machu picchu

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We appreciate it when our guests share their stories, comments and photos with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Allan & Mildred Karlin, from Morgantown, WV, traveled with us on a 7-day Peru Explorer and wrote us this quick letter about their trip:

We really did not have any expectations, the way the trip worked out was far better than we imagined it would be. This was the first time we took a trip like this and didn’t make all of the arrangements ourselves. We had a very enjoyable, stressless, and educational jouney. We would definitely travel this way again.

Allan & Mildred Karlin
Morgantown, WV

The “Lost City” of Machu Picchu

The “Lost City” of Machu Picchu

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories, comments and photos with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Barbara & Ashley Blankenship, from Los Angeles, California, traveled with us on our 5-Day Peru Explorer with Add-ons and had this to report:

It was the trip of a lifetime – actually 3 trips in one, since the experiences were so different in the Inca region, the rainforest, and the coastal desert.

We loved it all but these were unanticipated pleasures. We especially recommend the Larco Museum in Lima and the museum of Pre-Columbian Art in Cusco for their elegant coverage of pre-Inca materials. We hadn’t expected the Islas Ballestas to be so magnificent. We are glad we dropped by there on our way back from Nasca.

Thank you so much,

Barabara & Ashley Blankenship
Los Angeles, CA

Overlooking Machu Picchu

Overlooking Machu Picchu

A Peruvian guide stands on a rock overlooking Machu Picchu.

A Peruvian guide stands on a rock overlooking Machu Picchu at the end of the Inca Trail.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Tom Thiss, from Excelsior, Minnesota, had this to say about his Adventure in Peru and Hiking the Inca Trail:

Machu Picchu cannot be adequately described. One has to experience it, and trekking the trail heightens the anticipation like a good story. The Sun Gate sunrise experience was shrouded in clouds yet for me, it did not matter. What mattered to me at that moment was the euphoria of restored health and energy and the sense of real accomplishment. Machu Picchu’s capacity to evoke the power of imagination not only offsets the “Inca Travail” it supercedes it. This to me is the true testimony of its potency.

Tom Thiss

Foot bridge over the Urubamba River is the start of the Inca Trail.

This footbridge over the Urubamba River is the start of the four-day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Hikers run into a little rain at "Dead Woman's Pass."

A little rain feels good at “Dead Woman’s Pass,” at 13,860 feet, the highest point on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, ‘Lost City’ of the Incas

Suddenly we found ourselves standing in front of the ruins of two of the finest and most interesting structures in ancient America. Made of beautiful white granite, the walls contained blocks of Cyclopean size, higher than a man. The sight left me spellbound.

When Hiram Bingham went looking for the legendary Inca city of Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Inca kings, he did not suspect that his journey would lead him to discover the most spectacular archeological site in the Americas—Machu Picchu.

When the expedition from Yale University, of which Bingham was the director, entered the Urubamba Canyon, in July of 1911, a peasant told him of the ancient ruins at the top of a hill called Machu Picchu. Bingham accompanied him up the dense jungle-covered slope to the top, where a child guided Bingham to the ancient stone structures buried beneath tropical vegetation. Bingham was so impressed that he wrote in his diary, “would anyone believe what I have found?”

Hiram Bingham Discovers Machu Picchu
Hiram Bingham in 1911

It is hard to imagine a more spectacular setting—an ancient stone city 1,300 feet above a frothing whitewater river, surrounded by jungle-covered peaks and brilliant orchids.

Of the two surrounding peaks, the first is named Huayana Picchu, which translates to “young peak” and is the one most often seen in photographs. The second peak is called Machu Picchu or “older mountain.” The original name of the city has long been forgotten.

Until Bingham’s discovery, Machu Picchu had been unknown to the outside world for nearly 400 years. It was a mystery how all knowledge and records of an entire city disappeared. It is now believed that Machu Picchu was not a city at all, but a royal estate and religious retreat, built around 1460 and located off the main routes. It could only be reached by paths accessible to those traveling by royal decree. The Incas had no written language. Their history was kept by verbal historians, who, following the collapse of the Inca state, were unemployed. Few of the Inca people ever knew that Machu Picchu even existed. As the Spaniards advanced into Peru, around 1527, half of the population died of small pox. This was followed by civil war and the abandonment of Machu Picchu. Thus, this magnificent “stone city” disappeared.

California Native founder, Lee Klein, overlooking the Urubamba Valley from the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail! Wow! I love to hike, but until this year my experience had been limited to one or two day hikes. Now, we were going to spend four days in the Andes of Peru hiking the trail to Machu Picchu. Most travelers choose to take the three-hour scenic train ride from Cuzco, but we decided to hike the route taken by the ancient Incas—a trail considered to be one of the most scenic in the world. All the literature said that any “reasonably fit” person could do this, but since they also mentioned passes with elevations of up to 14,000 feet, I was a bit apprehensive.

The popular trail now known as The Inca Trail was most likely the “royal” road between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, used mostly by royalty and pilgrims to the sacred city. The trail was a road of its time—built for men on foot, and lightly packed llamas. It is paved with interlocking stones and traverses the mountains and passes with thousands of steps.

The California Native provided us with porters—native farmers who carry all the gear and food—leaving us to carry only a daypack. For the two of us there were six porters, a guide and a cook.

The porters travel ahead of the hikers, carrying up to 50 pounds on their backs. Each time we stopped for lunch or for the night, they were already at the site, the tents were up, and our cook was preparing us a sumptuous meal. View from the Inca Trail

On our first day, before beginning our hike, we stopped at a colorful outdoor market where our cook bought fresh food supplies. Then, crossing a footbridge over the Urubamba River, we began our trek. After a few hours of easy hiking we stopped for lunch. Much to our surprise, in a restful grassy meadow, there was a dining tent, complete with table and chairs, warm water to wash in, and a hot meal. That afternoon we continued on and were treated to views of snow-capped mountains, llamas grazing in the fields, flowers, meadows and lakes.

Along the way we met all kinds of people, including a 71-year-old retired Australian woman traveling on her own (with a guide and porters), huffing and puffing up the stone steps. The very popular trail hosts many hikers, but never really seems crowded.Ellen and Lee Klein at Machu Picchu's Gate of the Sun

On day two we triumphantly crossed the highest pass, known as “Dead Woman Pass,” just under 14,000 feet, through a light drizzle, then began the steep descent, with spectacular views on the way down. As we arrived at the campsite, we heard the other hikers applauding our Australian friend, as she too arrived, having conquered the hardest part of the trail.

Day three included two more passes, visits to several Inca ruins along the trail, and a walk through a beautiful “cloud forest,” filled with lush tropical plants and colorful flowers. If day two was the most difficult, day three was the loveliest. As we crossed the final pass, the Urubamba Valley and the mountain of Machu Picchu lay before us. We walked down the steps through the terraces of Intipata (cloud-level town) to our final campsite at Winay Wayna. Machu Picchu

The next morning we rose before dawn, to arrive at the Intipunku (Gate of the Sun) in time to watch the sun rise over the “Lost City.” As the sun came over the mountain the ruins slowly emerged from dark shadows turning a glorious golden color.

We toured Machu Picchu, then took the bus to Aguas Calientes, a small town noted for its relaxing mineral baths. After a much-needed shower and a short rest, we strolled down the main street, and as we approached a small café, there was our Australian friend, sipping a beer and beaming, “I made it, and I’m still alive!“ Then she raised her beer in a toast to one of the greatest experiences of her life.