Machu Picchu wasn't exactly an afterthought on our fall 2014 trip to Peru, but it wasn't the focus, either. Jane and I started out looking for an Amazon River cruise, which is described in an earlier post, and then looked at what else we could do in Peru. To get to Machu Picchu, we flew from Lima to Cusco, where we went straight from the airport to Ollantaytambo, which is about as close to Machu Picchu as you can get by road. From there it's a train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of the mountain. Many tourists take a train from Cusco all the way to Aguas Calientes and "do" Machu Picchu as a day trip out of Cusco. From Aguas Calientes, one can take a shuttle bus to the park (Machu Picchu is a national park) entrance or spend 90 minutes or more walking up extremely steep stairs and trails.
|Aboard the train from|
Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
After a couple of days exploring Ollantaytamo and its own spectacular Inca-era ruins, we took the train (a little over two hours) to Aguas Calientes, spent the night, and the next morning took the bus up the mountain.
I was surprised to learn that much of what we see at Machu Picchu is restored. Using the original stones, workers are gradually rebuilding this mysterious city, which was revealed to the world only in 1911 when area residents showed it to Hiram Bingham, the Yale archaeologist who was the model for the Indiana Jones movie character. What he saw was covered in jungle vegetation and much more in ruins than what we see today. It is, however, easy to tell what is original (no visible mortar) stonework and what has been restored (visible mortar). While no one knows for sure what this city was originally called or what its purpose was, the common assumption is that it was a winter getaway for the Inca (emperor), whose capital was Cusco, about 70 miles to the southeast and at a higher (3,400 meters) elevation than Machu Picchu (about 2,400 meters). Machu Picchu is in a rainforest jungle. Cusco is in a desert, so winters are much milder at Machu Picchu.
Although the Spanish fought the Inca's forces in this area -- Ollantaytambo was the site of the last victory over the Spanish -- it seems that they never knew of it. Perhaps because it wasn't a military base, nor is its location strategic. It overlooks the rocky and shallow Urubamba River (the river of the Sacred Valley), but the river can't accommodate even the smallest of boats. However it happened, this city died with the Inca Empire and was taken over by the jungle until Bingham came.
Most of what is known or thought about Machu Picchu, its buildings and their functions, is based on what archaeologists have found elsewhere, Spanish accounts of Inca-era culture, and conjecture. There's no guesswork involved, however, in appreciating the majesty of the city's location, the beauty of its structures and its harmony between nature and man. Although there are many wonderful images of Machu Picchu, I haven't seen any that truly capture the magnificence of the place. I hope, though, that my photos provide an idea of what a visit there is like.
|When the train arrives in Aguas Calientes, it puts you right in the|
middle of the small mountain village.
Below: A restaurant-lined street in car-free Aguas Calientes.
The rainbow flag is the flag of Cusco.
Machu Picchu is in Cusco province. .