Ascending Machu Picchu
Have you ever seen the sunrise over Machu Picchu? Add this on your bucket list and see my recap as we ascended Machu Picchu on Contiki’s first-ever South America trip.
4:45 am. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. It’s morning already? I splashed cold water on my face and threw on the layers of clothes that I had set out the night before. Layers are important – I’d discover that later. The rain was already coming down and it was pitch black outside.
Machu Picchu Pueblo was eerily quiet at 5am. We walked to the bus station that would ascend from the town up to the entrance of Machu Picchu, taking 14 switchbacks that made some of us queasy when we stared outside the window. If anyone wanted to know what it felt like to live among the clouds, then definitely take a trip up to Machu Picchu.
We arrived at the gates of Machu Picchu, where our fantastic guide Gaby told us that we’d have to make a baby hike before we would catch a glimpse of the Inca ruins. Baby hike? Sounds easy enough to me! Then we started climbing and we knew that this was no baby hike…
But then we arrived just as the sun began to slowly creep its way above the mountains and the mist and clouds were slowly revealing Machu Picchu. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie in that picture-perfect moment when the secret city was revealed and we knew we had arrived. I had to catch my breath as I was watching all of this unfold – it was simply unreal and I really wanted someone to pinch me and tell me that what I was looking at wasn’t some elaborate mirage. To say that Machu Picchu was on my bucket list was such an understatement – I couldn’t really feel like I was living until I’d seen this place – and suddenly I felt alive.
We hadn’t arrived that early just to glimpse upon the ruins – one of our destinations was the trek up to the Sun Gate (Intipuku), a notch high above on the Inca trail that looks down upon the Inca ruins. During the solstice, the sun will come through the Sun Gate and directly hit Machu Picchu. We started the ascension and gazed down below at the 14 switchbacks we had just endured and hoped to glimpse Machu Picchu from our high vantage point.
Afterwards, we descended from the Sun Gate to take a tour of the ruins, led by our wonderful tour guide Gaby, who explained the history of Machu Picchu’s discovery 100 years ago by Hiram Bingham. She shared her deep passion for how the Quechua (her people) will never lose their culture and religion so long as the stars, the moon, the sun, and the Earth continued to exist. We explored the sun temple, gazed upon ancient sun dials, and wandered around the ruins in awe. I took a brief moment to myself away from the group to just take in the scenery around me, to be thankful that travel continues to remind me what a small part of the world I occupy and how many wonderful things there are to experience.
We had the option to take the same bus back down from Machu Picchu, but I figured – I’ve been up since 5am and hiking! What’s another one hour hike? So a colleague of mine and I decided to talk the walking trail down the side of Machu Picchu and walk back into town. Remember when I mentioned those layers I wore? By the time the midafternoon sun hit, I was down to a tank top and pants (after wearing 4 layers in the morning). The walk was all downhill, stone steps that made for an easy descent and really stunning views.
After returning to Machu Picchu Pueblo, we took the Peru Rail train back to Ollantaytambo before boarding a bus and heading to Cusco – a city that captured my heart. The day I visited Machu Picchu for the first time will live with me forever.