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15 years on... getting Machu Picchu right is all in the timing

Written by Theresa Garlock | 2nd January 2020 |

Category: Peru, Stories

Peru machu picchu c val leal bennett

I took the photo above not in 2004 but in 2019. Given all the talk of over-tourism and crowds, I had been expecting something quite different. There was not another soul at Machu Picchu. It was priceless.

And just to prove I'm not cheating with the distance, here's the 'zoomed in' version.

An empty Machu Picchu bathed in golden sunlight

Perhaps the hike up from the fertile Urubamba River Valley might be a deterrent but the views from the heights overlooking the valley are spectacular. Upon arriving, tired from walking for eight hours or more, I admit to being selfishly grateful that there aren't many others to share the view. We were especially blessed to be the last guests on a beautiful afternoon in November after walking from the valley depths to the Puerta del Sol - the Sun Gate through which the Incas would enter the citadel. It was, and is, the perfect time of day to look down on Machu Picchu.

I first hiked the one-day 'Royal' Inca Trail in 2004. At the time I felt privileged and awed by this place, of being in a place that had such history, culture and beauty and the way it has been preserved for the world by UNESCO, by the Peruvians. That feeling has not diminished during the 15-years I've been absent.

Arriving at Machu Picchu in the late afternoon, hardly another soul in sight

But there have been many changes, after all 15 years have gone by. This is most evident in the village of Aguas Calientes, which is now Machu Picchu Pueblo. Judging from the modernization and the number of tourists in what was once an out of the way “cowboy” town, it appears that the world has found out about the jaw-dropping beauty in jaw-dropping numbers.

From here, it is really clear that Machu Picchu has become a Bucket List “must do”. There are better restaurants and lodging, but the village was inundated with the wide world of tourists, in throngs that defy the imagination. The transport up to the site is amazing, people queued up everywhere to get on a bus. If you like long lines and waiting, this could be for you.

A better option is to feel the uniqueness and beauty that is the Inca trail, by leaving the train early and walking up to the Sun Gate on the one-day version. Such a memorable experience! Once again, the key was the late arrival at the Sun Gate and a later visit the following day. That planning was pivotal and allowed for a deeper reflection, without the madness and silliness of all the usual antics associated with large group visits.

A Pura client taking a breather on Peru's Inca Trail

Having taught Spanish in the United States, I have a very keen interest in the history and the culture of Peru and its people. A real treat is to go to Peru accompanied by a Pura Aventura guide (no, I am not on the payroll!). Their special insights and knowledge of all things Peru will make your visit, as it did mine, one of the all-time highlights of my travel adventures. I am excited to return to experience more of ancient and modern day Peru.

Theresa Garlock
Pura Aventura traveller

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Further reading

Llama at machu picchu chris bladon

Really??? Machu Picchu - the world's 2nd worst tourist attraction

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Pura's 10 minute guide to Peru

Peru inca trail to machu picchu guide pointing over mountains2

Doing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu the Pura way

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