The second day of our tour package saw our earliest start yet, with us waking at 4am (after just 3 hours of sleep) in order to hike up to Machu Picchu for the start of our guided tour. The night before I had specifically asked the guide whether it is light at 4.30am. ‘Yes of course it is already quite light at this time’ was the answer, so we confidently packed our bags without torches. This turned out to be completely incorrect, and we ended up doing the first part of the 400 vertical metre hike in pitch almost pitch darkness (bar the shared usage of other hiker’s torches). In hindsight, this advice should have set alarm bells ringing since we knew the sun rises at 6am in Machu Picchu, and unless the sun somehow defied physics, it would not be light at 4.30am (rant over). Uneasy hiking in the dark aside, it was definitely an experience, and mostly comprised of a rugged stone staircase for the equivalent of around 80 storeys.
Given the hiking distance and vertical climb, we reached the top completely exhausted and covered in sweat at around 6.15am. Clearly this was not the ideal physical condition to start a three hour guided tour in, but we managed to meet up with the guide and rest of the tour group (who had taken the easy option of a 9$ bus to the top). When we first witnessed Machu Picchu through the early morning mist, it was a breath-taking experience and it felt great to have finally made it. The city itself is set on a mountainside, surrounded by the Urubamba river on three sides. The combination of this setting with the surrounding mountains covered in sub-tropical jungle makes it a unique location, despite the ruins in the middle comprising a somewhat typical Incan city.
That said, the city tour was interesting, and highlights included walking through the houses where Incan families used to live, and visiting a stone on top of the main temple which is alleged to emit positive energy. By that point in the tour I would rather have been bestowed with physical energy, but that’s a separate issue. One of the final points on the tour was the temple of the condor, which features an impressive stone condor built into the floor and walls. Throughout, the guide told us about the history of the ruins, and how the locals knew about them for centuries, but they were first rediscovered by western explorers in the 1910s. Visitors only began hiking the famous Inca trail in the 1970s, and tourist numbers only first went through the roof in 2007 when the sight was dubbed one of the ‘seven wonders of the millennium’.
After the tour we relaxed for a bit, before heading back to the viewpoint over the city, and wandering down a trail to the ‘Incan Bridge’. This took us around the back of one of the mountains to a bridge the Incans used to use to access the area. It was a basic wooden structure, so we were not allowed to walk on it which was a shame. After the hike we left the ruins via a platform with a roaming llama, which is best appreciated in the gallery below.
To get back to the hostel we decided to do the hike again, though it was significantly easier going down. It was also interesting to see the trail we had previously hiked in the dark and early sunrise. As I type this we are on our way back to Cusco via Ollantaytambo for a bus to Puno in the morning.
Overall I would say Machu Picchu was a great experience. The mountains surrounding it reminded me very much of the Drakensburg mountains I hiked in in South Africa, and specifically the amphitheatre of mountains which are viewed from hikes there.
Photos of the day: Machu Picchu in the early morning mist, a llama staring at the mist, proof I made it, the same llama cheekily getting in my photo, and Marc attempting to fly by the Urubamba river.