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“Machu Picchu, between heaven and earth”
Review of Machu Picchu

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Marion, North Carolina
Level 6 Contributor
217 reviews
99 helpful votes
“Machu Picchu, between heaven and earth”
Reviewed 4 October 2007

Traveling is a highlight of life, in my opinion. I inherited my itchy feet from my parents, and the love of adventure has been transferred to my daughter, who also desires experiences offered by new horizons. To commemorate her graduation from UNC Chapel Hill, we saved for “the trip of a lifetime”, a seventeen day jaunt through South America. Machu Picchu, the spiritual center and “Lost City of the Incas” in Peru, has been high on my list as a place I “must-see”. The Galápagos Islands, according to a National Public Radio broadcast, was in a state of jeopardy, its fragile ecosystem threatened by an influx of non-indigenous animals and plants. The broadcast recommended seeing it within the next two years. Overseas Adventure Travel offered exploration of both places, as well as a visit to the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador.
Peru is a poor country by our standards, but filled with bright, colorful Andean woven handicrafts. On our first day in Lima, a city of 8 million people (the majority of the country’s population), we hired Juan and his taxi for the day. He took us to El Museo de Larco Huerrera which has one of the largest collections of pre-Incan and Incan pottery in the world, as well as feathered and woven garments dating from 1100AD. In the old city we viewed the Plaza San Martin, the National Presidential Palace and the Catacombs of San Francisco. Juan returned us to our hotel, Jose Antonio Exeutivo, to refresh for our evening dinner at La Rosa Nautica Restaurante, which resembled a garden gazebo of massive wood joists and windows constructed on a pier extending out into the Pacific Ocean, where waves broke underneath. The seafood was some of the best we have ever eaten.
The next morning our group of nine flew to Cuzco, which lies 10,909’ above sea level. After checking into the Hotel Don Carlos, Ed forgot to ‘take it easy’ to prevent altitude sickness and ran up three flights of stairs, which made him queasy and lightheaded for the next few days. Coca tea and altitude pills helped us all combat the effects. Cuzco had been the center of the Inca Empire for over two centuries, an empire of such magnificence 500 years ago that it reached from Columbia along the entire western coast of South America from Quito to Santiago. Its intricate paved road system (including woven bridges over huge gorges) connected all of the conquered peoples under one great nation. Waterways followed the roads, and still bring water from the Andes to many of the cities.
Cusco’s Qoricancha Sun Temple was the religious center, and is composed of various smaller temples. Its interior walls were covered with gold plates, blinding to the eye when the sun hit full-force, which led to the downfall of the empire once Pizarro’s forces saw that bounty. In the Temple of the Stars emeralds, turquoise, and semi-precious jewels were embedded to represent the night sky, which the priests studied. The gardens held full-sized gold llamas and trees. The massive stones that form the edifice were cut and fit without mortar, and could not be duplicated by the Spanish after they seized the city in 1538. Some of the doorway stone blocks have as many as sixteen angles. Tiny keystones held the blocks in place, and the Temple of Rain, Rainbow, and Lightning were built so that their windows form a straight line from one room through the next. In the Temple of the Sun, a large stone semi-circle held a massive gold disc, which the Sapa Inca Atahualpa lost to the Spanish in a card game, before the Spanish stole the 700 wall plates of gold to melt down and send to Spain. While the Spanish held the Incan king Atahualpa, he learned to read and write their language in twenty days, no small feat when you consider Pizarro was illiterate. Because the Inca had no written language, our knowledge of their world comes through the Spanish chroniclers such as Garcilaso and Sancho, who marveled that such wonders could be built by human hands. The walls, niches and windows were all built as trapezoids, creating stable structures that have withstood earthquakes, unlike the Spanish construction which mostly collapsed in the 1650 quake. The Spanish allowed waste and garbage to fill the waterways, making them unusable. We also toured the Church of the Merced (Mercy) where Francisco Salam (1684-1732) lived in underground tombs which he painted, six days a week, with images of heaven and hell. On his day off, he came out from underground to carry a massive cross around the gardens.
After visiting the San Pedro Market, we experienced a curandero healing ceremony. The shaman, Pedro, chewing coca leaves the entire time, collected (in a cloth) colors representing the directions, gold for men and silver for women, a condor feather for the heavens, coca leaves, rice, corn, beans, sacred animal shapes, an image of St. Nicholas for the soul, shells, etc.—pretty much an image for every aspect of life—to which we added leaves to represent our wishes: one for the future, one for those we love, and one for our personal happiness. After burning cleansing herbs he prayed with his package of goodies above our heads and said he would burn it, offering it to Pachaymama, or Mother Earth.
