Four o’clock a.m. came early. We got up, had some tea and bread, and prepared to go. Most of the groups ran out to be first in line at the gate to start on the trail when it opens. The goal is to get to the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu for the sunrise. Unfortunately, the clouds were dense and made our morning foggy.
Two hours later, we arrived at the Sun Gate in the time for the sunrise, but the clouds didn’t part and no one could see Machu Picchu from this vantage point. We started down the 40-minute walk to the Guard House immediately above Machu Picchu. As we got there, the clouds started to clear and we got a perfect view of the structure. We sat on a hill and marveled at the brilliant feat of ancient engineering before us.
Like all Inca ruins, Machu Picchu creates more questions than it answers. No one knows why it was built. Some say it was a resort for the king. Others say it was an “Inca University” where they experimented with new farming techniques and taught architecture, among other things. Another explanation is that it was a very sacred temple. Additionally, no one knows why it was a abandoned or where the contents (such as mummies and treasure) were taken. It also poses the question of whether Machu Picchu is the last “lost city.” In Inca culture, there are three worlds (world of the Puma—our world, world of the condor—the heavens, and world of the snake—underground world). Cusco is the city of the Puma. Many believe Machu Picchu is the city of the condor. But, no one has found the city of the snake. It’s not known whether it exists at all, yet many speculate it’s somewhere in a giant cave, maybe in the jungle. When the conquistadors began their conquest of the Incas, the Inca people ran with as much of their treasured gold and silver as possible. Those treasures have not been found—the city of the snake may be the final resting place.
After a break, we toured Machu Picchu and it’s many rooms. We saw areas for astrology, farming, religious functions, and housing. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones there. Hundreds of other people came up on buses to make the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. The site felt like more of a circus. It was impossible to take a photo without someone else in the shot. There were no parts that one could explore alone. In some ways, the ruins along the Inca Trail were more enjoyable as an opportunity to explore due to their remoteness. The size and scope of Machu Picchu, nonetheless, makes it a remarkable “must see.” With the expectation that you won’t be alone.
We took the train from below Machu Picchu back to Ollantaytambo and bussed back to Cusco from there. We flew out the next morning to Lima, where we were met with delayed flights and traveling woes, but made it back to Minnesota only a few hours later than anticipated.
Overall, the trip was amazing! The Inca Trail truly deserves its spot among the best walks of the world. I would commend it to anyone as a great feat for life’s list. My recommendation does not come without reservations: it is a significant challenge and you must be in great shape. I don’t repeat too many trips more than once, but the Inca Trail is one that I would do again. It’s amazing to finish knowing you’ve crossed a great mountain range of the world, walked a piece of history, and ended in one of the most beautiful and mysterious places on earth.
See more photos in my Flickr Photo Album.