Let’s clear up some of the mystery surrounding Machu Picchu.
There are still lots of people who believe the only way to get there is to hike. I’m here to tell you, you can get to Machu Picchu just about any way you want. You can go by bus, you can go by bike, you can’t take a yoga & meditation excursion or you can of course, hike. But, did you know there are multiple ways to hike there? The Inca Trail is the most famous and needs to be booked far in advance, but there are plenty of other options that are just as scenic and just as wonderful.
Depending on how much time you have, you will also save a lot of money if you book your tour when you get to Cusco, rather than online while you are still in the states. Still, that option is not open to everyone. I booked my hike when I got to Cusco on the Salkantay Trail for a cost of $45/day. This trail takes 5 days and 4 nights and leads you over the Salkantay Pass.
If you want to read a more in-depth trip report, see these links:
Regardless of how you choose to get there, you will most likely stay the night before in the town at the base of the mountain called Aguas Calientes. From here, it’s a full 45 minutes of climbing steep, stone steps in the dark before reaching Machu Picchu. Or, you can opt for the bus as well but you will miss the sunrise.
I will tell you I had met other travelers along the way who weren’t too impressed by Machu Picchu, but I’m not one of them. It must have been an amazing place when it was occupied. The stone terraces used for farming were cleverly engineered to withstand the rainy season and make good use of water in the dry season. There were aqueducts for transporting clean water from natural springs. This seemed somewhat ironic to me since some of the villages we passed on the way did not have running water yet. The Incas had even used the terraces to adapt low elevation plants to grow in high elevation. They would plant them in the lowest terraces and slowly move them up to higher ones. They also transported fertile soil from Cusco to the terraces.
There were three styles of stone work. In one, each stone was cut to fit those beside it perfectly without mortar. Some historians have written that they were so perfectly cut a single blade of grass couldn’t fit between them. The buildings were constructed around boulders and rock formations because some Incas did not believe in changing Pachamama’s landscape design. The buildings were also built to withstand earthquakes which are common in the area. Rather than constructing vertically plumb walls, many of the walls, windows and doorways were trapezoidal, each inclined slightly to the interior of the building.
The thing I would suggest doing, is not being in a rush to leave Machu Picchu. If you need to, bring some snacks and stay the entire morning. Most of the tourists come, take their photos and are on their way to breakfast within an hour. But if you stay and find a quiet place to hang out and soak it all in, you start to get a real feel for the magic of the location. You can see the dramatic curve of the andes below and the vibrancy of grass beneath your feet. You can appreciate the intense skill of the craftsmen who built Machu Picchu and the sacred energy they felt there.
As everyone comes as goes, sitting still in one place opens Machu Picchu up to you in ways that you can only see if you’re wiling to just take it all in. I can clear up the mystery sounding how to get here, but the mystery of Machu Picchu itself, is something you have to experience.