No-one is sure why Machu Picchu was built. Bingham (read more in my review of The Last Days of the Incas) thought it was the lost city of the Incas (He was likely wrong, that is thought to be further in to the Amazonian basin at Vilcabamba.)
Others think it may have been a summer retreat for the Inca kings. And others point to the scientific research believed to have occurred there, research into crops and astronomy and medicine.
Getting there isn’t easy. Unless you’re on the gringo trail, it’s a long way from anywhere. Even so, it’s over run by tourists. Apparently the offical limit is 2,500 a day but some articles I’ve read claim the site has up to 5,000 visitors per day.
But check my photos out—sure there are other tourists in the background but not many.
Just how did we manage that? In this age of alternative facts did we pass ourselves off as the King and Queen of Spain, and so did they helicopter us in?
Are you not convinced about this? Do you think I might be telling a porkie?
Well, like all alternative facts, there’s a skerrick of truth in here, somewhere, if you know where to look. Or none, depending on who is telling the story.
But now, to the real truth of my story:
First up, I haven’t photoshopped the crowds out of my photos.
Second, we didn’t pass ourselves off as the King and Queen of anywhere. Neither did anyone declare: Jill and John are here, everybody out. (A tourist can dream, can’t she?)
Like most visitors we caught the shuttle bus up the mountain. But at a different time than most and that was because of some bad luck which turned out good.
If you followed along on our journey through the Americas last year you might remember that we didn’t have too much formulated in the way of an itinerary … we’re the make-it-up-as-you-go-along sort … within reason. Mostly that works out quite well, often very well.
Now, picture us in Cusco, queuing for tickets to Machu Picchu in the hot sun; John on the skeptical side of keen, he reckoned it’d be a tourist trap. Me, determined to visit but with a queasy stomach which threatened to betray me at any minute and nearly did when we got the bad news. There were no tickets available on the day we wanted to visit. None for another seven days.
The ticket seller did suggest purchasing tickets for a week later, and then showing up on the day of our choice. (Fair dinkum!) But that’s not our style.
Perhaps he saw my sickly white face blanche even further, perhaps it was the sweat beading on my forehead, or the way I was swaying with the heat, the disappointment, and a week of not much food. It was dire that stomach bug, very dire, but not dire enough to stop me from visiting this wonder of the world.
We have half day tickets on the day, he said, apologetically, as if offering us a dog’s rejected dinner. He was worried, no doubt, that I’d spew all over his desk.
We’ll take them, I said, telling myself, a half day was better than no day. As we left the ticket office clutching our not-quite-the-full-quid tickets I said to John: I’m sure I read somewhere that the afternoon is a really good time to visit.
Yeah, said John. It will be.
We’re good like that when we’re travelling, finding the smallest of crumbs with which to bolster each other up.
Back at our Guest House and one quick computer search later I found the blog I’d read from Beth and Joe over on Simple Travel Our Way. They’d visited only a few weeks earlier, and with, considerably more forethought than was involved in our journey.
What a half day ticket did mean was no sunrise at the Sungate, no queuing from 4:00am (or earlier) for a seat on the first shuttle bus … in fact it meant no queuing, anywhere, at all!
The shuttle buses from late morning are virtually empty on their run up the mountain.
It’s a different story coming down the mountain. You see when we got there, all those people who had risen in the middle of the night to queue for the first bus, then queued for a guide, then queued to enter, who’d walked and clambered and climbed over the ruins in long snaking lines of tourists, were now waiting in line for the shuttle bus to take them back in to town.
Yep, those stories you’ve read about the risk of harm to the site, they’re not alternative facts. Peru does have a problem … visitor numbers are putting pressure on Machu Picchu.
But during the afternoon, with our guide and a small group of six we were able to wander through the ruins unhindered, except for the llamas. They were keen to make friends.
One of the fascinating things about this place is that the invading conquistadors never discovered it. Having been there, I can see why. It’s well hidden and the site isn’t easily accessible. How the Incas ever managed to get those stones up there … well … it’s incredible and that’s all there is to it.
We were amongst the last to leave.
We had the time and the space to imagine what it might have been like during the hey day of the Incas, to be grateful for the chance to visit, and give thanks for bad luck which turns good.
Handy Tip One: Pay for a guide, you’ll get lots of information and inside info that adds to the experience. Teaming up with others helps to keep the cost down.
Handy Tip Two: Joe and Beth recommend visiting during the dry season and our guide said the same. He reckoned within two weeks of our visit, and with the arrival of the rains, the mozzies would be outnumbering tourists 1000:1.
Codicil: John is right, Machu Picchu could be considered a tourist trap. Whether you’re there in the morning or the afternoon, you’re processed and managed from go to whoa. But frankly, it exceeded both our expectations. It was well worth it.