Cusco was built in the shape of a puma. Sacsayhuaman, the Incan ruins above the city, represents the head of the puma (Incan--Saqsay=zig-zag uman=head). The fortress walls are double zigzags and represent the teeth of the puma, sixty feet high and sawtooth in appearance, which made it harder to breach the walls. The straight street that connects the head with the city body, Puma Cuku, represented the puma’s spine. The Spanish conquistadors called this structure the ninth wonder of the world. Many of the larger stones making the ramparts weigh 125 tons. All were notched together after being brought to the site on rollers and pushed into place with logs and rope (60% of the stones were brought from a quarry twelve miles away, the rest were local). The grass esplanade hosts 150,000 people each year on June 24th for the Sun Festival, where 680 actors portray the rule of the Incas. It was the center of the Incan administrative, military (it garrisoned 5,000 troops), and political rule from the 11th through the 15th centuries. The Incas believed in reincarnation and saw life as a series of levels: Hana Pacha (god—represented by the condor) Kay Pacha (living currently—as depicted by the puma) and Ukhu Pacha (the underworld, shown as a serpent). Machu Picchu is shaped as a condor as it was dedicated to god. Those that died in these constructions, and there were thousands, were vaulted to the next life, so to give one’s life in the building was not considered a bad thing. There was no slave labor. A llama was sacrificed yearly at the wall to determine if the next year’s crops would be good. (If the heart kept beating as it was put into a hole in the wall the crops would flourish.) A ‘guardian’ of the site did another healing for us. Lyric was suffering from traveler’s diarrhea and it boosted her flagging energy—so that she was up for our home-hosted lunch of guinea pig! Guinea pig is considered sacred and ceremonial, and as we had already sampled the alpaca and purple corn pudding at lunch the previous day, we were game. It was a bit dry and bony, but not unlike dark meet on chicken. Ed won good luck by drinking a shot of rum with the inner ear bones of the guinea pig (which look like running foxes). Later that evening, our dinner entertainment was folk music and Peruvian dances of the Andes and Amazon.
The next day we journeyed through the Sacred Valley by bus to the town of Ollantaytambo, built by a general of Pachakuteq (Inca #9) on the edge of the jungle. He ran off with the head Inca’s daughter when dad wouldn’t let them marry. The rock-laid water system built in antiquity still carries fresh water from the Andes and grey water and sewage in separate systems, some of it underground. Above the town stands the fortress built with stones from a quarry in the far distance. Ancient grain depositories flank the opposite mountain. It is a charming town. After a walking tour, we boarded the train for the trip up the Urubamba Gorge to Machu Picchu, viewing ruins of the Inca Trail along the way. I was glad we were not scaling the Inca Trail heights as it takes four days to hike.
We arrived in Auguas Calientes (Hot Springs) in time for lunch and took the half-hour bus ride (multiple switchbacks with roaring busses passing one another on a very narrow road) up to Machu Picchu in the early afternoon. Machu Picchu means old mountain, whereas Wayna Picchu (or young mountain) is the one seen in all of the photos. Wayna Picchu was the lookout point, and controlled the Inca Bridge, which was raised to keep out unwanted individuals. Machu Picchu was built by 27,000 people over an 85 year time span. The Spanish never discovered it, which is why it remains intact today. In 1911 a Yale archaeologist, Hiram Bingham, was led to the site by a twelve-year-old local farm boy. Bingham was searching for El Dorado—a city of gold that the Spanish believed existed. We entered from the caretaker’s cottage, or the agricultural section. The first sighting of Machu Picchu invokes such a sense of awe that everyone stood quietly, drinking in the massive ruins. The green mountains highlight the stone walls and building against a brilliant blue sky, the place where heaven and earth are joined as one. Machu Picchu was known as the “Sacred Center” of the Incan Empire, and reflects the joining of spirit to nature through a man-made creation.
At the Inti Temple of the Sun, we learned how the window in its round tower highlights the summer solstice along a rock edge inside, and the Sun Gate on the Inca Trail directs the winter solstice rays to the temple. Below the temple lies a cavern whose walls are carved steps in front of representations of the three levels of the world. Water flows from a spring within the walls, representing the seminal fluid of Pachymama, or mother earth. To drink from it is sacred, bestowing eternal youth upon you (Ed practically bathed in it!) From there, we visited the astronomical observatory just outside the main temple. It holds a stone representing the Southern Cross. Next on the path is the Intiwatana, or hitching post of the sun when the Incas “tied the sun” in solstice ceremonies to prevent it wandering any further away from the horizon. From here, Wayna Picchu lies due north and at the equinox the sun passes directly overhead. Throughout the ruins lies proof that the Incan people understood a great deal about astronomy. At the Temple of the Condor, where llamas were sacrificed, our guide Fernando pointed to the carved stone’s resemblance of wings and the rock cut at the base in the shape of a condor. From here, we walked through a narrow fissure that led to the caves where any Incan found guilty of laziness, stealing or lying was forced to remain for three days without food or water. If he survived, he was freed, but a second accusation resulted in immediate death.
Our final stop for the day, as the park closed at six, was the Sacred Rock at the base of Wayna Picchu. It is a gigantic rock, cut to reflect the shape of the mountain range behind it, where the sun sets. The following morning, Fernando, Ed, Lyric and Bill went back to climb the steep ruins of Wayna Picchu. To hike this trail, you must sign in at the base and begin the climb before 1pm. They made it to the top and back down in three hours, and their photographs show the “top of the world” that hovers 1500’ straight up. Having just suffered a major bout of vertigo in the month before our trip, I browsed the town and bought souvenirs instead. After their return and a hurried (but delicious) lunch, we boarded the train to head back to Cusco and our last dinner. The flight the next morning to Quito was our jumping off place for our Ecuadorian adventure where we would meet the seven additional members of our tour group.

