And this is it: Machu Picchu. We spent a day and a half here, and the site is truly impressive. As preparation, we had both read the recent book Turn Right at Machu Picchu which chronicles Hiram Bingham’s “discovery” of the site in 1911. In reality, locals had known about the place all along, and Bingham may not even have been the first Westerner here. But Bingham and National Geographic cranked up the publicity machine and effectively put Machu Picchu on the world map.
The remarkable preservation of these 500+ year old buildings can be attributed to the Spanish never knowing about Machu Picchu, and therefore not having a chance to plunder and destroy it. Thus, visitors are given a chance to appreciate what a tiny Inca town would truly feel like. No one really knows the purpose of this place, but the idea of glamorous royal retreat does feel right. Here’s a clockwise tour of this iconic tourist attraction, starting from the Caretaker’s Hut.
Machu Picchu is peaceful early and late, with the day trippers streaming in by 10AM and leaving by 3PM. One huge tip: sit on the left side of the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu Pueblo. The ride through the Urubamba Valley is spectacular and there are no views from the right at all. There’s a very good chance it will rain, but wait it out and some of the tourist crowds may have cleared. The clouds also put on a spectacular show; see video and photos below.