The midday sun peering out of the swirling clouds acted like a spotlight bathing Machu Picchu in a golden glow. It was a tiny glimpse into the world of the Incas who ruled the largest pre-Colombian empire in the Americas. I was delighted that my expectations of this renowned sight were exceeded.
Nestled between two Andean peaks, Machu Picchu (Old Peak) and Huayna Picchu (New Peak), this 15th-century city was rediscovered in 1911 by the American archaeologist, Hiram Bingham who arrived in Peru looking for a lost city of the Inca empire.
Bingham is said to have a met a local who knew of a spot that could be just what he was looking for. He took the American to a place which was abandoned when the Spaniards conquistadors arrived in the 16th century and since had been enveloped with vegetation: Machu Picchu.
What the Incas used this city built 2,400 meters above sea level for remains a mystery. It is thought that as well as being residential, there was a religious connection. But, its importance to the Incas is likely to remain an enigma forever.
Constructed in the mist of tropical mountain forest and crisscrossed by steep stone steps this city blends effortlessly into the rock. Built without iron and steel or without wheels to carry equipment or animals they could ride, what the Incas achieved can only be described as remarkable.
Getting used to the high altitude and the arduous climbing up and down craggy paths and steps to see the ruins of temples, palaces and storage rooms was well rewarded. The llamas darting about on the terraces brought a sense of reality to it all. You should allow at least four to five hours there and try to go early in the morning so you can avoid the crowds.
Even taking the Machu Picchu train operated by Inca Rail from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley which weaved through the mountains covered in green jungle to Machu Picchu Pueblo (formerly Aguas Calientes), the closest town, was magical. Yes, it was geared for tourists but somehow it helped make the journey special and increased levels of anticipation for the main event.
One of the three laws the Incas tried to live by was: don’t be lazy. They made the seemingly impossible possible. Maybe this amazing vista should be a lesson for us all.
By Daralyn Danns
Last Frontiers (www.lastfrontiers.com) arranges tailor-made holidays to Peru
I stayed at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel (www.inkaterra.com) What makes this hotel outstanding is not only its pretty casitas (small bungalows) with cosy fireplaces to help keep you warm during the cold evenings but also the cloud forest surrounding it