The magic of Machu Picchu. A spiritual journey.

Can you do me a favour? Don’t worry, it won’t take long and I’ll have you back to the television before the ad break. But in these next couple of minutes I’m going to attempt to take you on a journey.

Now, close your eyes. Block out all noise (yes, mute the tv). Put your phone down and the tablet away. Take a very slow, deep breath in.

Now pause.

And now another one. A long slow deep breath in.

Imagine you’re standing alone, on the edge of a ridge encircled by the chill of the morning air. There is a light breeze bringing with it the scent of the fresh dew blanketing the surrounding trees. The sun is waking up, its glowing halo soothing the goose-bumps on your arms and illuminating the remains of a citadel once occupied by the Incan Empire over 500 years ago.

The oxygen in the air is thinner, yes, but it is the mosaic of ruins that takes your breath away.

That’s a glimpse into the emotions that flooded me when I travelled to Machu Picchu, and was faced with one of the most awe-inspiring panoramas I’ve ever seen. Now, you can divert your attention back to your prime-time program if you like, I’ll still be here when you get back. But it was nice, wasn’t it? To escape ordinary for a moment. Every time I think about these memories it takes me back to that lofty nirvana.

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Machu Picchu. The journey begins.

The journey to one of the world’s ‘New Seven Wonders’ has been something high up on my bucket list, quite literally. The journey started with a ride on the Visadome Train.

Boarding in the Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo we then weaved alongside the Urubamba River overshadowed by magnificent glacier laden mountain ranges. It wasn’t long before we disembarked in the town of Aguas Calientes, a remote town accessible only by rail or on foot, and the set-off point for Machu Picchu.

Click to enlarge images.

Like most Peruvian towns, Aguas Calientes envelopes you with more colour than Joseph’s Amazing Technicolour Dream-Coat, and a warren of side alleys offering the best (or not!) of silver trinkets and alpaca woollen souvenirs. Once I had navigated through the labyrinth and had managed to keep my sol (the local currency, not my spiritual essence), I arrived at my accommodation and was lucky to drift off to sleep serenaded by the sounds of a meandering river nearby.

The day arrives.

There is a buzz in the air, not only from the mosquitoes planning who to strike next, but from the tourists either anticipating what awaits them or from those that are still coming down from the high (quite literally) of experiencing the wonder first hand. You’ll be more inclined to brush shoulders with travellers here in one of the many cafes or restaurants set up to accommodate Westerners. Do not be mistaken though; Cuy is still a delicacy here, so whilst they may offer you a burger and fries, just check that it’s not a McGuineaPig first.

IMG_4978The murmur of engines will catch your attention, indicating the bus stop you’ll need to wait at to hitch your ride up the mountain. Be prepared to wait in line for the bus, but I can assure you, this isn’t their first rodeo. It’s a very smooth operation but there will be tour groups, solo travellers, families and probably a dog waiting to get on with you, so just be patient.

There are only 2500 tourist permitted to access Machu Picchu each day, so not only should you purchase your tickets in advance, but plan what time of day you will go. If you get the chance, go twice! We first caught sight of the majestic Machu Picchu at around 2.30pm and whilst it was simply amazing, most of it was seen through the lens of my Canon EOS or my iPhone 6. I’m also confident a few selfie sticks “photo-bombed” my shots. But you are so overwhelmed and go from 0 to 100 and try to capture every angle, every ruin, every panorama and yes, every Llama.

I suggest to tour the sights with a guide and listen to what they say. There is so much history to be told and a lonely planet guide, whilst comprehensive, doesn’t evoke as much emotion as what a local guide will. We had a couple of hours to explore before making our way back to the buses and down the hair pin turns before the rain set in.

Click to enlarge images.

It was decided. I would return the following morning and chance the sunrise experience at what had been the most amazing destination I’d set foot in in 24 years. It’s risky. A cloud-forest situated at 2500m above sea level with constantly changing weather patterns isn’t going to produce a postcard-perfect sunrise 365 days a year. But…

what’s life without risk?

5:00am the next morning.

The alarm goes off at 5.00am, ready to set off from the hotel at 5.30am to join the hoards also embarking on the pilgrimage. We set foot in the ruins only an hour later seeking out the perfect spot to take in the moment. Racing the clock, we settled in a terrace just as the shadows lowered and like a theatre the curtain of cloud pulled aside, revealing Mother Nature’s best opening act yet.

