I was never intending to visit Machu Picchu. Having seen literally thousands of versions of the famous shot standing above the ancient Incan ruins and the fact I knew every dog and his uncle would be there, I was skeptical that I would get anything significant out of the experience. In that assumption I was wrong.. Machu Picchu is a a truly spectacular site. Although there are more impressive ruins elsewhere, the location and surrounds give it a majestic and awe-inspiring feel. Seeing photos of a place is a ridiculous excuse for not visiting and I’m glad I made the journey. Having said that, I was disappointed to confirm my belief that it was over-commercialised, taking away from the aura of the site and the ability to transport yourself back in time, losing the ability to grasp what life might have been like all those years ago.
Discovered July 24th, 1911 by a Yale professor by the name of Hiram Bingham. The Incan city was established in the 15th century, the purpose of it’s construction remains unclear although many believe it was a ‘royal estate’, only meant for the elite members of the Incan empire. It sits 2,430m above sea level, perched atop a peak that drops off sharply down into the Urubamba river below. The whole site covers 32,592 hectares. Nearly 5 centuries after the fall of the Incan empire, it remains in tact as a world heritage site and one of the more iconic and frequented landmarks in the world.
These days, the site can be reached in several ways. Firstly, you have the option to trek several days through various routes to reach the town of Agua Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu. The most famous of these is the Inca trail, stretching 82km and typically taking 4 days. You then have the option to arrive via van or private taxi. These will take you to a place called Hydroelectrica, a 2-3 hour trek away from Agua Calientes. Finally you can arrive in style, via the long-established railroad that leads from Cusco right to the base of the ruins. From Agua Calientes you can either walk an hour or so straight up the hill Machu Picchu sits on or take a bus to achieve the same result. This is what greets you when you get there..
I feel people would get far more out of the experience if they had to trek to get into Machu Picchu. Soon after I had visited, I talked to a friend who had completed the Inca Trail. He was rewarded with a far more significant experience at the site of the ruins due to the hardship of reaching his destination. It was a reward to arrive at Machu Picchu. This will never happen of course. It would rule out the majority of tourists who visit and slash tourism revenue significantly.
Machu Picchu has become the symbol of commercialisation in Peru. So many Peruvian brands, from beer to universities tie themselves to the image of the landmark. Presidential candidates photoshop their head in front of the iconic image overlooking the ruins and then plaster it all over billboards. This is far from unique to Peru however, Everest labelled products run rampant in Nepal and Angkor gets it’s fair share of use over in Cambodia (it’s always beer brands that are the first to name themselves after these landmarks). I’m in no way blaming Peru for this. It’s a developing country that is in desperate need of tourism revenue but I don’t believe it’s all necessary. People will come either way. All it does is reduce the image to a mere marketing ploy.
I came across a Time article showing images of the historic site from 1945, decades before the mass tourism trade had begun. It looks a little run-down, overgrown, it’s features are undefined and yet magnificent. This was the state in which it was left by the previous tenants, centuries ago. There are no ladders set up to repair roofs, no signs telling you which direction to walk in and no fully grown men running around taking hundreds of selfies. It remains untouched, pure and majestic. I can’t help but think the majority of visitors would get a much more profound experience if it was left in this natural state.
As compared with a photo I took in 2016..
I may very well be in the minority with the view expressed in this post. You who are reading this may prefer the cleaner, more detailed and restored version of the ancient ruins. I can certainly understand that point of view. The modern Machu Picchu is very accessible, allowing people of all ages and fitness levels the chance to experience the incredible destination that without the infrastructure and support currently in place, may not offer the same opportunity. I only wish they were granted the chance to experience the site in all it’s prestige, the way you can with those places which are not classified as such icons. They can transport you to a different time, if only briefly, and give a glimpse into another world. Just a little glance back in time.