Arriving at the Sun Gate
Machu Picchu – what more can be said about this place that you didn’t already know? We arrived at Inti Punku (Quechua for Sun Gate) via the Inca Trail (Read my trail report) shortly before sunrise. Wow! This has to be the way to experience Machu Picchu – cresting those last few stairs and being rewarded with the view of a clouded Machu Picchu is something I will never forget. The view is stunning and worth the hour or so hike up if you arrived to Machu Picchu via other means. TravelWhimsy has a great write-up on how to access the Sun Gate from Machu Picchu itself.
After a brief history lesson we descended down the mile or so from the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu itself. The Incas built Machu Picchu around 1450 but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. The Incas were able to keep Machu Picchu a secret from the Spanish and thus it was never plundered or destroyed. Although still known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham. In fact when it was first “discovered” by Hiram, two local farmers were using some of the terraces for their own farm!
Temple of the Sun
Exploring the site was fun and informative. Our guide led us from site to site and explained to us what was considered the best known use for each building. The Temple of the Sun was one of my favorites. Using the natural rock to form a temple around, experts believe this building had significant importance because of the quality of the stone work used in its construction.
The grounds around Machu Picchu are massive and fun to explore. I’d budget several hours to walk around and discover. More if you plan on hiking up to the Sun Gate. The Incas were impressive builders and it shows. Another worthy side trip is the hike up to Huayna Picchu. While we didn’t do it (we were done with hiking at this point!) most people who had done it enjoyed the views it provided of Machu Picchu.
If you didn’t arrive to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail you can still get there! From Cusco you can take a train and then hop on a bus from Aguas Calientes. To save some money you can take a bus to Ollantaytambo and catch the train there. Talk to your hotel / hostel with help getting train tickets and passes. I’d also avoid street vendors hawking tours. Ask other travelers or your hotel / hostel for recommendations.
To describe Aguas Calientes (now officially Machu Picchu Pueblo) as a tourist trap is still doing it justice. At most I’d recommend staying here a night – if at all. It’s expensive and fake and was only built to support tourist heading to Machu Picchu. There is nothing here of any historic value to spend any time in – it’s sole purpose is to shuttle people to Macchu Picchu. I will saw the hot springs in the town ( Aguas Calientes – Spanish for hot water – you get it??!!). They were a much needed relaxation after the long journey we had. It was more of a locals place and was a little run down – but pool side drink service more then made up for it – so don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!
Machu Picchu was absolutely amazing and should be on anyone’s bucket list to visit. It’s difficult to describe the magic and grander without experiencing it for yourself. Book your trip and go!