So, the first three days of the Inca trail had offered incredible sights and plenty of ups and downs. We were feeling weary and almost beaten. Here’s what happened next…
Well, we did eventually make it to the campsite, but at 3:30am, we were up again, porters taking the tents down with us still inside them and we stood in the dark in a long line of hikers for a couple of hours waiting for the checkpoint to open. When it finally did, we found we had renewed energy and determination to get to Machu Picchu. At this point, the sun had not yet risen above the mountains, but the first light of day was an impressive sight.
After a final, tough hike up a load of steps, we reached the Sun Gate, breathless and tired, but suddenly, there it was. Still distant and in the dim light of the pre-dawn, but we had arrived. It doesn’t matter how much you have seen or heard about Machu Picchu, nothing prepares you for this moment.
‘Happy’ is something of an understatement – there are no words to describe how I felt at that moment. Overwhelmed? Awestruck? Exhausted? Energised? All of that and a whole lot more.
The whole group made it in time for sunrise and we felt very pleased with ourselves! The sun rose behind us (the Sun Gate turned out to be an apt name) and struck the city of Machu Picchu, leaving everything else in darkness for a few magical moments. Those Incas knew what they were doing alright.
Yes, THAT picture you’ve been waiting for. We walked down the hill (more steps) to the site and stopped, just a little bit awestruck, when we reached this viewpoint. I can’t imagine how Hiram Bingham felt, 100 years ago, discovering this. This is quite far above the main entrance to Machu Picchu and at this hour, only other hikers were around. It was unimaginably perfect.
We walked past the Gatehouse and down through the city to the main entrance, where we mingled amongst the daytrippers in their loud tour-groups and louder T-shirts. We wanted to shout: “Hey, we WALKED here! 43KM! FOUR DAYS!” We were worn out, in need of a shower and slightly hysterical – we didn’t want to share our prize with these eager, bouncy people, fresh off a shuttle bus. But we knew we had got the best experience and unrivaled views, so we let them in without too much of a fight.
We set off to explore the site properly with Naty, our guide. She gave a fabulous tour as she had done at every point of interest along the route, but I couldn’t take in much of what she was saying, because my brain had gone into meltdown and was playing thoughts at high volume along the lines of: “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. I’m at Machu Picchu! MACHU PICCHU!” like a broken record.
The natural scenery was just as impressive as the city itself; everywhere we looked were more forested mountains, stretvhing forever into the distance. When we thought about how many of them we must have walked past or around, we were filled with an enourmous sense of satisfaction and an equally enourmous sense of bone-deep exhaustion.
Eventually we fell into a heap against some rocks and gazed at Machu Picchu. We groaned at the thought of even attempting Wayna Picchu (the mountain in the background) which was suggested as an option and instead contented ourselves with the views, the sunshine and resting our weary feet.
We hung around for a bit longer, exploring a little more and reluctant to tear ourselves away, but by 11:30, we had been there for five hours, which after a 3:30am start, was more than enough. Machu Picchu is huge and there was more to see, but we were done. On the way out, we passed the plaque commemorating Hiram Bingham’s discovery and I said a silent farewell to the man who inspired the character of Indiana Jones and who had featured so heavily in my imagination for the last four days. On the way out, I got my passport stamped to prove that exactly 100 years after Hiram Bingham, I had followed in his footsteps, over mountains and through forests, to reach the Lost City of the Incas.
Missed Part 1? Read it here.