Having just returned from my first Machu Picchu experience, I must say, it was inspirational. You have probably heard the quote, "Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by those that take your breath away." And, that quote sums up Machu Picchu on so many levels. Let me paint you the picture of this magical, mystical, and breathtaking place.
Regardless of how many magazines, videos, and/or tv programs that you have seen about Machu Picchu most likely with a view similar to the leading photo of this piece, you cannot fathom the sheer size, beauty, and vibe of Machu Picchu until you are walking amongst the stones, climbing the countless stairs, hiking to the Sun Gate, or challenging yourself to climb Huayna Picchu (the mountain behind Machu Picchu in lead photo).
At the start of summer, I stumbled across a can't pass up opportunity to explore Peru and Machu Picchu. Not only was it right up my adventurous alley, but the trip dates coincided with the 4th anniversary of a very special and life-changing date for me, September 27, 2009, where I was severely injured by a nearly 1,000-pound tree limb, breaking my neck. There would be no better way to celebrate that I'm fully recovered, stronger, and with a true zest for life than to experience Machu Picchu and discover its mystique.
My first glimpse of Machu Picchu left me spellbound (view above). I just stood there in shock at the immense size, but also awed at the beauty, both in the man-made architecture as well as the surrounding mountains and river valley. The weather gods certainly were playing on my side as it was sunny and warm enough to confuse my body that I was still in Florida, minus the altitude, which was challenging for even me, a very active, adventure seeker.
Although I lucked out on the weather and had that unforgettable first view, I wanted to witness and feel the place when the majority of the tours had left for the day. So, in the mid-afternoon, I walked up to the casita (little house) overlook and continued up on the Sun Gate Trail. This is where the top of the world feel took over. It was powerful and glorious. Plus, because the crowds were gone, I ran into my Andean friend, the alpaca.
With a sore body, ready to recharge and relax in a natural water, whirlpool, I left the site as it closed in the afternoon, knowing that I would have yet another day to absorb some of its energy and magic.
The next morning at a very early hour of 4:00 am, I awoke to drizzle and a valley of hanging clouds. However, never to fear, it was a YOLO moment. There was no stopping me, even rain, from putting on my hiking boots, gearing up for another day, and grabbing some coca tea and refueling snacks for the sunrise over Machu Picchu. By 5:00 am, I along with other adventureros was waiting for the buses to go up to Machu Picchu. After arrival, I perched myself with friends at the Sun Temple, which is a high, East facing structure close to Huayna Picchu. To our good fortune, not more than a couple people walked through, making the experience very private and despite the lingering cloud just dream-like (see below).
At 7:15 am, the sun burned through the clouds over the high mountain peaks to unveil another sunny and warm day for my finale of my first Machu Picchu visit and celebration, climbing Huayna Picchu.
Only allowing 400 people a day to climb, Huayna Picchu is a 2-hour hike round-trip from Machu Picchu up a series of steep stairs and terraces leading to an overlook. It is a challenging hike because of the elevation, rocks, and many stairs. Not used to the elevation, I needed to stop every 20-30 steps or stairs to regroup. It is a real puffer of a hike, but it is very much worth it. Once I arrived at the top terrace, I marveled at the view of Machu Picchu now looking much smaller from a bird's eye view. However, I had to remember that many of the rocks used in the creation of Machu Picchu were my size.
At the very top, I circled around the peak entering a low, narrow cave, climbing through another cave with a ladder to exit, and shimmying around large boulders to get to a narrow, ledge trail. It was like an Indiana Jones obstacle course, but uber fun. Then, I started the descent down a lengthy and small stair path, which was rather slow moving as most people did it on their butts.
I hope through my story and images that I have painted a picture of Machu Picchu; however, Machu Picchu is such an emotional and personal visit, you must go to paint your own picture. There is a reason why the Incas chose the spot. There is a reason why it remained undiscovered and untouched by the Spaniards. And, I had a good reason to celebrate and witness such beauty there too.
If Machu Picchu is on your bucket list, get to it! If it isn't on your bucket list, well shame on you. Add it! It took my breath away!
If you have visited Machu Picchu, please share your stories. They will be an inspiration to others that haven't experienced Machu Picchu as well as a way for those that have to rekindle that magic, mystique, and breathtaking beauty.