The True Gem of Machu Picchu

I can remember sitting in my primary school class at the age of eight learning all about the Incas. At that age, learning about people in history did not really interest me. My teacher showed us a picture of Machu Picchu and said it was an ancient city hidden in the high mountains of Peru. I didn’t even know where Peru was, but the picture my teacher showed us stuck in my head as I couldn’t believe people lived in these houses in the clouds. Clouds seem so far away and almost heavenly for school children.

The dreamland city seemed almost unrealistic but I was intrigued with my imagination of how people would have lived in the clouds. My childish thoughts vanished when I was in my teens but the image of the ancient city stuck with me. I think anyone’s first sight of Machu Picchu sparks wonder and awe. It stays with you and makes it your dream to visit there even if you don’t know it.

When I was 25 I got to see that ancient city. I have been to many famous places around the world, such as the Colossuem, Petra, the Taj Mahal and the Potala Palace, and I have been able to digest these experiences with ease. Machu Picchu was different. A year later, at the age of 26, I find it hard to assimilate my memory of the Inca city. I still feel like that child in school who could not believe the existence of this heavenly place. Machu Picchu is breath-taking. It is a must for any travel enthusiast.

There are hundreds of readings on the geography, history and the modern tours and travels of Machu Picchu so I will not bore you. However, there is a true gem in Machu Picchu that many travellers overlook despite its dominating position in the ancient city. It is Huayna Picchu – that large mountain peak in the clouds that tower over the ruins.

Traveling to Machu Picchu is very popular. However, recently it has been difficult for travellers as the Peruvian government has restricted daily visitors to the site in order to protect it. Visitors are restricted to 2,500 people per day. Huayna Picchu, which is accessed through Machu Picchu, has also been restricted to 400 people per day, for two reasons – site protection and personal safety. I call it the true gem of Machu Picchu as the Inca’s looked up to this mountain in wonderment and held it in such veneration that they carved replicas of this peak in the stones of the ancient city.

If you have the opportunity to travel to Peru, I urge you to make the most of your visit to Machu Picchu by securing a ticket to Huayna Picchu beforehand. An information page explaining how to obtain tickets to the world heritage sites has recently been published on the BBC travel website. My advice is to book very early. Huayna Picchu is a steep mountain. It is exciting for the avid trekker, that I am, but it is a mountain that anyone can climb as most of it involves walking up carved stones that resemble stairs. One part is nick-named the ‘stairs of death’, but taking it one step at a time it is trouble-free. Reaching the top of the worshipped Inca mountain is an amazing experience. To make the most of a trip to Macchu Picchu, Huayna Picchu should be included. You can see how exhilarating it is in the video below.

Some tips for Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu:

  • Peru is known for its extraordinary mountains. It is much more fulfilling to arrive at Machu Picchu after trekking on the Inca Trail or other walks such as though the Lares Valley.
  • The main town for Machu Picchu tourists is called Aguas Calientes. It is a buzzing place. However, it is not an attractive town. Accommodation is expensive for the most basic hotel. Limit yourself to one night and two days here and stay in Cusco – a beautiful colonial town with excellent hotels, pubs and restaurants.
  • If time is limited, take the extraordinary Peru-Rail to Machu Picchu from Cusco. It is a luxurious train journey with large windows and glass rooves to let passengers see the beautiful mountainous scenery.
  • Make sure you have a Camel-Pak for Huayna Picchu as you will become parched regardless of your fitness levels.
  • At altitude weather can change dramatically so be prepared by packing warm clothes and rain gear.

One of those moments

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We all had one of those moments when you wished you had a camera! I met this old Peruvian man a few kilometres outside Aguas Calientes. I can not speak Spanish. The old man could not speak English. However, we somehow communicated and laughed together for about twenty minutes. It was a truly extraordinary moment. I wish I had it on video. The man was delighted when this photo was taken. He showed so much excitement when he saw himself on the screen of my camera! It was one of those moments, reminding me to appreciate all the finer things in life we take for granted.