City in the Clouds: Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was one of our main targets when we were planning our trip to South America in the fall of 2017. We landed in Lima and had just over a week to make it to Cusco. We were going to do a trek, and we had booked in advance. Cusco was the heart of the old Inca Empire, and still has many reminders of the Inca’s dominance, despite the Spanish Influence that has taken over the city. It is the gateway to the Sacred Valley, and any trip to Machu Picchu begins here.

The ruins of Machu Picchu lay “undiscovered” until 1911. Hiram Bingham was the first outsider to visit the ruins – it was still covered in the overgrown jungle – and the photographs he took were shared around the world, first appearing in National Geographic the next year. It has inspired the imagination ever since and was recently named as one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World.

No matter how you get here – bus, train or by foot – the ruins are impressive, and worth any amount of effort to see with your own eyes.

There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu. We chose to take the 5-day Salkantay Trek, an 80 km hike through the Andes, with the final destination being the ruins.

The Inca traveled by foot. It was a humbling experience walking along some of the same “roads” that the Inca would have traveled along 500 years earlier. Being surrounded by nature while pushing your body to the extreme is rewarding in ways you can’t explain unless you’ve experienced it yourself.

While we trekked through the mountains and jungle along some of these same “roads” through the mountains that many of the Inca would have walked 500 years ago made it a humbling experience.

The first three days of our trek was filled with mountains, glaciers and eventually jungles. After walking straight up a mountain for a day an a half – to the summit of Salkantay at 4600 meters – you walk straight back down the other side. You enter the clouds, suffer the rain, and within a few hours of hiking, we were deep in the jungle.

We enjoyed watching as the trickles of water melting off the glacier join together to become creeks, and eventually rivers, which over thousands of years have carved out the valley you are walking into. These rivers join other rivers and meander their way downwards, eventually into the Amazon River. The appreciation of nature on this hike is unparalleled.

On the 4th day of our trek, we entered the valley of Machu Picchu. We began walking early in the morning and approached the city from the south, winding through the valley below. Throughout the day we were teased with unparalleled views of the mountains and a few peeks of the ruins from this lower point of view. On the fifth day of our trek – while being foggy and eventually torrential downpour – was such an amazing moment after 4 difficult days of walking, to finally arrive at our final destination.

The last hurdle is the staircase, essentially a 1-hour walk from the bottom of the valley to the entrance of the ruins at the top of the hill. We made it up on willpower alone – our legs were hurting from the 4 days of hiking that preceded this hike. But wow! To see Machu Picchu – the city in the clouds – is one of the most rewarding things you can experience.

The day that we visited was cloudy and sprinkled with rain, which left the ruins covered in clouds at times. It made the place feel mystical. We spent a few hours walking around what remains of the city; which is very well-preserved considering it was left to the elements for hundreds of years. While you have to share this experience with a few hundred other tourists, nothing can take away the beauty of Machu Picchu.

Machu Pichu is worth the price of admission. It’s worth fighting through the crowds of people. It was worth planning an entire trip to South America around. It is something that everyone should experience with their own eyes.

Here are some of our favourite pictures from our Machu Picchu adventure.

Machu Picchu:

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City in the clouds. 2017.

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Norma and Rob posing for our “classic tourist photo” in front of the ruins. 2017.

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Machu Picchu. 2017.

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Llama posing for tourists in front of the ruins. 2017.

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Surrounded by Mountains. 2017.

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Three different styles of Inca construction. 2017.

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The city of Machu Picchu and the valley below. 2017. 

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Machu Picchu. 2017.

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Inside the city of Machu Picchu. 2017.

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The ruins as seen from below. 2017.

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The “Classic” Machu Picchu view. 2017.

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