Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Machu Picchu ~ Hidden, surreal .. Mystique of the Inca




Sitting atop eerily silent Wayna Picchu, looking down on Machu Picchu...the lost city of the Incas, one may feel as a lone Inca might have felt five hundred years ago looking out over this epic mountainscape from that very same rock...


Timelessness.










Every traveler who has ever been to Peru will tell you they fell in love. The colors and magic of South America come alive in this beautiful country.

Machu Picchu




Cusco

A visit to Machu Picchu for most travelers begins in Cusco, Peru.






The Plaza de Armas is the central point in Cusco for idyllically sitting around, doing nothing, for locals and tourists alike.



Cusco


Cusco grows on visitors pretty quickly. It's a slow moving, almost unreal town.








Sacred Valley

Around Cusco, the beautiful Sacred Valley comprising breathtaking scenery and a number of spectacular ruins is a must see for every tourist.




Buy a a boleto turístico at any one of the sites like Pisac and Ollantaytambo, and enjoy your visits to all sites in the Sacred Valley with this ticket.













Getting to Machu Picchu

Backpackers salivate at the prospect of doing a multiple day hike to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail, or a couple of alternate trails.

An easier option for others is to just take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the small pueblo which is the base for visiting Machu Picchu. The scenic journey lasts four hours. One can also take the train from Ollantaytambo if they're already in the Sacred Valley.



Be sure to book your train tickets a week or more ahead of time, online at Perurail. According to Perurail, the credit cards accepted by the website must be Verify Visa or Securecode Mastercard, and the maximum amount of purchase cannot exceed US$500; and, when boarding the train one must display the credit card used and one's ID.



The train meanders through verdant hills and valleys, rollling past raging mountain streams and scraggy cliffs.





Backpackers who do one of the alternate hiking or partial minibus trails to Machu Picchu instead such as a night bus from Cusco to Santa Maria, continue on to Santa Teresa and enjoy a fantastic thermal bath here. Santa Teresa is the end point of the Salkantay trek as well.




From Santa Teresa, some backpackers walk two hours to Aguas Calientes along train tracks, or catch a train around 3 in the afternoon.





Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is a small base village set up for the relenteless hordes of tourists making their pilgrimage to Machu Picchu.





Some have seen it all.





You must make your way through the obligatory trinket market to get into town. Buy something ... this is their livelihood.





Grab a beer and a bite at the multitude of kitschy yet viby restaurants spread around Aguas. Make friends from around the world, some you may go see Machu Picchu with the next day. There's even a thermal bath up a stiff incline within the village, for those who want to rest their backpacker legs.




Tickets!! A smart thing to do first however, used to be to buy your entry ticket to Machu Picchu at the Machu Picchu Cultural Center, a few minutes walk from the main plaza in Aguas, or have already bought it in Cusco at NIC (Instituto Nacional de Cultura) near Plaza de Armas. It can't be bought at the entrance gate to Machu Picchu. The ticket used to be valid for 3 days. 

As of July 2011, a limit of 2,500 persons allowed into Machu Picchu daily is being enforced. So folks are tripping out, and looking to purchase MP tickets ahead of time. In January, tickets became obtainable online: the site www.machupicchu.gob.pe seems to be very slow to access, and sometimes crashes altogether, but you should buy your tickets online, or through your Peru travel or tour agent,  before you leave for Peru. This site explains the ticket buying process in English: www.machupicchutickets.com



The entrance to Machu Picchu with the added option to climb Wayna Picchu, costs around 150 soles or US$ 55. It's 126 soles if you don't choose to climb Wayna.  Also buy your bus-shuttle ticket that same afternoon from another office in town. You will need to have your passport.

Statue of Pacahcuti


Stay at one of the many hostels or hotels in town. Walk up the main steep incline and ask for rates. Walk in rates are usually the best unless it's mad tourist season.



Unless you're up late chatting up new friends at the bars and restaurants, try and get a good night's sleep ... you'll need it. Only 400 persons are allowed to climb Wayna Picchu everyday, 200 at 7 am and the remaining at 10 am. Visitors are in line at the bus depot as early as 3am, as the first buses leave at 5.  It's a good idea to have the early bird in your pair hold a spot for the more bleary-eyed one, but be fair to other travelers and just get up early.



Come a dark, cold morning, you're about to see a sight you've perhaps been dreaming of for years.


