I have a horror of tour groups. I understand why they exist but they still bring me out in hives. So after spending a few pleasant days wandering around the Sacred Valley away from the crowds I approached Machu Picchu with a sense of trepidation. Will it live up the (high) expectations? Will it be disappointing? Will the other 2499 tourists allowed in the same day make it unbearable?
It’s probably selfish to want the whole of Machu Picchu to oneself but when I reached the bus queue in Aguas Calientes at 5am there were already a hundred people in the line. I wasn’t alone in wanting to get to the site before the tour-group hoards arrived mid-morning.
In the end I worried needlessly, Machu Picchu was magnificent. Yes, by 10am the site looks more like London at rush hour; but at 6am, sitting on centuries old Inca terracing above the site watching the mists clear from the ruins as the sun rose over the surrounding mountains, was a magical and mystical experience. I wouldn’t have missed it for all the looted Inca silver in Cusco’s cathedral.
Actually, when I first arrived there was a tantalising glimpse of the city and then the mist swept back across the mountain and obscured everything. It took about an hour for the mist to clear again and I was beginning to wonder if we’d get to see anything. In the end the Inca gods were just playing with us and the wait was worth it.
The Spanish never found Machu Picchu, probably because it had already been abandoned by the time they arrived, and it is easy to see how it remained hidden from the outside world for several centuries. It is built on top of a mountain, surrounded by mountains and located above an inaccessible narrow and deep gorge…and then there’s the mist.
An Australian friend who works in the travel industry has done an analysis of the cost of Machu Picchu compared to other world famous tourist destinations; Machu Picchu is around five-times more expensive for the average visitor, which puts a lot of pressure on a visit. But as the mist slowly dissolved in front of us and Machu Picchu revealed its true beauty the cost became irrelevant.
The other thing to reveal itself was the very large hill behind Machu Picchu. Called Wayna Picchu, I had booked a place to climb this monstrosity at 10am. Seeing it in the flesh was a bit disconcerting, but it turned out to be a really good decision (of which more later).
Until 10am there was plenty of time to wander through the ruins of Machu Picchu and marvel at the brilliance of the Inca buildings – surprisingly, it is easy to find yourself alone in the ruins with only the wind and tremendous views for company.
A few days before we arrived at Machu Picchu I received a compact camera with a video function for my birthday. I should probably have practiced before reaching Machu Picchu, but below is my first video…I apologise if it is a bit wonky.