More than six weeks after landing in Cartagena, Colombia, we finally found ourselves only six kilometers away from Machu Picchu. We hopped off the train with our guide and a small group of fellow hikers at kilometer marker 104 of the Inca Trail and took a footbridge across the Urubamba River.
After checking in at the closest trail station (one must register weeks or months in advance to get permission to be on the Inca Trail) we congregated with our guide at a small set of ruins to review some pre-Inca and Inca history.
Then we were off.
Along the way we encountered dozens of different types of orchids and other flowers that bloom during Peru’s wet season. The hike was relatively steep, but Kristi and I found it relaxing compared to our previous battle in the Colca Canyon. We also came across several waterfalls and mind-boggling views of the Andes.
Just before lunch and the final push to arrive at Machu Picchu, we emerged from the forest at Wiñawayna, a beautiful archeological site on the mountain adjacent to Machu Picchu. This site was discovered by a biologist searching for rare orchids and is named for the orchid, wiñawayna, which means “forever young” in Quechua.
Our bag lunch was enjoyed at the confluence of two trails where hikers doing a 4 or 5 day trip camp the final night before descending into Machu Picchu. From there, we were less than an hour away from the Sun Gate. We finished up lunch and trekked on and before we knew it, we were there.
The entire day had been overcast and our guide was sure we’d be rained on. However, little by little, throughout the day the clouds thinned and minutes after arriving to the Sun Gate, the sun itself made an appearance. It was our lucky day, I suppose.
We took it all in. Machu Picchu is famed not only for its beautiful Inca architecture, spared from destruction by the Spanish who never found it, but also for its dramatic location, on a mountains ridge, with the roaring Urubamba snaking through the valley below.
The next day we returned early in the morning with our guide for a tour. That day the weather wouldn’t be so kind as the previous day. It was pretty magical, however, to be standing and listening to the guide with nothing but fog all around, then all of a sudden turn around to see the ruins slowly emerging out of nowhere.
The lore and history that applies to Machu Picchu has filled many books so I won’t say much to that. But the coolest thing we learned was that Machu Picchu was not an abandoned city at the time of its rediscovery by Hiram Bingham in the early 1900s. When he was taken to the site by a local Quechua man in 1902, there were at least a couple of families living within the overgrown ruins. The implication being that Inca and their descendants have inhabited Machu Picchu since the beginning.
Machu Picchu was more amazing than I had hoped, and I had very high hopes for it. The cliché that pictures don’t do it justice is of course 100% true.