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16 Thank satorigal
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Manchester
Level 3 Contributor
8 reviews
45 helpful votes
“The lost City of the Inca”
Reviewed 24 August 2007

My visit to Machu Picchu was part of a tour of southern and Central Peru, starting from Lima and travelling through Ica, Arequipa, Puno, Juliaca, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Nasca, Paracas and returning to Lima. This meant that I only spent two days within the colourful cloud forest surrounding Machu Picchu. I wish I could have stayed longer.

The train journey to Machu Picchu is quite wonderful. For about ten hours, the Hiram Bingham Express elegantly and slowly climbs to the sacred valley through the Andean countryside affording spectacular views of the rugged peaks and terraced slopes. The train is equipped in the style of a gentleman's club. The service is exceptional. But the menu lacks a vegetarian or vegan option. Although I explained my needs, the vegetables came smothered in butter. And, that's all that came. Not even a potato, which considering that I was in Peru was astonishing. I arrived in Machu Picchu quite late, but headed for La Govinda, the vegetarian restaraunt in the centre of town for a slap-up feast that cost all of 5 Soles (£1.30). A satisfying vegan meal consisting of three courses, bread and soup, spiced vegetable rice, followed by a selection of fruit.

My hotel was a little hard to find, the Machu Picchu Pueblo. You have to walk along the railway line back towards Cusco for about 500 metres, then up a short hill. Though, the hotel is quite special. I'll place a review on this site.