Machu Picchu

With the sun about to break over the mountains, visitors file in slowly, almost solemnly, into Machu Picchu.



Machu Picchu

UNESCO World Heritage Convention states: Standing 2,430 m above sea level, in the midst of a tropical mountain forest in an extraordinarily beautiful setting, Machu Picchu was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height. Its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. It appears to date from the period of the two great Incas, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438-71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472-93). 







You walk along Machu Picchu to reach Wayna (or Huyana) Picchu. You stand in line till the gate opens, then sign in at the hut, and make your way towards your climb.



Be reasonably fit, not necessarily an athlete. It may seem daunting, but a smile will get you going.



A long, snaking trail winds its way up the tall and imposing Wayna Picchu. Handrails at especially steep spots ease the hardship of the climb for many.



A good night's sleep and little to no alcohol in your system would come in really handy here.



Many people pause and catch their breath at intervals, and admire the magnificent views.





About 30 meters from the very top, a beautiful little plateau breaks the hard climb, and provides your first opportunity to sit and take in the surreal sight of Machu Picchu from high above.

Wayna Picchu




The grandness of Machu Picchu, seen from Wayna Picchu, is so mesmerizing that many climbers stay transfixed at this spot for an hour.






The view of the river and of the ruins of Machu Picchu are spectacular.






Awed and rested, make your way up a remaining incline, including a tight tunnel-cave.





You've made it. You're on top of Wayna Picchu, with brilliant 360 degree views.







After an hour or so of taking in the splendor, you're ready to climb down Wayna Picchu ... an easier effort.



Pose at a Wayna Picchu sign on the way down, to let the world know you conquered it.




Once down, you're now ready to explore the ruins of Machu Picchu ... and take in the splendid colors of the landscape and the ingenuity of the Incas.















A place of ethereal beauty, Machu Picchu quietens and inspires the soul  ... and you may well come back another time.






Perhaps you backpacked your way through South America to Machu Picchu. Or you flew in from your home country to Lima and then Cusco. Care to round out your trip to Machu Picchu with another iconic destination? On your return to Cusco, rest up, and the next day catch a train or bus to Puno ... you're on your way to go see South America's largest and the world's highest navigable lake.

Lake Titicaca





Most backpackers walk over into Copacabana, Bolivia, after getting a visa at the unassuming Peru-Bolivia border if necessary, to get the most out of Lake Titicaca.





Enjoy a meal at one of the colorful, sun-filled lakeside restaurants, and go explore the beauty of the Lake.

















Lima

Many travelers need to make their way to Cusco and Machu Picchu by way of Lima, or pause here on their way home.

As far as large South American cities go, Lima is a coolly fashionable town. Miraflores has the bluffs and a scenic view of the coastline. Paragliding right from the bluffs is popular. The restaurants are gourmet. The people are diverse...indicating the tapestry of Peru. The weather can suck.








Enjoy your travels to these amazing spots in Andean South America. Go home with a renewed appreciation of the cultures, the colors, and stories to tell for years.





Travel Tips
  1. For flights and airlines within Peru, this is a helpful site. Star Peru and Peruvian Airlines are usually the cheapest.
  2. Book your Machu Picchu tickets ahead of your trip. See www.machupicchutickets.com
  3. Buy your Perurail tickets in advance as well, at www.perurail.com/en/booking.php
  4. Walk in rates at hotels, hostels and pousadas are usually the best, but if you're traveling during high season, book in advance. Also, a concierge service at the airports has a kiosk where they can book a hotel from a large selection of hotels for you. Low rates and bargaining are possible through this service.
  5. Cusco is at a high altitude. Many tourists like to first go to Arequipa, adjust to the lower altitude there, and then travel to Cusco. You should give yourself at least 2-3 days in the Cusco and Sacred Valley area to acclimate. Altitude sickness and stomach upsets are real dangers.
  6. Cusco has excellent restaurants around Plaza de Armas and Plaza de San Blas. 
  7. Safety: While Cusco is safe, this writer has heard of a few dodgy areas away from the plazas. Women should watch out for spiked drinks ... pretty much anywhere in overtouristed small towns across South America. Aguas and Machu Picchu are both safe. Trails: always be in a group of males and females.
  8. The cheapest way to get from Cusco to Puno is by bus.
  9. Taxis in towns are aplenty, and cheap.






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