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Destination Tuesday: Machu Picchu

Following up last week’s Destination Tuesday, this week we take you down the tracks (or foot path if that’s your way) to Machu Picchu.

Perched precariously on a mountain ridge 8000 feet above sea level, 50 miles northwest of Cuzco, Machu Picchu melts over the rugged terrain like a lazy backpacker.

Hailing from the 15th century, it remains one of the world’s most beloved and popular travel destinations, going so far as to take a place in the New 7 Wonders of the World contest of 2007. Lifted from jungle obscurity in July, 1911 by American archaeologist and historian Hiram Bingham, the citadel is a wonderfully preserved relic of classical Incan and pre-Colombian architecture. It was given its first exposure to the world as a featured article in the April 1913 edition National Geographic and each year more than 400,000 people come to wander its stonework labyrinth. The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

Due to its remote location and inaccessibility 1000 feet above the river valley, it remained hidden from wayward explorers, Spanish conquistadors all the way through to modern traveling Westerner alike, where it would exist in near perfect isolation for the next 400 years.

There is one hotel at the site on the mountain: The Sanctuary Lodge. But don’t expect to stay there cheaply.

While you can absorb the atmosphere all night long, you’ll be paying for it with room prices that start over $800/night. If you’re a normal traveler (ie, on a budget) I recommend just overnighting in Machu Picchu Pueblo, formerly Aguas Caliente, the town in the river valley below. You can take the bus up to the actual site on the day(s) you want to visit. Be prepared for the regular tourist flux in town and hence the million and one tchotchke hawkers that litter the town. There are definitely many opportunities to get a genuine alpaca sweater and wool hat there.

Getting There

Sadly, with recognition comes opportunity and Machu Picchu is no exception. Getting to, into and back from the site isn’t cheap. The entrance fee to the actual site is 124 Peruvian soles (about $40 USD), add in the train ride and a night’s hotel plus food and drink, you could looking at over a $200 day to visit. So the advice is, make the most of it. No matter what you spend, you won’t regret the trip.

Every visitor will tell you there’s something special about Machu Picchu. If it’s not the mists that hang over thousand foot drops, it’s the sense that ancient spirits lurk at every corner, that shaman and mystics souls still vie for the rite to meet their makers. Regardless of expense, Machu Picchu should be a destination on your itinerary.

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