Machu Picchu. The final destination. After 4 long days, over 32+ hours hiking, about 60 miles up and down mountains, we were about to make the final ascension up to Machu Picchu. The guides woke us up at 4am so we could be at the bridge to the base of the mountain by 5am. The gates open at that time to begin climbing and it’s a foot race to the top to be the first in line to pass through Machu Picchu. There was magic in the air. You could feel it. I felt a sense of excitement so great it was like a non-stop adrenaline rush — and we hadn’t even started walking to the bridge yet. This was going to be an amazing morning.
As we walked out of the hostel, the reason they ask you to bring a head-mounted flashlight became apparently obvious. It was pitch black in the direction of the bridge, no lighting had been put up there. Groups of travelers were walking together with flashlights and we made sure to simply stay in the glowing light around them to see.
After we had our entry passes to Machu Picchu checked(there’s a daily cap on the number of people allowed in every day) we approached the steps. They were basically half-crumbled rock steps that were very steep going directly up the mountain. If you can imagine being on a StepMaster with the highest setting, constantly using it for about an hour to an hour and a half, and without any lights — that was what it seemed like.
High stepping along the way: the excitement of what was ahead and the warmth of your body as it began to sweat made the experience feel like having an amazing workout combined with a heightened sense of accomplishment. In the midst of this rush, I felt no pain and simply kept going up the steps with no other thoughts besides how great this all felt, passing many people who had stopped for breaks. The dawn began casting a low blue light on the steps, allowing me to see them for the first time that morning without a flashlight. I looked up and could finally see the gate of the entrance to Machu Picchu.
At the top, 5:45am, I was joined by many travelers who, like me, had rushed to the top and left their groups behind. We were around the first 40 people in the line and you can see my silly excitement at that moment where I had a German guy next to me take this picture:
Soon the sun was beginning to rise and buses from Aguas Calientes(for those who didn’t want to climb) were arriving. The gates opened promptly at 6:30am and I went in waiting for everyone else with Young Miguel:
The sun starts shining over Machu Picchu around 7-7:30am as it rises above the mountain ranges in the distance and many people hurry to the highest point to get the best vantage point. You can easily get startled with amazement the moment you enter. It was truly surreal seeing Machu Picchu first hand as opposed to pictures. To think humans created such an intricate city on the edge of a mountain is remarkable. The entrance we came through had us right at the bottom of some terraced steps that were likely used for growing crops.
Typically you recognize Machu Picchu from an aerial angle or birds-eye view. When you’re on the ground, you get to touch, feel and walk through the actual passageways which provides a completely new perspective. For instance there were tiny aqua-ducts that irrigated the crops and distributed water:
Some small homes were collapsed, but you could peek in:
Just to get a feel for how stunning the passageways were:
One of the questions I had about Machu Picchu, and I figured it may simply have been a mystery, was where the rocks for the structures came from. Near the top of the terraces you can easily see that there was a massive rock quarry and even evidence of where the rock was cut:
This rock shows how they cut them by creating notches and then flattening it out after it was broken:
One of the gardens has been replanted with possible crops including a large tree with coca leaves:
Just like the architecture at the temple in Cuzco, Qorikancha, you can see the very accurate cuttings of each stone on these walls:
Whenever the stones were this precisely cut, you can tell the area was a sacred place like a temple.
The incas were very fond of the sun, so obviously there was a sun dial:
The entire grounds of Machu Picchu are actually very large when you walk and would take half a day to see everything. We said our goodbyes to each other after the guided tour and continued to walk around for many more hours through the different areas.
There were many more Incan ruins to see here including Huyana Picchu which is where many of the aerial views of Machu Picchu are taken from. There’s also the Sacred Valley and Incan Bridge, but after the trek and long morning, we decided to start getting ready to head back to Cuzco on our train.
While passing by on the train, we caught our last glimpse and allowed the moment to sink in: we had just experienced Machu Picchu.
I’ll never forget what Old Miguel told me the night before at dinner: “When you see it, close your eyes. Imagine your biggest aspirations and dreams. Then open them and realize you are looking at just that for an entire civilization.” Yes, it was a humble reminder of the amazing capabilities of humans and depths of our impact on this world. I’m so glad to have experienced it and would recommend it to anyone.