The Hike of a Lifetime: Peru's Machu Picchu
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, and a must-see for world travelers, Machu Picchu absolutely exceeds all of the hype. It's breathtaking, both in the beauty of being in such a historical, sacred place and in altitude at 7,972 feet above sea level.
It still feels a little surreal that hiking Machu Picchu actually happened, let alone on this past New Year's Day.
My friend and I started a tradition that every year we complete a new hike together on New Year's Day. In our initial trip planning phase we threw out the idea of going all out for our 2015 hike, and Machu Picchu it was.
The two most popular options for getting to Machu Picchu are via either the classic, 4-day Inca Trail or the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Due to time and funds, my friend and I opted for the train ride through the Sacred Valley.
Once we arrived in Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu we were again faced with two choices: the bus or a hike. Instead of riding the bus to the top of Machu Picchu, we took the road (read: stairs) less traveled and hiked. Joined by our new Argentinean hostel friends, we set out bright and early at 6:30 a.m. to beat the crowds and the heat at Machu Picchu. I was lured into thinking that maybe this hike would be easy as we walked along the route out of Aguas Calientes that meandering alongside the river. It was a quiet morning save for the buses whizzing past us at an alarming speed on the dirt road. We strode past the butterfly museum and right up to the first checkpoint to Machu Picchu, where we displayed our passports and were given entrance to the Camino Peatonal hiking trail.
At the trailhead, we immediately began our ascent to Machu Picchu and I quickly realized that any previous ideas that I had about this hike being easy were very very wrong.
spoiler: the road less traveled
is built out of stairs and switchbacks
Hiking is one of my favorite things to do in life despite the fact that I have sports induced asthma. Usually, I can just take a moment to catch my breath and I'll be fine. At Machu Picchu? Not so much. The trail from Aguas Calientes begins at 6,693 feet elevation and quickly gains what feels like a near vertical three mile climb to the gates of Picchu. In taking the road less traveled, I learned the hard way that it's almost entirely built out of uneven stairs and switchbacks.
But sweaty, tired, and humbled, we made it. The trek from Aguas Calientes to the gates of Machu Picchu is supposed to take about an hour. My friend and I completed it in about an hour and a half with a few stops for my inhaler and taking photos, which felt like a definite win considering my asthma and the altitude. I guess all of those Columbia River Gorge hikes paid off, but at the same time, nothing can quite prepare you for the grandeur of Machu Picchu.
STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM...
That feeling of being at Machu Picchu, viewing the ruins and the river far below, is one that I wouldn't trade for anything. The trek up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes isn't an easy one, but it is 110% worth it. If you ever have the chance, Machu Picchu is a must-see landmark for every traveler, and if you're at all into hiking, it's the hike of a lifetime.
Machu Picchu is a definite highlight of my year/life already and my 2016 New Year's Day hike will be tough to beat. I'm not sure if there is another place on earth that can make you feel equally as immortal and mortal as you do while standing on top of Machu Picchu. It's an incredible place. Do you have any big travel plans or sights to see in 2015?