I won't call Machu Picchu the highlight of our trip, because we had so many wonderful experiences. Perhaps I should call it "iconic". One blog post is NOT enough to truly communicate the immensity of the ancient city. And you would get bored if I showed you every photo I took. So I'll go brief on both.
The trip started with a train ride to Aguas Caliente, aka "Machu Picchu Town". It sits on the Urubamba River, originally called the Vilcamayo, which winds its way through the entire Sacred Valley. I believe you can only travel up to the site via the bus. It's a winding trip up the mountain - back and forth through the hairpin turns. You see a glimpse of the ruins before exiting the bus and getting into the admission line. All the processes ran smoothly during our visit - it's a well oiled machine. We were definitely helped by our guide from Condor Travel, as arranged by our agent at Travel with Monarch.
Once you are in the park, you start the walk up to the top of the city. Spending all our time in a flat, almost sea level town definitely did not prepare us for the walk. It should NOT have been as hard as it was. But it was so worth it - part way up you see the iconic vista...Because of all the visitors, we only had the opportunity to take a few shots.
Then you climb a little more and you're in the guardhouse. For me, it was the first realization of how amazingly intact these structures remain. They've added the thatched roof so that it's easier to envision how it looked when first built. I took this image looking upward and wanted to try something a little different with it. When you look down from the house, you can see all around the mountain. (FYI - Machu Picchu is actually the name of a mountain nearby. The mountain in all the famous pictures is Huayna Picchu.)
After viewing the guardhouse, you start making your way downwards toward the actual city ruins. I will admit that this was even harder than the uphill climb for me. My heavy camera backpack changes my center of gravity and I feel a little unsure of my balance. And the ancient steps are all slightly different, some are very steep.
My prior knowledge of the construction of Machu Picchu was that the stones were all assembled without mortar. That's true, but only part of it. Houses and workshops were constructed with rough, uneven stones. Many were "reconstructed" as the site was being restored in the twentieth century, but mortar was used. Reconstruction had to stop when they site became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Much of the construction was actually to stabilize the city foundations - those stones are enormous and there are different levels and under-layments. The terracing on one side of the city was for growing crops, but the terracing on the other side was for structural purposes.
Important buildings, like the religious buildings. were constructed with large stones which were carefully shaped and polished. These were typically formed by creating holes in the seams of the stones. Then wood pieces were inserted in the holes and drenched with water. As the wood swelled, it split the stone. Then the polishing and shaping could take place. They actually know a lot about this process because when the city was abandoned, work in process was left as is.
There are llamas on the grounds, primarily to "mow" the grass. And we spotted a couple of chinchillas. I'm sure there are all sorts of other animals. but I have to imagine that all the visitors keep them from coming out in the open.
I hope that you are able to make the trip to Peru if you've not done so yet. But if you cannot, I hope that you enjoy these pictures. I count myself so fortunate for having had the opportunity to make this visit. I am truly in awe.
I don't normally do sales pitches on my blog, but I will take this opportunity to hype our travel agent. We could have scheduled this trip on our own, but we would have labored over every decision. And we would have missed something. Tina. at Travel with Monarch, really did make this a fantastic vacation. I can't recommend her highly enough.