The road to Machu Picchu

MACCHU PICCHU! The historic city that’s now considered one of the modern day wonders of the world. I can’t complete my gap year without visiting right? Well the road to Machu Picchu is not as easy as it seems.

I’m not exactly talking about the 81km Inca trail, that’s a whole new level. I’m talking about the fact that there are no actual paved roads that link any city to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu). The only connection is via rail which is really cool but makes it difficult to get there.

From Cusco we took a van to Ollantaytambo, a small city built literally on top of the inca ruins. On the way though we made quit a few stops. First we saw the the agricultural ruins of the incas. A lot of their farming was done there because the multiple levels allowed for different temperatures and pressures. It was incredible how perfectly round the ruins were and apparently they constructed them there to take advantage of the crater that was left over from a meteorite. Afterwards we went to Moray to a textile factory where everything they created was locally sourced and handmade. Moray is close to 4000m in altitude and at the highest point, you find a church where a wedding was being held while we were there. The streets of Moray are very narrow and also have the Inca architecture that you find in Cusco. Our last stop was at a salt mine that has been running since the pre-inca times. The salt is naturally found in the mountain and they extract it by drying ou the water from the mountain. It pretty cool to see because from afar it’s just a massive white field in the distance.

Ollantaytambo is bigger than what I expected it to be. The railway station attracts a lot of tourists to stop in the city so it’s filled with hostels, bars and restaurants. At night it’s quite safe and the ruins are literally right next to the city. I could see the whole thing from the window of the hotel I was staying at.

The train then continues along the river all the way into Aguas Calientes. We caught what I consider to be a luxury train in. The train had windows on the whole carriage so you could see in every possible direction while you were comfortably travelling along. From the train, you can see where the Inca trail actually starts and you follow it for a while.

You get off the train and you find yourself in the jungle. Aguas Calientes is located in the middle of the mountains. Within the first few minutes I was attacked by mosquitoes. At the time I didn’t think much of it and just got ready to catch the bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu.

The bus takes approx 20 mins to get to the top but a lot of people hike it instead as the transport to Machu Picchu is way more expensive than the pass into the national park. Since recently, you actually can’t enter the famous inca ruins without a tour guide which restricts the amount of wandering tourists and protects the more fragile parts of the city. It also educates a lot more people.

Machu Picchu is not actually the original name of the city! Don’t worry I was shocked when I found that out too. Machu Picchu actually means tall mountain in Quechua. The guy that was looking for the city just asked a local if he knew anything and Machu Picchu or tall mountain (over there) was the answer he got. I guess it’s just stuck ever since.

It’s astounding the level of architecture the city had. The whole thing is built to withstand earthquakes and the whole city was self sufficient. It’s estimated that at its peak in the 1500’s, the city housed around 700 people. At the same time when the Incas were hunted down by the Spanish empire, Machu Picchu provided as a safe refuge for the royal families as all paths to the city were destroyed. That’s the reason why the ruins survived for so long. Because after it was once abandoned, the city wasn’t touched until the start of the 20th century. The saddest thing is that the city wasn’t finished and that most of the secrets of Machu Picchu have been lost along with the people that inhabited it.

We went up in the afternoon and we actually managed to avoid the main crowds of the day. According to my auntie, more than 2000 people visit it each day. At around 3 o’clock, my cousin and I hiked up to the guards house and successfully got photos of Machu Picchu without the crowds! By the time I got down the mountain again, I realised I had over 60 mosquito bites all over my legs. The insect repellent totally did not work! My legs were purple by the end of the day. It was disgusting.

The way up to Machu Picchu takes a long time, but it’s totally worth it. If I had the chance though, I would do it all over again. Any day. Without a doubt. Someone buy me tickets to Peru please?

– Nadia

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