This is it. The year 2011 is the centenary marking the discovery of the “Lost City of the Incas” at Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited attraction in all of South America. Machu Picchu sat, forgotten and undisturbed, for almost four centuries until it was stumbled upon in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham. It has it all: a jaw-dropping location, rich architectural ruins and more history than one could shake a stick at.
Sure, it’s a bit out of the way. South-central Peru: small plane or train from Lima to the high altitude city of Cusco; then train or bus to Aguas Calientes, the village at the base of the mountains that hold the ruins; the final leg is a short shuttle bus ride to get to the archaeological complex.
Or, if you’re a real trooper (and some would argue, a glutton for punishment), there’s a 24-mile, multi-day hike along the Inca Trail, the continent’s most famous and popular trek.
But Machu Picchu is oh-so worth the effort, no matter which way you get there.
PeruRail operates the trains from Cusco to Machu Picchu, www.perurail.com
STEP 1: PREPARE YOUR DAYPACK
Wear sturdy walking shoes. Heels and fancy sandals are not going to cut it. A broad-brimmed hat is best. No hat is a mistake. Machu Picchu is not a fashion show; it’s an historic archaeological site and the sun, the elevation and the heat are punishing.
Slather yourself with sunscreen. And at noon, do it again.
Bring bottled water. Two, if possible.
Double . . . triple-check to make sure you’ve got your camera. You’ll end up taking a hundred shots of the same mountain vista; but that’s why we love digital.
STEP 2: GET TO THE SITE EARLY
Like, really early. The first trains leave at times that will get you to the site by 8 a.m. That’s long before the hordes of visitors straggle in. It’s amazing how quickly you’ll come to think of sacred Machu Picchu as “yours” and how quickly you’ll come to resent the intrusion of the mobs of (other) tourists.
STEP 3: HIRE A LOCAL GUIDE
At the entrance to the archaeological site there are local guides for hire – you don’t have to hire one one, but a good guide will enhance your experience ten-fold.
STEP 4: PLAN YOUR TOURING TIMES CAREFULLY
Morning and later afternoon are cooler and less crowded. Good times to walk the site. Midday is the perfect time to return to that quiet, shady spot you’ve scouted out (you did that, right?) for a snack, a siesta or an hour of quiet meditation. Nothing says Z-E-N like Machu Picchu.
STEP 5: DON’T BLOW IT
For many people, a trip to Machu Picchu is an once-in-a-lifetime event. So make sure that you:
- Read up on the ruins and Inca civilization before visiting. The ruins and the structure of the site will make a lot more sense.
- Don’t even think of tucking a souvenir stone or artifact into your pocket. Besides being bad manners, it’s against the law . . . and they are not kidding.
- Make sure you have fully-charged batteries in your camera. You’ll want to take hundreds of photos.
- Bring snacks to keep your energy level up.
- Stand in the shade when possible. Conserve your energy.
- Drink lots of water – stay hydrated.
- Just for fun, get your passport stamped at the site on your way out.
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Josephine Matyas is an award-winning freelance writer with a jonesing for travel, and a passion for the outdoors, food and photography. Her modus operandi is to quickly toss the map out the window once she hits the road.
Located: Kingston Canada
Likes: almost anything outdoors, ecotourism, food and music, history, heritage and culture