They say that Machu Picchu will take your breath away. It did, just not in the way I anticipated.
We arrived, after a 2.5 hour train ride from Urubamba in which we spent the first half alone in a car for 50 people and the second half squeezed in like sardines with a group of boisterous Australian tourists and their mountain of luggage.
Some photos of the view from the train:
Through the Vistadome upper window.
While it was clear when we left Urubamba, in Machu Picchu Pueblo it was overcast and misty. The town exists solely for the sake of tourism and every hotel, restaurant and shop to cater to traveler’s needs and desires. Want coffee, cocktails and wifi? It’s here. Cheap tourist menu lunch for $8? It’s here. Fine dining? I’m sure it’s here somewhere.
Finding the bus up to Machu Picchu ruins should be straightforward but somehow we managed to walk in an extra circle or two until we found the ticket window and the line for the buses. The line moves quickly and there are lots of buses lined up and ready to go as soon as they can be filled. The drive up is a bit hairy and if you have a fear of heights, I recommend you sit on the aisle and don’t look out or down as the bus winds its way up 19 switchbacks.
Once off the bus, we took our tickets to the gate and entered. We stamped our passports with the official Machu Picchu stamp which is right past the gate on a little table. Somehow I think the US government might not approve of people placing random stamps in their passports but, not thinking of that at the time, we did it anyway and so far, so good.
Once inside, this was our view of the site:
No doubt, it’s spectacular.
The first thing we did was head up. And up. And up, to the caretaker’s hut. I was fairly winded by the time we got to the top.
What did we see? Absolutely nothing.
Nothing but fog and a few llamas (though they were pretty adorable).
The fog was so thick there was no view at all. Needless to say, I was a little freaked out at the thought we’d come all this way to see….mist. But the wind was blowing and after about 10 minutes, the fog briefly cleared, and there it was. We took a few zillion photos from above and then headed down to explore the rest of the ruins.
We enjoyed walking around on our own, didn’t hire a guide, and frankly, didn’t even break out the guidebook. I did have some notes with me as to where the best view points were, but as for all the details of what specific things were, we didn’t place a lot of emphasis on that as we wandered and this was fine for us. I’ll leave the historical details to the guidebooks and give you some of my favorite photos instead:
If you’ve made it all the way down here, you may be wondering about what I said at the top about Machu Picchu taking my breath away, but not as I anticipated? Here’s where it gets a bit sticky. We were at almost 9000 feet and yes, I was short of breath, so there’s that. But that’s not what the expression implies is it?
The real question is, was it mystical and magical? Was I struck dumb with awe? Did the ancients sing to me through the stones? The answer is, no. Frankly, I’m finding it hard to wax poetic as so many before me have done. I don’t want say what everyone expects to make it easier either.
Perhaps my expectations were too high given the expense and the hoops we’d had to jump though to get there. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been blessed to see other wonders of the world. I might feel different if this was my first travel experience.
I want to be very clear; I certainly had fun and enjoyed it. I have no regrets about going and loved the rest of our time in Peru, including Lima, Cusco and the rest of the Sacred Valley. But honestly, I wouldn’t count Machu Picchu in my all time travel experiences.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely. But not over some of the magical places which have left me dumbstruck with wonder.
Have you ever visited a place you didn’t think lived up to all the hype?
For all the planning that goes into visiting Machu Picchu, please read my post on How to Plan a Visit to Machu Picchu.