Machu Picchu celebrated its 100 year anniversary since its discovery by Hiram Bingham, a Yale professor who took all of the credit for discovering the lost city when in fact he did receive help from a few families living next to the ruins.
I was lucky enough to visit the citadel just a little over a week after the exact date of that marked 100 years, July 24th.
There are 2 ways to get to the citadel, one: take a car or train to the base camp and hike for 4 days and three nights on the Inca trail and arrive at Machu Picchu at sunrise on the 4th day. two: take a 3.5 hour train ride from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes and take the many daily buses up to Machu Picchu.
Orient Express (now Belmond) put us on the 3.5 hour train. But not just any train. It was the Hiram Bingham train, a newly constructed 1920s Pullman train complete with 2 dining carriages where people sit, 1 kitchen, and 1 bar/ observatory carriage. There are other trains that run the Cuzco-Machu Picchu route, but if you are going to make the effort to go to Peru and are not willing to do the hike, I highly recommend taking the Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu, not necessarily from because it departs at night when leaving Machu Picchu which is pointless as you do not get to see the amazing scenery that unfolds as you go.
We arrived at Poroy station in the morning and was greeted by traditional Inca music and dancing. We explored the train a bit before we settled in our tables and the journey began. I spent most of the 3.5 hours in the observatory taking in the scenery and snapping many pictures. Around half way through Brunch was served. It was a decent 3 course meal and came with wine and tea. I felt like I was whisked away to the days of Pullman trains when people dressed very elegantly boarded the trains and traveled across continents. It was a very unique experience and very well worth the money, and honestly the best alternative for people who are unwilling or can’t do the 4 day hike. Soon we arrived at Aguas Calientes, and then we walked to our bus. The bus took around 30 minutes to reach the main entrance to Machu Picchu, and right there was our hotel: the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. Though not famous for its luxury or service, the hotel was definitely worth the price for its location and convenience. Our package included a complimentary 25 minute massage and full room and board, which included free mini bar! Also the restaurant that guests eat at is separate from the one that the rest of the tourists eat at, plus if you need to run to the bathroom (there are no bathrooms within the historic site) you can run to your room or the “day room” to use the bathroom. So really it is quite worth it for the location and convenience and it makes the trip to Machu Picchu more relaxing as you dont need to crowd on the buses to go up and down everyday.
This Inca town definitely deserves its spot on the new list of the 7 Wonders of the World. With its multiple terraces in the farming sector and the many dwellings and temples and storage houses in the urban area, Machu Picchu is truly a wonder. Built around the 1400s, by the 9th and most significant Inca (which in Quecha means emperor but was later used to name the civilization, Pachacuti, it was meant to be the capital or main city of the conquered amazonian area. Pachacuti wanted to expand the empire and conquer the Inca enemies that lived in the forested lands of Peru. Construction began and made progress but was abandoned and stopped when the Inca civilization went into civil war between two brothers, which was followed shortly by the arrival of Francisco Pizarro, and the rest we all know the story about.
The Spanish never found the site because it was quite remote and the locals guarded its existence. Soon it was covered with trees and shrubs before Hiram Bingham was told by locals about a lost city in the mountains of Peru. Hiram Bingham’s journey to Peru was not originally to find the city, but the focus was changed to finding the city once he heard of it. He then stumbled upon the city on July 24th, 1911. And thank goodness he did because it truly is an amazing place to visit. The name Machu Picchu means “Old Mountain” in Quecha and is actually the name of a mountain next to Machu Picchu but because the Inca people did not keep records, the actual name of the site was lost and so it was named Machu Picchu after the mountain it is connected to.
We entered the site a total of 3 times. The first time we spent 3 hours walking around the site and getting a detailed look and tour of the various part of the farming and urban areas. We saw how the Incas built nearly 2oo meters into the ground, and how nearly 80% of the construction cannot be seen, and that they build atop and around bedrock.
The second time was the best time, we woke up and began lining up at the entrance at 5:30AM, when the clouds still hovered over the mountains and the site. We entered at 6AM, and the urban area was covered in clouds. As time went by the clouds slowly moved away to reveal Machu Picchu below us, and the sun’s rays were slowly appearing over the mountains toward the east. At around 7AM, the Sun came over the mountain and the rays of light shined right on to the site, creating a very serene and magical feeling. Watching the sunrise over Machu Picchu was truly the best way to see and feel the site for what it is, and is worth the sleep deprivation. Advice: definitely get there early, at around 5:30AM as the line starts to get very very long at 5:45AM, I am not sure what time the buses start running but if you stay at the Sanctuary Lodge you dont need to worry about this. We then went back to the hotel for breakfast on our terrace, very refreshing and relaxing.
The 3rd and last time was when we went to hike up the Inca Trail for 1.5 hours to the Sun Gate, or the main gate to enter the Machu Picchu area. The hike was not too hard, the path is not smooth however. It was worth the hike as we got to see a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and the River with Machu Picchu in the center of it all.
It is definitely worth every effort and penny spent on the journey to get to this wonder of the world, and no matter how you get there whether its by the luxurious Hiram Bingham train or by foot on the scenic Inca Trail, in the end it will be an equally unforgettable experience.
I highly recommend taking the time and effort to make a trip to Peru to visit Machu Picchu. I dreamed of going since I first saw it on discovery or natgeo, which was a long time ago, and now I have gone, and I can say it was definitely a whole lot better than I could have ever imagined it. No picture or video can ever do justice to how you feel when you stand on one of the higher terraces looking at the urban area below, especially when the clouds fly away and the sun beam shines on it to reveal the power of the Inca Civilization.