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The first time that I heard the name Machu Picchu, I was 15 years old and it was the name of a racetrack in a video game. High atop a misty mountain, there were ancient ruins and terraces supposedly left behind by some ancient civilization. You were tasked with piloting a jet-powered flying motorcycle through impossible terrain under a thick blanket of fog. At the time I didn’t realize it was a real place—I mean, how could such a place really exist outside of a video game?
I can’t answer the question of how it exists, but I can say with certainty that it does exist. I took all of these photos while I was there, and I hope that you enjoy them.
A couple of connecting flights through Toronto and Orlando took us more than 7,000 km (4,000 miles) away to Lima, the capital of Peru. Once again I was travelling with Denise and her sister Elise, and way too many camera lenses. (See my other travel post, 30 Days in Brazil.)
Lima is Peru’s largest city with a population of nearly 9 million, making it the third largest city in the Americas (right after São Paulo and Mexico City). The edge of the city has many great views of the sea, either from beach level, or from parks and businesses atop the 500 metre cliffs that run along the coast. Lima is also home to the Larco Museum, featuring a collection of over 50,000 Pre-Columbian artifacts. Recommended by locals, the knowledge gained here is a good primer on Incan history, providing great context for the rest of the trip.
With our time in Lima exhausted, we flew to Cusco. Cusco is a city that sits at roughly 3,400 metres (11,155 feet) above sea level. Altitude sickness already sets in at 2,400 metres, so it was no surprise that we all were affected to varying degrees on our first day in Cusco.
The locals recommend coca tea, made from coca leaves, to ease the symptoms. Many hotels in the Cusco provide it in their lobby for patrons. If you go slow at first and get a good night’s sleep, you’ll be at full strength the next morning.
Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire from the 13th century until the 16th century’s Spanish Conquest of the region. When Spain arrived, the colonizers built right on top of whatever they desired so the architecture will keep you fascinated throughout your stay. In one case, the Spaniards built a Church right over top of an existing temple which you can tour inside and play spot the differences. We were lucky enough to also catch a parade, sample a round of Pisco Sours, and experience the best food of our journey.
A bus and a train ride will get you from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Named for its hot springs, this city—more of a small town really—sits at the foot of the mountain below Machu Picchu. The layout is quite peculiar, since it is bisected by train tracks and a river running right through the middle of it. Full of restaurants and markets, and surrounded on all sides by the mountains, you can almost feel Machu Picchu looking down on you from far above.
The crown jewel of this journey, Machu Picchu, sits only six kilometres away. It is easily reached by taking a bus that switchbacks up the side of the mountain and at times the bus is only inches away from falling ten stories off the edge of the cliff. The tops of the mountains poked up through the clouds when we began, and the bus took us up through them as if we were flying in a plane.
Machu Picchu was built by the Incas around 1450 but was abandoned a century later during the time of the Spanish Conquest. They caught wind of the havoc and left before the Spanish learned of Machu Picchu’s existence. The site can be roughly divided into agricultural and residential sections and an upper and lower town. It’s hard to believe that anything like this could be constructed at the top of a mountain, especially in that time period, but there it stands in all its glory.
If it wasn’t for Denise, I don’t think I ever would have made it to South America. The distance, the language barrier, the unknown—it’s all a bit scary at first but once you step outside your comfort zone, that zone gets a bit bigger.
I’ll leave you with this excellent video of a hike around Machu Picchu, from one of my favorite YouTube channels, Smarter Every Day. It was shot in first-person, and the audio is recorded in a special way that makes it sound like you’re really there so be sure to wear your headphones!