The next morning I climbed to the Inca city via the public bus, about 30 minutes of switch-backing round hairpin bends through the cloud forest. There's not much at the top aside the Sanctuary Hotel and a few tourist shops, even so, it was a little too busy for my liking. I headed for the ruins with a certain fear that I would find them to be too crowded, but the size of the city soaked up the crowds to afford me solitude at many of the sacred sites. I spent five hours on my first visit moving from one amazing view to another; each place exceeded the last in terms of beauty and tranquility. Though, to get to many of the best locations required agility and stamina. But, the picture postcard quality photos that I obtained were well worth the few scrapes my knees took.

The grounds of the lost city are well manicured. Llamas have been let free in the city to maintain the lawns and to keep the weeds back.

I'll remember the view to the river for the rest of my life. How could I sum the experience; heavenly. I was truly moved by the experience. I dare not return least my memories be devalued. This has to be a must for everyone atleast once in a lifetime.

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12 Thank Vegievan
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
huddersfield
1 review
6 helpful votes
“A lifetime ambition achieved”
Reviewed 22 May 2007

I went to Machu Picchu in 2004, my husband and I were celebrating our 60th birthdays. It had been my ambition, since I was at school to visit Peru, I did not think the chances were good, particularly as I suffer with MS. The train journey, from Cusco, was an experience in itself and very enjoyable. The first thing that surprised me about MP was the amount of vegetation, bearing in mind the altitude, I did not expect so much. The whole site had a serenity about it, particularly when we visited the next morning for the sunrise. That was a very emotional moment when everything seemed very hushed, almost sacred. We were able, on our first visit, to borrow waliking sticks this may have been because we were in an organised group. The following day, when we were on our own, they were not available to us. I suggest anyone takes sticks with them. Make sure you have your passport with you as, when we were there, there were 2 "gentlemen" in the left luggage hut with a special offer, "only while the boss is away". They were stamping passports, with a MP stamp, for a small consideration. We stayed the night at the Machu Picchu Inn. Not brilliant. If you can afford to splash out and stay at the MP Sanctuary, at the entrance to the site, it looks fabulous. Our trip was organised with Llama Travel who were brilliant throughout. A never to be forgotten, but hopefully repeated, experience.

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6 Thank laloo1944
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Level 6 Contributor
72 reviews
158 helpful votes
“Magical, and should be one of the wonders of the world”
Reviewed 12 April 2007

We woke early for the first bus to Machu Picchu. Our guide had already bought the tickets for both the bus ride and the entrance to Machu Picchu. The ticket booth is located just up from the train tracks along the small river. The ticket is a round trip ticket, one small part is taken for the trip up, and the second is used for the ride down. We were second in line at 5:10am for the 5:30 bus. There were at least 80 people waiting by 5:30. Fortunately, extra buses arrived and the people that did not fit on the first, simply got on the second and third buses. We were told that as soon as a bus fills up, it leaves, no matter what the schedule.

We arrived at Machu Picchu in about 30 minutes. There is a hotel, snack bar and wool shop at the top. We went directly into Machu Picchu and were the first to view the site that morning. I strongly recommend doing this so you can get photos of the site without any people in. Within 15 minutes, there are multi-colored ponchos everywhere, affecting the overall look of the place.

We wandered around for a couple of hours and also walked the Inca Bridge trail. It took about 15 minutes to get to the end of the trail to view the beautiful drawbridge designed by the Incans. If you are at all afraid of heights, don’t bother with this walk since you are a foot or two away from sheer cliffs some of the time. However, the views are spectacular.

We then went on a guided tour for about two hours which is highly recommended. The guide was very informative and it gave a much deeper understanding and appreciation for Machu Picchu.

After a brief lunch at the snack bar (I recommend the turkey panini), we walked up the strenuous Gate of the Sun trail (45 minutes) which is the end of the Incan Trail hike done by so many. From the Gate of the Sun, Machu Picchu is laid out before you. However, on this day, it was very, very foggy, and we never got a glimpse of Machu Picchu. The other possible hike is up Waynu Picchu, the mountain rising from one side of Machu Picchu. Since is was rainy and foggy, our guide strongly discouraged us from climbing it. He said that the average elope was 70 degrees. He said the problem is not necessarily getting up, but coming back down. There are stories of people falling from the trail on a fairly regular basis. It is unlikely that you will survive if you fall.

