No words or pictures can ever do the centerpiece of the Incan empire justice. Nestled among endless peaks and valleys deep in the Andes, the colossal series of homes, temples, astrological signs, and agriculture terraces is awe inspiring and worthy of its status as one of the great wonders of the world.
I could barely sleep the night before. We would rise at 3:30, fill up on Nutella and peanut butter, and line up at the gate. The park rangers don’t permit you to commence the final approach to Machu Picchu until dawn due to its treacherous nature — while relatively flat, many parts of the narrow trail hug a cliff with a precipitous drop off. So we cranked up some music on our iPhones (“Blurred Lines!”), turned our head lamps into strobe lights, and had an impromptu dance party.
The sheer size of Machu Picchu makes it difficult to soak it all in. I asked Renaldo, who had been doing this trek for 13 years, how many times he had been there. “Over a thousand.” Do you ever get tired of it? “Never.” I could see why.
Eventually it was time to leave, but before I did there was one final climb: Wayna Picchu. That’s the pyramid-like mountain that you’ve seen in every photo jutting out just beyond Machu Picchu. A steep vertical ascent culminating 1,180 feet above the ruins, it’s just the sort of challenge my tired, sore legs needed after a 4-day trek. Despite my longing to kick off my dusty hiking boots and down a cerveza (or four), the extra work was well worth it, leading to its own set of ruins at the summit and a one-of-a-kind glimpse down onto the sacred site.
I’ve been blessed to travel to many great places around the globe, but Machu Picchu is the greatest I’ve ever seen. The natural beauty of the location and the exquisite manner in which the city was built into the mountain side make it a right of passage for any traveler. And if trekking for four days and sleeping in tents doesn’t appeal to you, know that there is a train that will take you directly there and back. (There goes your last excuse.)