Real travelers know that there are only a handful of destinations in the world that are absolutely canâ€™t miss, must-see-before-you-die places, and Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes is definitely one of them.
Recently voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the â€˜Lost City of the Incasâ€™ sits in the high jungle (2,500 meters above sea level) 50 miles from the colonial city of Cusco. Even through the Spanish conquest and occupation of Peru, the city remained hidden from the outside world for centuries until an American archeologist from Yale University named Hiram Bingham in 1911. In the years following this monumental discovery, the publicâ€™s curiosity was aroused to an incredible degree, with National Geographic devoting an entire issue to it. Today, more than 300,000 people visit the site each year, with some choosing to hike the Inca Trail, a portion of the Incaâ€™s extensive road network.
Travelers who visit the area have a wide variety of choices of accommodations, tours, length of stay, and more. One this is certain, though, almost every visitor will start in Cusco, and normally require a day or two to adjust to the altitude.
Cusco is a rapidly growing city, having tripled in population over the last 20 years to its current size of 300,000. It is an impressive city, and was the capital of the Incan Empire before the Spanish conquest. Art lovers and those interested in the history of the region can visit the Pre-Colombian Art Museum and the Museo Inka to browse through the artifacts on display. This artistic culture has remained, and many markets, shops, and street vendors populate the area selling handmade clothes, hats, paintings, and other pieces. The Spanish were many things, but respectful towards native art and architecture they were not. Unfortunately, the conquistadors had an affinity for destroying native buildings and replacing them with their own. Some original walls and structures remain, but for the most part, all the buildings in Cusco are Post-Colombian. They are beautiful, however, and the Plaza de Armas offers visitors the Church of La Compania de Jesus and the Cathedral, two of the best examples.
After acclimatizing oneself to the regionâ€™s thin air, travelers will then have some decisions to make as how to visit Machu Picchu. The more adventurous souls may choose to spend a few days hiking the Inca Trail. Guides are available to transport gear up the mountain, and will prepare nightly dinners for hikers. Others may choose the path of least resistance and decide to take the PeruRail train service. PeruRail offers several different lines for travelers to choose from.
- The Backpacker is the no-frills, bare-bones train for those who just want to get there. ($73 R/T)
- The Vistadome is the mid-range service, with large panoramic windows so photographers wonâ€™t miss a shot. The train is very comfortable, offering snacks and drinks, and is also the quickest. ($113 R/T)
- Travelers looking for ultra-luxurious means of transportation will no doubt choose the Hiram Bingham. This service offers full meals with wine, guides, transfers, and afternoon tea at the Sanctuary Lodge at Machu Picchu. ($547 R/T)
Once there, visitors will be simply amazed at the beauty, sophistication, and natural wonder that this place offers. The weather on the mountain is temperamental, and can change on a dime. Oftentimes, tourists are disappointed upon first arrival due to clouds blocking some of the better views, only to be treated a few minutes later to them passing and the mountains and the â€˜Lost City of the Incasâ€™ being revealed in all its breathtaking splendor.