The weather was variable all day long but got surprisingly cold in mid-morning. A waterproof jacket is essential. Sturdy waterproof shoes and even a walking stick would be worthwhile.

We then caught the 2pm bus back down (the leave every 30 minutes or so), so stayed a total of 8 hours in Machu Picchu, an amount of time needed to see everything. I got extremely crowded from 10am through the rest of the day so the first hour or so, 6-8am, was very nice.

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6 Thank toddbG3082KX
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Payson, Arizona
Level 6 Contributor
113 reviews
128 helpful votes
“It was worth it!”
Reviewed 20 March 2007

I have waited decades to see Machu Picchu. It was one of the places on my list that I've always wanted to see. I love archeology, history and other cultures plus I love to hike in the mountains. It this describes you too, you will really enjoy it. I was with a group that took a train from the Sacred Valley. It takes 1 hour, 15 minutes on the Vistadome and they serve you a light lunch on the way. You can also take a backpacker train which is a little bit cheaper but the schedules are not as good. The other option you have, if you like to travel in style and have lots of money to pay for it, is the Hiram Bingham Orient Express train. This is a white-glove, dinning car type experience. All the local tour guides I spoke with said it wasn't worth the $547 per person price. Anyway, when you get into Machu Picchu Pueblo, you need to walk a few blocks and catch one of the buses that go up the side of the mountain (on switchbacks) to Machu Picchu itself. Get a seat on the left side going up. The valley just opens right up for you. When you get to the top, there is a snack bar and shops at the entrance to the park, but also a huge buffet at the Sanctuary Lodge. The lunch was great, worth the price and lots of variety. They even had a band. Got a tour of the hotel. They want between $715 and $1156 per night to stay there. The rooms are quite small and there's no pool, etc. The only reason to pay that rate would be for the location but there are several worthy places to stay down in the pueblo and the bus only takes half an hour. We went up the first afternoon and then again the next morning. The buses run frequently and are tourist class even though they are public transportation. Now onto the ruins. They are split up into two main sections with several other sites to visit as well. The main site that you see in all the pictures are upper and lower. You can really get a variety of information between guides so select carefully. Some may stress the religious and/or spiritual implications of the area while others the construction, daily life, etc. A few of us did the Sun Gate hike which was only 1 hour up on a trail that was clearly marked and included stairs and rocks. There are a few places on the trail where the cliff is on one side so be careful going if you have vertigo, etc. The view from this trail is outstanding and is probably where the publicity photos are taken. This is also where the folks who have hiked the Inca Trail (2 or 4-day option) will see Machu Picchu for the first time. It's quite a site. The Inca Bridge was closed when we were there so we didn't get to do that. There was no time to do Hyuana Picchu (the tall piton-like mountain you see in the back of photos of Machu Picchu) but I was told by others that the top was quite hairy. Literally you were hand over foot on vertical stairs. The hike takes all day. On the first day we were there in the afternoon around 4 pm when these hikers would be coming down, 2 men with a stretcher ran toward that trail with others saying there was an injured hiker up there. Please only do this if you are an advanced hiker. Even our guide said so. The weather changes quickly there so be prepared for anything. Bring rain gear but NOT umbrellas. There are paths wide enough for only 2 people to walk side by side so you risk poking someone in the eye. Layer too. One hour it could be warm, the next hour a storm front blows in and it gets cold. Also, please remember your sunscreen!! Depending on where you are in the park, it is 7,000-9,000 feet and the sun is intense. Great cloud forest photos can be had after rains but trails can be slippery so wear hiking boots. It was definitely a place I would go back to so make every attempt to fly to Cusco and either take the train from there (3 1/2 hours that begins at 11,000 feet) or acclimate yourself to the altitude in the Sacred Valley (9,000 feet) and go on the train from there. Happy Travels!

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6 Thank beav16
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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