the mountain and walked to the city each day at dawn. Huayna Picchu is accessible by foot but only to 400 visitors each day. As you may be able to tell, the following images of Huayna Picchu were taken at different times of the day, at the start of our tour and at the end with a cropped image to show the detail of the buildings. The site of Machu Picchu was not only strategically located high in the mountains and alongside a mighty river, it also contained a natural quarry from which the stones were harvested to construct the city. At the top of Huayna Picchu, you can see jagged rocks which also provided quarry materials to construct buildings there.
Our tour guide was well-versed in the culture and history of Machu Picchu and passionately related interesting stories as we entered important areas in the complex. We climbed higher up the trail to the House of the Guardians which provided the highest vantage point and offers a dramatic view of the whole city and surrounding mountains. I will share my favourite images taken from this position at the conclusion of this blog entry. The House of the Guardians has been restored to give us an idea of what it originally looked like with its straw roof. Adjacent to the guard house is the cemetery, some of the many agricultural terraces on site and the Ceremonial Rock. The Ceremonial Rock is also referred to as the Funerary Rock or the Mortuary Rock depending on which source of information is used.
This is a link to a short video I took from this vantage point. House of Guardians video
There seemed to be agricultural terraces on every available piece of land and we passed several more as we left the high ground and began our decent into the city entering via the City Gate. We couldn’t help but notice the vibrant red Begonia veitchi that were blooming at numerous places at or near the terraces.
By the time we reached the City Gate our official tour was half over and we began exploring the different rooms and places of interest within the city. There were no options to go off the main path and we followed behind the hundreds of tourists and their guides. Fortunately, everyone was spread out.
The following gallery contains the rest of the highlights of our visit. After our 3 hour formal tour we had a buffet lunch at the on-site restaurant. When lunch was over, a few of us elected to go back into the city and I am glad we did since a large majority of the tourists and school groups had left. The remaining visitors were thoroughly enjoying the peace and tranquility that Machu Picchu provided. I took over 400 images and Dianne took another 100 and I hope that the 50 or so that I have presented to you will give some idea of the day that we had.
To close out this post there are a few more interesting facts about Machu Picchu.
It was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
Machu Picchu is vulnerable to threats including natural events such as earthquakes and climate. In my research on Machu Picchu I found many references to the fact that there are pressures from too many tourists. Many of the cultural artifacts of Machu Picchu remain in the possession of Yale University from the Bingham expeditions and there is a long-term dispute between the government of Peru and Yale.
This paragraph is from National Geographic Travel page. “The stones in the most handsome buildings throughout the Inca Empire used no mortar. These stones were cut so precisely, and wedged so closely together, that a credit card cannot be inserted between them. Aside from the obvious aesthetic benefits of this building style, there are engineering advantages. Peru is a seismically unstable country—both Lima and Cusco have been leveled by earthquakes—and Machu Picchu itself was constructed atop two fault lines. When an earthquake occurs, the stones in an Inca building are said to “dance;” that is, they bounce through the tremors and then fall back into place. Without this building method, many of the best known buildings at Machu Picchu would have collapsed long ago.”
Lastly, I found this website which gives you a panoramic view of many of the highlights of Mach Picchu. http://www.peru-machu-picchu.com/index.php
Thanks for stopping by!