Whenever I think about Peru the first thing that comes to mind is Machu Picchu and for good reason. For as long as I can remember, the idea of getting to Machu Picchu was a dream of mine – a traveler’s right of passage. I was always in awe of its beauty and envious of friends who had visited. When I finally took my trip to Peru, I made sure that Machu Picchu was my last stop in order to “save the best for last.”
If you have enough time I would HIGHLY recommend getting to Machu Picchu by going on a trek. Definitely put some research into the different options and tour companies before picking one. The most famous and popular trek is the Inca Trail and if that’s the one you want to do, you have to book it MONTHS (sometimes over a year) in advance. If it’s already fully booked, don’t worry! There are alternative treks that A LOT of travelers rave about. One of them is the Salkantay Trek which is actually known as being more spectacular, but longer. The one I wish I did was the Inka Jungle Trek, which includes adventure sports such as mountain biking, rafting and zip lining.
Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time during my trip to go on a trek as my route for getting to Machu Picchu so I did it in one day using the PeruRail train. There are trains from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. While I was traveling all the trains departing from Cuzco were fully booked so I made my way from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo and then to Aguas Calientes, the small town at the base of Machu Picchu.
Since I only had one day at Machu Picchu, I wanted to maximize every second of it! I made friends with fellow solo backpackers Judith and Rodrigo at my Aguas Calientes hostel and we all wanted to see sunrise at Machu Picchu. To make it happen, we woke up at 4:30am and waited in line for the first set of buses that left at 5:15am for getting to Machu Picchu. After arriving to the grounds, we quickly headed inside. Even at dawn, I was immediately blown away. Words can’t describe the majestic energy, jaw-dropping beauty and awe-inspiring architecture that is Machu Picchu. It felt like walking into a scene from Avatar and my dream had finally been realized.
After sunrise, we did some exploring on our own and then decided to take a tour from 8am to 10am. The guided tour was mind-blowing, focusing on it’s rich history as a 15th century Inca citadel that took over 50 years to build. Inhabited by nearly 500 Incans, Machu Picchu is an engineering masterpiece with every stone placed with a purpose.
When I bought my ticket I knew I wanted to hike one of the trails. The most popular hike is Wayna Picchu which takes visitors to the small, steep mountains at the back side of Machu Picchu. This option was sold out so I was “forced” to do Montaña, a much steeper and tougher hike. At first I was bummed out about it, but once I started hiking Montaña I couldn’t have been happier! The hike was incredible! During the hour and a half hike up, Montaña offered gorgeous, one-of-a-kind birdseye views of Machu Picchu that you can’t get from Wayna Picchu.
After making my way down from Montaña, I decided to split off from my new friends for some alone time to meditate in the ruins. For a few hours I move around spot to spot, taking in different views while reflecting upon my journey and my life.
I arrived in Aguas Calientes pretty late at night and woke up really early so didn’t spend much time in my hostel. I stayed at Ecopackers which was nice hostel with young backpackers. In Cuzco I stayed at its sister hostel for a few nights. Both had a laid-back vibe and really comfortable beds.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to put into words why I believe getting to Machu Picchu is a traveler’s rite of passage. The truth is, I can’t. There’s something indescribable about it that you have to experience for yourself. I think Machu Picchu takes on its own life, meaning and purpose for individual travelers, but no matter what, your journey there will be an impactful experience. For me, my trip to Peru and Machu Picchu came at a time when I needed to do some soul-searching. Machu Picchu put my life and my problems into perspective. It made me realize that no matter what hardships I may face, I’ve been blessed with an amazing life and one that I need to be grateful for every day. It put into perspective that my life and existence on this earth is a tiny blip in history and it’s how I spend that time to make it worthwhile – living a life with purpose, love and adventure.