It was an early start. Well before the crack of dawn we left our hotel and trudged down to Aguas Calientes’ bus loading area to join a very long but fast-moving line for the nine km, 1,500 ft. grind up the Hiram Bingham Highway to Machu Picchu. Walking is an option for those with a masochistic bent but I recommend the bus. This “highway” is a narrow, rough, gravel road with 13 switchbacks, no guardrails, no run-out lanes and the ever-present risk of landslides. It’s long past its prime — “near the point of permanent collapse” — and to be replaced with a controversial cable car by 2021. On one switchback a large black tarp blocked the view. On the far side of the tarp was a sheer drop — hundreds of feet — with no barriers whatsoever. Out of sight out of mind.
However you make the arrangements, be sure to do so months in advance. Admission is strictly controlled and scheduled in three timed shifts. You’ll need to show a passport that matches your timed ticket so scalpers aren’t a thing. If you book a guided tour you can let them take care of all the arrangements and, regardless of how you’re travelling, it’s a bit complicated and that’s what I’d do. Daily admission numbers are meant to reflect Machu Picchu’s population when it was occupied by Pachakuti, the ninth Inca and founder of the Inca Empire. Built in the 15th century, the site was soon abandoned, perhaps due to water supply problems, and vanished from memory.
We caught our breath, climbed off the bus, showed our tickets, showed our passports and began the adventure. What to say about a Wonder of the World? It is magnificent and lives up to all the hype. We were blessed with blue skies, white clouds and sunshine and an all-round beautiful day. I’m sure that an ethereal, misty day would have its own charms and don’t think you could go wrong.
We started at the Lower Agricultural Sector near the Inca Trail and the Funerary Rock Hut with views overlooking the main site and then hiked down through the Popular Sector to the sublime Temple of the Sun and Royal Tombs and up to the Hitching Post of the Sun, so-named by Hiram Bingham, the Yale archeologist who discovered Machu Picchu in 1911. This was the main location for Inca sun worship and is may be the only such structure not destroyed by the Spanish in their anti-pagan zeal. The guard hustled the rest of our group through but seemed to like me and was a lot of help.
It was back down through the Condor Temple where I would have given my eye teeth for a wider lens. As it was, my efforts incurred the wrath of an American girl whose iPhone view was interrupted. All’s fair in love and photography. Next was a welcome few minutes in the shade of a reconstructed industrial building and then back to the main entrance and the only toilet on-site. At about 2 pm we were on the bus for the return trip to Aguas Calientes.
No trip to Peru is complete without a visit to Machu Picchu. It’s an extraordinary place, well worth the effort and very highly recommended!