It was a late night out for the group of us and a really early rise to catch the first bus off to Machu Picchu. Sleep-deprived or a little hungover, we staggered out of the hostel and into the streets. It is pretty astounding how many people were waiting for the bus that early in the morning. There were quite a few buses but we had tickets ready to go. After a quick breakfast, we ran out to catch the bus.
It was still pretty dark that morning and we all clamored on to the very crowded bus sleepily. Settled into our seats with some people standing, we went up slowly up the mountain leading up to the entrance into Machu Picchu. During the drive up, we’d see some folks who had decided to walk the entire way up — I’m pretty glad that we didn’t I doubt we’d have arrived before the sunrise on Machu Picchu.
Same issue applied with those hiking the Inca Trail and passing through the sun gate. Apparently, even the fastest of folks may not reach Machu Picchu in time to see the sunrise because of the sheer number of people early in the morning on the trail.
There was a long line up as soon as we got off the bus. Passports and permits were being checked as we shuffled our way in line through the gates. I can’t remember how long the wait was but we certainly arrived early enough to find a spot to seat ourselves on the grass to observe the sunrise.
As our guide provided us with a detailed history and cultural lesson on the importance of Machu Picchu within the context of the Quecha people and Inca Empire, the sun began to light up the ancient city. Very few people were walking in the city ruins so it was the rare occasion where one might capture a photograph of just the city itself.
We began following our guide as he showed us the elaborate architecture and planning of the buildings and the overall city. It certainly lives up to the title as one of the wonders of the world. Some areas were noticeably reconstructed while remnants of the past sat on their own.
Even the individual stone bricks that were used to construct some of the rooms represented a significant advancement in terms of architecture. The size of the room and where the window openings were facing were telling elements of differences in class within Inca society.
Based on some theories that my guide spoke of, hypothetically — the stone that was used to build parts of the city was very specific and there is a possibility that certain types of stone required the Inca to bring them up these mountains. Sounds pretty wild but it is quite fascinating to ponder.
I was surprised to see llamas and alpacas roaming around the city. I guess they are native (more or less) to the area but these must have been bred for tourism. They weren’t afraid of us and I’ve even heard stories of them spitting at people if annoyed.
The sun was now fully shining over Machu Picchu and it was definitely getting hot by mid-day. Soon our guide took us to where there seemed to be a large crowd forming. It involved a steep climb up a fair number of uneven stairs — after our hike, we were not too impressed. Nonetheless we made it up to the area and realized this was the location where people would take the most popular photograph of Machu Picchu.
With such a large crowd, there was a large line up just to take photograph of this area, and an even larger line up to have the opportunity to step on to a rock face that allowed for a great photo opportunity to include yourself with Machu Picchu in the backdrop. It seemed like guides had to serve as negotiators with one another to allow time for different groups of people to have that photo opportunity. As a result, things seemed quite rushed at that point but once we took care of the all the photo requests and moved on — the atmosphere was pretty relaxed again.
Eventually our guide let us go explore at our own pace. I got tired of waiting around for people to have pictures taken of themselves so one of my fellow hikers and I decided to venture off to see more of the city. There was never a shortage of stunning vantage points to take photographs from. Of course, there were some that were more popular than others but sadly, a vast majority of people wanted a picture taken of them at the same place.
It isn’t nearly as scenic and awe-inspiring on the other side of the city of Machu Picchu but I wouldn’t count it out. By mid-day it was hard to take photographs because the light was so harsh but it made me feel thankful for the fact that I had the opportunity to enjoy the sunrise over the city earlier on. The valley on the other side of the city seemed like a peculiar transition between the past to the present. When I looked down into the valley, I could see roads and modern technology but just sitting on the cliffs were some of the most amazing relics and stories of the past.
After exploring a fair part of Machu Picchu, we were getting tired and the sun was really blazing on us at this altitude. We wanted to get back to the entrance point but it was actually quite the challenge to meander back to where we came from. In the process, we got lost but we also discovered a lot of areas that didn’t receive much traffic.
It was a truly memorable experience to have set foot into this ancient city. I could only imagine what it may have been like living here but simply standing there watching the sunrise over this sacred Inca site is forever etched into my memory.