Yes, the title is right, we had the opportunity to visit Machu Pichu three different times while we were in the area. Let me tell you why this happened, and how each visit was a little different.
But before we do that, you have to look at the requisite “money shot” of Machu Pichu.
I will spare you the lengthy history of Machu Pichu. The summary is, no one really knows for sure why it is here or what the Inca were using it for. However, it is special because it was untouched by the angry, destructive Spaniards. And it is also in a pretty spectacular location!
I want to first clarify that there are two places called Machu Pichu. The city of Machu Pichu is the place that visitors eat, sleep, shop and soak in hot springs. This is a noisy, crowded place located in a breathtaking canyon setting with a creek running through the middle of town.
The sidewalks are occupied by people who are here only for a short time; backpackers, train-riders, tour groups and families from around the world. These visitors fill hotel rooms, coffee shops and restaurants with their languages and their money.
The businesses are run by Peruvians who live in tiny shacks and shared rooms, trying to squeeze out a living and send money home to their families elsewhere in Peru. The city is working to develop a little bit of style and culture of its own. These rock art carvings are popping up around town.
All those travelers that are in the city of Machu Pichu aren’t really here for the shopping, or the art or the food, they are here to see this…
Machu Pichu is said to be “scientifically discovered by Hiram Bingham” on an exploratory trip from Yale. However when he arrived the local farmers were using the terraced land for crops, so it’s not really possible that he truly discovered the place. There is a humorous and informative book which you might enjoy called “Turn Right At Machu Pichu” by Mark Adams. The book exposes some of the history regarding the rights of various people in regards to the land, the claims and the artifacts while narrating the author completing a hard core and sometimes funny journey along the Inca Trails of this region.
The first person from slowcarfasthouse to explore Machu Pichu was Geneva. She and her friend, Beth went there by train from Cusco.
This trip included a beautiful train ride out of the city. The train climbed over the Andes and passed through the Sacred Valley. Then it went up into the hills surrounding Machu Pichu.
The train ride included a little bit of music, food and costumed entertainment. Quite a plush way to get to the ancient ruins.
When they arrived they secured a seat on a bus that delivered them up to the gates of the ancient city. Because of the timing, it felt almost like they had the entire place to themselves.
They toured Machu Pichu with a guide named Freddie, and paid for the guide with a handheld credit card machine while standing in 500 year-old ruins. Life is amusing sometimes. They were able to stay and wander the grounds for a while, then grab a seat on a bus headed back down to the city. That evening, Beth and Geneva spent a night in one of the tiny hotel rooms, enjoyed a delicious dinner and slept like an Inca stone. The next morning Beth did a little souvenir shopping in the city. Then they walked up the creek and soaked in the hot springs located on the edge of the city of Machu Pichu. It was a great way to spend the morning, before boarding the train for a leisurely train ride back to Cusco. Sipping pisco on a gorgeous train that is gliding through the Andes is a pretty spectacular way to reflect on the beauty of Machu Pichu.
While the first method proved to be a comfortable and effortless way to visit Machu Pichu, Mike did it a little differently. With friends Laura and Ryan, they hiked from a nearby city of Aguas Caliente. While they were hiking and spending the night in Machu Pichu city, Geneva and the dogs were safely parked at a beautiful riverside campsite.
Their hike followed a popular trail along the train tracks. The terrain is flat and green. They hiked to the city of Machu Pichu (four hours). Once there they checked into their rooms and then took a bus to the gates of the ruins. They spent many hours exploring the Machu Pichu ruins. When they were finished with their tour, Laura and Ryan hiked down the mountain and back to the city (about an hour), while Mike took a bus down and returned to his room. They all met up for a delicious dinner (at the same restaurant) and then retired to their rooms to crash. The next morning they all hiked back along the train tracks (four hours) to where Geneva and the dogs were waiting.
The third visit to Machu Pichu city and Machu Pichu ruins included Geneva and her childhood friend, Lidora. For this visit they took a shorter train ride, just from the ancient city of Ollantaytambo.
Upon arrival in the city, they grabbed a bus and went up the mountain to the ruins. They entered the main gate of Machu Pichu ruins on a slightly cloudy, beautiful day. They were able to secure the same guide as before, but Geneva says that the place looks different the second time, and she saw things that she did not see the first time! Freddie showed them a couple of the huge chinchilla’s that live in the rock walls of the ruins. Not much is known about the history of these animals. But they proliferate and are not very afraid of tourists.
The also spotted a large lizard lounging on a warm rock along one of the terraces. During this visit to Machu Pichu ruins there were llamas roaming around the place. They also were not afraid of tourists. There is a large area that archeologists presume was used as a llama pen when Machu Pichu was occupied. But these llamas wandered freely along the trails and structures. Near the llama pen area is the huge central plaza. This is surrounded by small housing areas and pathways leading to other parts of the city. Lidora really enjoyed examining the rocks up close as we admired the carving, shaping and precision of the rock placement and the enormous size of some of the rocks. Freddie explained that the huge boulders of the area were made smaller and shaped by using hard stone tools. (They did not have metal tools) They would chip away at the large stones to get smaller pieces to work with.
They would also heat the huge rocks by building a fire under them. Then throw water on the rocks to cause rapid cooling. The rocks would crack and crumble into a size that could be carved to fit the needs of construction. Once they were carved to the proper shape the stones were moved into position using a roller stone. These long, cylindrical stones would be placed underneath the large stone. Water pours from fresh mountain streams in this region. The city of Machu Pichu had an elaborate system for managing water for various uses. There were channels to carry water to the terraces for crops. There was a way to transfer water to the llama pen. There was also a system for the water that was used for drinking and bathing.
We also learned that this is a UNESCO site, and the rules for that include forbidding further reconstruction. This means that from the day it was named a UNESCO site, it can have basic repairs made, but no new reconstruction can be completed. So as trails are cleared and walkways are maintained, the stones they gather can only be placed in neat piles. Throughout the ruins there are piles like this, that contain stones which fit into the puzzle somewhere, but will remain there untouched. The ruins include several areas that are presumed to have been temples to the gods. In Incan tradition, the gods included the animals and the earth. This particular rock is possibly carved to be shaped to honor the mountain behind it. It is an incredible example of workmanship and understanding of stone, as it is made from one continuous piece of rock.
One of the hardest aspects to ponder at Machu Pichu is the sheer impact of tourism. There are over 5,000 people per day at this location. Five thousand people with their footprints, their weight and their exploration of the ruins. Because of this, some areas are closed off and others are beginning to show the effects. Coming up with a solution is a very real matter for the future of this treasure. After their tour, Lidora and Geneva returned to the city of Machu Pichu for a delicious dinner at the same restaurant. Then some shopping and sleep. The next morning they boarded a train to take them back to Ollantaytambo. This time there was an unusual passenger on the train. It seems that a traveler had fallen at the ruins and possibly broken his neck. This orange bag contains a man on a back board. He is accompanied by his wife and a nurse/medic. We wish him the best for a speedy recovery and the best possible outcome.
I will close with a gathering of the beautiful photos we each took of this amazing place. We feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience it in different ways. Look through this collection and choose your favorite photo. Let us know what you pick!
Thank you for enjoying these visits to Machu Pichu with us. Remember to sign up to receive these blog stories by email. And follow along as we continue to explore Peru and then head to our next country on the adventure.