Machu Picchu. Many would call it the penultimate Peruvian destination. Miraculously built by the Incans thousands of years ago on the steep ridge of a mountain. A mountain with two earthquake fault lines and prone to landslides. An ancient structure with engineering and architectural planning well beyond its years. And, to be honest, one of the only things Kelsey and I knew about Peru before we left and one of the primary reasons we decided to go.
When the day finally came for our visit, we boarded one of the buses at 6:30 am in the darkness and started climbing the switchbacks up the mountain in our whale of a vehicle to the entrance gate. As glimpses of the structure came into view out the window, we revealed in the fact that we had finally arrived. Less than two months before, we’d been sitting in the guest house with a giant blow-up globe, unsure of where to take our trip out of the country.
It was as close as I’ve come to closing my eyes, pointing my finger to a random spot on a map and buying a ticket to go there. We had been so surprised by the proximity of Haiti to Peru that we had decided: why not? And here we were, sunrise quickly approaching, slowing to a stop outside of the entrance gate to Machu Picchu.
The first view as we emerged from the tree line and looked out over the ruins was unforgettable. We were one of the first few people to arrive and had a perfect view as the golden morning sunlight painted the mountainside with a soft warm light and spilled over onto the ruins. The awe of that moment, seeing Machu Picchu for the first time, perched on a mountaintop in the midst of the clouds, surrounded by other looming mountains, will never be lost to me.
While most people tackled one of the two peaks to climb on either side of the ruins, Kelsey and I descended down into them. As soon as we passed through the first stone archway it truly felt like we were the only people there. With map in hand we followed the pathways through the ancient city and speculated about what each space might’ve been used for. We were discovering it for ourselves for the first time and trying to connect the dots as we went along like Hiram Bingham must have when he rediscovered the ruins in 1911.
After a morning of exploring the city, we found a quiet spot to sit along the wall at the edge of the ruins, looking out over the mountains. We must’ve sat there for 20 or 30 minutes just listening to the sound of the water below and the wind around us, in a moment of utter peace perched on the mountaintop. It took the whole of 30 minutes for one of the workers to even notice we were there and ask us to come down from the walls (oops).
We ended up returning to the ruins after lunch with a guide to learn more about what we had guessed on our own in the morning. Our afternoon tour was very educational–I recommend anyone who visits Machu Picchu take a guide–but I wouldn’t trade anything for the serenity of the first few hours of the morning.