Some people like to keep their feet on the ground and their heads out of the clouds. However, many of life’s best experiences occur high in those clouds … like Machu Picchu.
This Peruvian journey requires detailed arrangements involving planes, trains, automobiles, taxis and buses. Fly into Cusco, get acclimated, then choose a train route to the entry town of Aguas Calientes. (Research train routes beforehand. Ollantaytambo’s departure is faster and easier to access than others for various reasons.)
Before going to Machu Picchu, get into shape. The entire Cusco region, at 11,000-plus feet above sea level, involves steep ascents of mountainous roads. Slippery streets and narrow sidewalks have you teetering to avoid speeding cars. Deep breathing, oxygen shots, Advil and coca leaf tea are all recommendations for combating altitude sickness. For those hoping for awe-worthy photos, reaching each vantage point is essential. (There is an easier, lower trail that foregoes some vistas.)
Buy entry tickets to Machu Picchu months in advance, then focus on train and bus tickets. This writer’s 7 a.m. entry required a 6 a.m. bus ticket … and about 2,000 people were in line.
Upon entry, one can hire a tour guide for information and photo opportunities. Sunrise is a sight to behold; veiled in cloud mist, this historical landmark is an illusory sanctuary. Veils of clouds float down onto the Andes, the sun emerges slowly and the green grass is imbued against the impressive masonry. While every view is stunning, this hour, when the sun glows behind the clouds, is unforgettable.
When choosing a trail to travel, decide whether you’d like a trek or instant entry to the plaza. Sun Gate’s trail adds some hours of walking, whereas Guardhouse’s trail brings you right upon the plaza, temples and king’s house, where you can interact with the ruins.
You can bask in the sunlight at the Temple of the Sun or reflect quietly at Meditation Mountain. Feel the calm energy there between the triangulating peaks. In the king’s living room, place your head in the nook and hum until you feel a vibration. A sun dial sits atop several stairs, and guides warn you of vertigo. However, everything is worth the climb. Guardhouse’s iconic mountain vista has a fascinating feature: when you observe it at an angle, it’s a man’s profile. Alpacas, belonging to no one, graze freely. The last Sunday of each month allows Cusqueños (people from Cusco) free entry due to their heritage.
After hours of exploring, you become part of the topography and energy of Machu Picchu; if you relinquish yourself, you can feel the spirituality and royalty of this cloud-capped citadel.
When exiting, mark your passport with a Machu Picchu stamp. For fun, you can also stamp your arm with it like a temporary tattoo – a symbol of accomplishment for this bucket list goal.