If you have never seen hundreds of tourists in front of you trying to take a picture, you probably would be in for a rude shock in Machu Picchu. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Machu Picchu is the most visited tourist attraction in Peru, and probably even in the whole of South America. The pristine beauty and out-of-the-world photos of Machu Picchu in Instagram are real, but only half of the story. What you do not see is the other thirty tourists behind the photo or at the side of it trying to take their “nobody is here” photo too. As such, it is important to manage your expectations of Machu Picchu, way before you actually visit.
However, does that mean you should avoid Machu Picchu? Not exactly. Despite the humongous crowds, I still really enjoyed the site. There is this serenity vibe to the area, and the towering mountains and scary cliffs around Machu Picchu add to its beauty. I remembered just sitting on a nice stone with an overview of the ancient city, and absorbing the amazing views of the city and the clouds wafting by. Of course, there were also hundreds of ant-looking humans forming trails along the corridors and steps, but you could easily take them out of your imagination.
To be honest, I was a little unlucky on the day that I entered the site. I crawled out of bed at 4.00am so that I was ready to hike up the hill as soon as the gates opened. To my surprise (or maybe I should not be surprised at all), there was already a long queue of hikers waiting to walk up. As the gates opened, everyone disappeared into the forested trail, hoping to be the first in line at the official Machu Picchu gate. It was a breathless hike, because there was a huge line of hikers along the steps and there was little space for overtaking. As such, there was a lot of stopping and waiting for the crowd to move on.
After an hour of climbing, we emerged from the forest and into a misty and foggy entrance area. The queues grew really large with the arrival of the shuttle buses, and every tour group was trying to squeeze their team to the front. It was dark, and extremely foggy. As soon as the doors opened, everyone rushed in to find their sunrise spot. Except that there was no sunrise, and no Machu Picchu. The thick fog refused to leave and you could not see Machu Picchu from any vantage point. Even after daylight broke, and the sky was super bright, Machu Picchu was nowhere in sight.
At about 8am, more and more tour groups entered the site and you could feel the area filling up with humans. Yet, there still was no Machu Picchu from the viewpoints. It was unfortunate, but there was no point sitting at the viewpoints and looking at clouds. I walked down into the Machu Picchu site and jostled with the thousands of tourists along the narrow corridors and fenced pathways.
If you have visited other Inca ruins, the city of Machu Picchu itself is extremely similar. In fact, you would not be able to tell the difference because the Incas built their cities in similar styles. In fact, as a city itself Machu Picchu is not as grand and beautiful as other more important cities. After all, Machu Picchu was never an important city during the Incan times.
However, what makes Machu Picchu stand out is the view of the city from above. After walking around the city, I left the site and re-entered as the route was only one-way. To be back at the top again was magnificent and spectacular. Although I did not see Machu Picchu bathed in the soft sunrise hues, the sight was still something to remember. The clouds have cleared somewhat so that Machu Picchu revealed itself, although the surrounding mountains were still shrouded. It was a magical experience to just enjoy this city, built so high up in the mountains.
Machu Picchu is really beautiful, but would I do it again? Probably not. The hordes of tourists are just too much to bear for a second trip. Like all bucket list places, Machu Picchu is yet another one that people go, tick it off the list and never visit again. More importantly, it is important to manage your expectations of Machu Picchu. Do go in prepared for the tourist crowds and you will not be so disappointed. Nonetheless, if you are ever in Peru, you should visit Machu Picchu because it is an Inca ruin like no other. However, do also visit the important Inca ruin sites so that you can truly appreciate Inca architecture and how the various cities support one another!
Did you like this article? Share it on social media! Also, I would love to hear your comments about Machu Picchu. If you have visited, did you like the experience?