I will now reiterate what I asked you to do at the beginning.

People surrounded me but I blocked them out and had that moment all to myself. For a moment I took no photos, spoke no words, and just breathed.

The ‘Sun Gate’ – the end of the Inca Trail.

Now you might think it can’t get much better than that, but it can! The trail to the Sun Gate snakes along the ridge line with Machu Picchu looming in the distance. An hour later, I found myself standing at Inti Punku, a site dedicated to the Sun Gods and the end point of the Inca Trail hike. From this point you can look over the entire sacred city, including Machu Picchu Mountain, Huayna Picchu Mountain, the Urubamba River and Putukusi Mountain.

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When something of that enormity surrounds you, it puts a lot of things into perspective. It is a personal experience that no two people share and one that can never be replicated. It is a place I will long to travel back to, but the first time is something that I will forever treasure.

All photography © Alexandra Morton

About Alexandra

It only takes the simple things to please me. Finding the perfect coffee mug. Crunchy Peanut Butter. Completing a Sudoku in less than 19 minutes. So I am also easily wowed. New York City, my favourite place, has enough wow to last a lifetime. But every new destination gives me goose bumps and leaves me awed.

There are 13 comments

  1. jdonbavand

    I did this trek back in 2011. We ascended up to Macchu Pichu in cold and rain, then as we reached the Sun gate, the sun actually came out. It was one of those magical moments that reduces you to tears of happiness.

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  2. Steve

    I was on this trip with Alex and she is a wonderful person, wise beyond her years. Her depiction of this “special place” is right on the money. Like Alex, I too remember putting down my camera and just taking a few moments to sit and just “take it all in” and will be able to recall that exact moment for many years to come. Every angle had a different view and was spectacular at sunrise. Words and photos just do not do it justice and I would thoroughly recommend to anyone to make the time, make the effort to visit this truly, magical place that is called Mach Picchu.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Saxon

      Lovely words Steve. I’ll try and get Alex to respond if she’s not ‘working’ setting up a tent at Base Camp or cruising a Norwegian fjord. Bitter – much. I’m just the editor 😉 Alex has a way with words that really can transport people to places! ‘Almost’ as good as being there! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  3. FCA

    I highly recommend the Inca trail rather than the ‘lazy way’. Doing the Inca trail you have the opportunity to experience the nature and splendour of the Peruvian mountains, and visit many amazing Inca sites along the road that can give you a better idea of how the original buildings in Machu Picchu used to look like (before the ‘archeologists destroyed them, very upsetting).
    And remember ‘It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.’ – Ursula K. Le Guin 😉

    Liked by 1 person

      1. FCA

        The trek itself, the opportunity to enjoy the silence, the splendour of the landscape and surrounding nature, but also the people I met along this trip and the opportunity to reflect about what life really is about. Priceless.
        Expensive retreat tho, but it was ALL worth it, no regrets.

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        1. Saxon

          As Mark Twain says – “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did” Where do a send the bill? I think you have just inspired me to add something else to my Bucket List 🙂

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  4. PaigeBrown

    It’s really interesting to hear the perspective of someone who took the train up. I did the Inca Trail and had a series of really underwhelming first moments at Machu Picchu. I totally understand the photobombing from selfie-sticks! I couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched people take photo after photo of themselves with llamas and hardly even taking the time to soak up where they were. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I like the idea of going two days in a row and really taking it in at sunrise (something you have to miss out on with the Inca Trail). I’m planning on going back soon with my fiancé who has never been and I think we’re going to do the train this time. Thanks again for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Saxon

      Thanks Paige for those lovely words. I know Alex will be chuffed and I will pass on. I used to work for an Adventure Travel company and I used to ask potential customers “Do you want to see Machu Picchu” or “Do you want to trek to Machu Picchu”? They are different experiences. If you just want to see and visit it I always recommended the train and bus. Then you can use all your energies taking it all in. A shower the night before ain’t a bad thing either 😉 I hope there may be some other tempting destinations waiting for you in our Travel section… Cheers Saxon (on behalf of Alex)

      Liked by 1 person

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