We looked forward to seeing Machu Picchu for weeks, not least because my daughter had been there on a student trip years before. I wanted to stand where she stood and see what she saw. We didn’t have time for the hike through the amazing scenery of the Inca Trail, so we got the train through the Sacred Valley from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. The bus ride from there to the site up though hairpin bends and narrow roads was really scenic, if a little hair raising!
How big is Machu Picchu?
It’s big! Machu Picchu is one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World, built by the Incas around 1450. The first thing that struck us, as in totally awestruck, was the sheer size of the place. It is immense, with terrace after terrace taking us ever higher until we overlooked the familiar view of the main complex from the top of the site. We always thought that was a shot from a helicopter or a nearby mountain, but it isn’t – it’s the ultimate view from the top!
Classic view of Machu Picchu
Looking down on it we realised what a fantastic building achievement Machu Picchu really is - an immense city lost for centuries in the jungle. It seemed inconceivable for a place this size, but in 300 years of occupation the Spanish never discovered it, despite being based only 50 miles away in Cusco. There were a lot of people there but it is so vast, with daily numbers limited, that it was never a problem.
The height of Machu Picchu is part of its attraction
It is a long way up, but our guide as always was very experienced and knew exactly how fast to take us. He stopped at every level to allow those who needed it to rest and to impart more information from his inexhaustible memory banks. At 2400 metres up, the site is actually 1200 metres lower than Cusco, so altitude sickness wasn’t an issue. Vertigo could have been though, depending on how close we got to the edges of the incredible, seriously deep cliffs and gorges surrounding the place. And in spite of the height we were still dwarfed by the magnificent snow-capped mountains all around. These included Machu Picchu the mountain, which towers over the site. It was simply unbelievable!
We only did the Machu Picchu day trip so there was no time to walk to the famous Sun Gate. You can stay overnight in and spend more time, which is a great idea if you have a more serious interest – or a slower climbing speed! Coming down was quicker, by a path at the back of the site, which was a relief.
Inca building and architecture is awesome
We had already seen the astonishing Inca brickwork elsewhere but Machu Picchu has some of the finest. The walls are all dry stone, much of it polished and incredibly well fitting with no mortar. Many of the stones are immense and our guide explained that normal building techniques would have been a waste of time in this highly volcanic area. We also heard why the familiar terracing was necessary to provide farming land because only 2% of Peru is actually flat! The terraces also reduced soil corrosion and gave invaders a tough climb up to the defenders waiting at the top.
Machu Picchu’s dry stone walls
The total effect of scale, architecture, building skills, terracing and mountains is completely awe-inspiring. On our trip to Machu Picchu we were as impressed as with anything we have ever seen – anywhere! A truly breath-taking world attraction which you must see one day.
We are Peru specialists and can take you to Machu Picchu and all of Peru’s famous highlights as well as off the beaten track to tiny villages and deep into the Amazon. See our Peru holidays section for example itineraries and a detail review of what to do in Peru.
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