May 13 2009 by Claudia Kunkel
Our adventure started out by flying first into Lima and then on to Cuzco the next day, approximately 24 hours later. We had planned our trip well in advance and decided that for us, hiring a driver and a guide would make the most out of our stay in Peru. An important thing to factor into trekking to Machu Picchu is the altitude. Cuzco, the capital city, is situated at roughly 11,000 feet and it requires several days in Cuzco itself to acclimate to the altitude. The first several days are well spent "gently" hiking around the city, drinking plenty of water and resting in order for your body to adjust to the altitude. For us, that seemed to work, however, others staying at our hotel, were feeling the effects of high altitude sickness.
There are several smaller, lesser known Incan ruins just outside the city of Cuzco that make a good one day trip to help adjust to the altitude and start to build the anticipation of seeing Machu Picchu. We also visited two beautiful cathedrals in Cuzco, The Church of La Compañia on the Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral of Cusco, both worth taking time to tour. Before I leave the city of Cuzco, I have to say that the shopping and cuisine are worth the trip alone. In the Artisan Market, I had to purchase an extra bag just to bring home all the beautiful handmade wool scarves and beautifully crafted silver jewelry. One word of advice on the cuisine, however, find out what "cuy" is before you order it!
On our third day in Cuzco, we were ready to make the trip to the Sacred Valley and up to Machu Picchu. We started the day out early to make several more stops to see other Incan ruins along the way. Our driver took our guide, my husband and I to the very small town of Ollantaytambo, where we waited until evening to catch the backpacker train on to the town of Aguas Calientes. We spent a very short night here before getting up at 4:00 am to be on one of the first buses on up to Machu Picchu to be there when the sun rises over the ruins.
We arrived at the top of Machu Picchu just in time to see the sun come up over the ruins - probably one of the most achingly beautiful things I will ever witness in my life. I could have stood in that one spot for hours and not really comprehend how the Incas could have built something so complex and detailed by hand. We stayed and hiked the ruins for over 5 hours and we still weren't ready to leave it behind. We had packed our water and lunch in with us and were able to find a spot on the grass in the middle of the Incan city to just sit and enjoy. It was quite simply, astounding.
If you've been - I'd love to hear about it.