How we outsmarted the crowds and conquered Machu Picchu

The air seemed fresher and cooler this morning as the wake-up call came just after 4 a.m., but I felt a liveliness like never before at this time.

It’s still dark when we look at the same inky sky that the Incas revered. It’s a direct connection to them and for now I can think of nothing else that can work that magic. I wish I had a better understanding of the constellations, the way they move, how they make their mathematical music. I have a sense of it, but not like the Incas.

The Incas knew how to build in line with the stars and sun. Machu Picchu is a shimmering example of loving the darkest night as much as the brightest day. And no longer was this a mere trip, but rather a cultural unfolding set in mystical landscapes where events worked their way up to the grand finale.

Machu Picchu, a Quechua word deriving from “Machu” that means old or ancient, and “Picchu” meaning mountain, translated “Old Mountain,” was about to reveal itself to us.

Our guide Adolfo patiently holds a place for us as we jump the queue for the bus at 5 a.m. We’re so thankful for him after studying the endless line of nationalities that made the same pilgrimage here.


I wonder if the 15th century sacred city in the sky could really deliver. But once on board the speeding vehicle that bounces and zigzags its way up the mountain track, I begin to have a glimpse of what was going to be the experience that I hoped it would.


Terry and I present – once again – our passports and tickets to enter through the gates. You cannot go anywhere in this country without a passport. After our passports are approved, we climb the plateau for the first sight of one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

A mysterious early morning mist floats through all the cracks, giving the site an opalescent appearance.

Adolfo explains to us how the Incas built the city of stone without the aid of wheels or iron tools, with more than 700 terraces and roughly 300 people living in symphony with the landscape. He says it may have served simultaneously as a centre of worship, astronomic observation, and a stop for the royal family of the Inca Pachacutec.

On top of the mountain

He points at sculptured rock, narrow steps that lead here, there, and into vegetation, and by late-morning the mist crawls away and the Inca masterpiece shines in its full glory.

I sit on a grassy ledge and study the classic image I had admired for so many years. Across from the remains is a piton-shaped mountain known as Huayna Picchu, sculptured in the shape of a face. Everything is sacred and cultural about this place that was re-discovered and unveiled to the world by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911.

Adolfo motions to the different carved stones on buildings where some are cleaner cut and grand. He tells us the city was divided from residential areas to the sacred neighborhood. The sacred neighborhood was dedicated to Inti, the Sun God. In this area can be found the ‘Temple of the Sun’ and the ‘Room of the Three Windows,’ which represents the three stages of life – the condor (afterlife), puma (current life on earth), and the snake (underworld and beginning of new life).

In the Room of the Three Windows, Adolfo dips his finger in a pool of water as a beam of light shines through one of the openings and onto the liquid.

“These pools were used to study the constellations,” he says.

Surprisingly, much of Machu Picchu still remains lost under vegetation.

Machu Picchu gets my stamp of approval.

By late afternoon, sweaty and tired we make our way back down the challenging Inca steps of Machu Picchu mountain, which overlooks the remains, surrounding valleys and peaks.

But it’s time to leave this special place, and I can’t help but feel a stream of longing. Perhaps this magnetic pull is the magic of the “Weavers Way” that leads to Machu Picchu. I catch my breath in the freshness of the wind, with the horizon spread out before me.

We check out of Aguas Calientes, the town below, and catch the beautiful PeruRail Vistadome train that carves its way through the rugged mountains, past gushing rivers, and back to civilization.

Next stop is back to the beginning of our journey, Cusco: