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This post was originally published in May 2009 Confused?
Many times on my travels I’ve found myself in a well-known place that I somehow never imagined I would get to. Uruguay, Tierra del Fuego, Rio and blow me if I haven’t added and crossed off another legendary place to my list. After Uyuni we headed north through La Paz, Lake Titicaca (another place on the list actually) and arrived at Cusco in Peru. Before coming here and meeting other travellers, pretty much the only thing I knew about Peru was that Paddington Bear came from the deepest and darkest part. Really couldn’t have told you much more about the place. Not so any longer. The home of Inca Kola (the wikipedia article describes it as yellowish-gold in colour, don’t believe them, it looks like bottled piss), pisco sour and baked guinea pig, is also home to one of the greatest tourist sites in South America, a place where everybody, and I mean everybody, you meet here has been.

I speak, of course, of Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. Not lost anymore I can tell you, but still not that easy to get to. The main route is through Cusco, a very nice little place, once the capital of the Inca Empire, and from Cusco there are over 350 tour agencies ready to strip you of your gringo dollars and ship you up there in some form or another. We opted for the 4-day Inca Jungle trek (not to be confused with the Inca Trail which has limited numbers and is booked up for months in advance). This involved a 40km downhill bike ride (my kind of road), 2 days of walking to get to Aguas Calientes and then on day 4 the trip up the mountain to the big old pile of rocks itself.

Dawn, Machu Picchu

On the day in question, we were roused from our beds at some ungodly hour in order to get the first of the buses up the windy road to get there in time for dawn. At 0530 sharp a veritable army of buses turned up and filled with sleepy backpackers and set off for the entrance. They don’t miss much the good folks running Machu Picchu. In Bolivia I’d paid $7 to go from Villazon to Sucre, a (hellish, admittedly) bus ride of 13 hours, and here I was stumping up the same amount to be taken up the hill for 20 minutes. But buggered if I was walking.

So anyway, we all got in at around 6am, one of the first groups to get through and we basically had the place to ourselves for well over an hour. It being such a familiar sight (and site) I was prepared to be somewhat underwhelmed. For some reason I had an image of a South American Stonehenge in my mind with only one viewpoint (the one everybody knows), and barbed wire everywhere to keep the gum chewing hordes at bay.

All of it

Well, it was nothing like it. It was like a huge archeological playground, we were free to wander around, clamber over walls, steal rocks (only kidding folks) to our hearts content. I was blown away, seriously. It’s essentially stuck on top of a mountain itself sitting in a bowl of higher mountains. A highlight, not just of Peru or my trip, but one of the most amazing things I’ve seen and done in my life. I loved it.

More Peru pictures from the whole trip can be found here

Early Morning Shadows