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This 15th-century Inca site is located 2,430m (7,970 ft) above sea level in the Cusco region of Peru. Situated on a mountain ridge in the Sacred Valley, most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. This famous Inca icon is a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was also voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. With such a prestigious resume, what does Machu Picchu really mean to people? We chat to Ellie, a local Peruvian; a tour guide, Eliuth; Ken, a fellow Evergreen Explorer; and an avid traveller and TV travel show host, Adam, for their take on the famous site.
What was your first thought or feeling when you visited for the first time?
Ellie: Astonishment, amazement. There is a unique magnetic energy to Machu Picchu and it’s very powerful, plus it makes me proud to be from Cuzco and Peru to have such a special heritage.
Eliuth: I really felt the energy and the mystical nature of the site.
Ken: Majestic, with the clouds drifting over the peaks. It was like being in ‘the land of the gods’ as the expression goes.
Adam: Utter amazement and complete awe! As we drove up the winding road towards the mountain-top citadel, as a teaser, I started to see bits of a stone wall or terrace through the thick jungle. When we finally walked through the small stone archway, the entire site was absolutely spellbinding!
How would you describe Machu Picchu to someone who has never been?
Ellie: It was a citadel of the Incan Empire – a small self-sufficient city – well designed so that every structure has a purpose. Considering it was built on a mountain top, it’s a construction masterpiece.
Eliuth: One of the most amazing places on Earth built by Incas in 1400s, the ultimate expression of Inca architecture.
Ken: A heavenly place perched up in the clouds looking down on all its surroundings and all it commands.
Adam: One of the world’s most extraordinary archaeological sites and so much more than just old ruins. It’s actually very easy to visualise what daily life must have been like for the Incas, how it would have felt living in the stone huts or growing crops on the terraces, encircled by these breathtaking mountains.
What is the best thing about Machu Picchu?
Ellie: Everything! The location, the view, the scenery, the flora and fauna, the weather, the history and ecology.
Eliuth: Definitely the location, the unity with nature, the architecture and the beauty of the place.
Ken: A marvel of scenic beauty and the ingenuity of its construction, especially with the limited technology available back in those times.
Adam: Machu Picchu is a big place and it’s easy to find a space to yourself. You can sit in the sun with your back against a warm stone wall built centuries ago by Incan hands and just be. We don’t get that opportunity very often these days.
What does Machu Picchu mean to you?
Ellie: It’s the symbol of my nationality. It’s an icon of my Peruvian heritage and ancestry and I’m very proud of it. It’s hard to describe how intelligent the Incas were to create a structure like this that still exists and now people from all over the world come to visit this spectacle. There is also an intangible aspect with a special energy about the place.
Eliuth: A very important religious sanctuary where the high priests could learn different things about the Andean religion and Inca astronomy, a kind of university of knowledge.
Ken: A place where people proved almost anything is possible if the will and desire is strong enough.
Adam: It’s a real achievement to have experienced Machu Picchu and I’m so thankful I had an opportunity. I had been planning the South America trip for a while, so there was a real sense of achievement when we finally arrived.
What surprised you most when you visited Machu Picchu?
Ellie: The size and grandeur. The view exceeded my expectations.
Eliuth: The location and the union with Mother Nature is something that you can only express with a WOW...!!!
Ken: How vast it was! Photos don't do it justice nor give the same impression as seeing it with the naked eye. You have to visit to really appreciate it. Also the serenity – just sit back in awe and take in the spectacle.
Adam: I was surprised by how big and high the site was. It’s literally up in a ring of mountain tops, and there are these sheer cliffs that drop down into the river valley below. It's spectacular!
Was it what you expected?
Ellie: I just knew it was something people must see. I learned about it at school so when I saw it everything made perfect sense.
Eliuth: Definitely yes! And even better than I was expecting because when you see the citadel you can understand why this place is considered one of the new seven wonders in the world.
Ken: A lot more than we expected! Everything organised by Evergreen was impeccable from the time we boarded the train, accommodation and the actual visit, making the Machu Picchu experience one of the most enjoyable of our travels to date.
Adam: Having seen countless images of Machu Picchu I thought I knew what to expect. But looking down from the Guardhouse across the citadel for the first time, I could never have imagined just how incredible that moment would be. And that moment will be different for every person.
Do you have any tips for first time visitors?
Ellie: Come with an open mind, take a good camera, take your time and get there early or late to avoid the main crowds. Find a quiet location with a great view and sit and take it all in. Be prepared for variable weather as it can be unpredictable.
Eliuth: I recommend starting the tour in the upper part of the city, in order to have the classical view. It is unforgettable.
Ken: You need at least a full day to explore it fully, so pace yourself. Do the upper levels first if possible and have some level of fitness if you wish to explore it all as it’s a huge site.
Adam: Don’t worry about whether there’ll be blue skies for your photos or too many people in the way. It can all change in an instant. The clouds can lift quickly and reappear just as quickly. Pace yourself. It’s a big climb with lots of stairs, for you don’t build a kingdom in the sky without them!
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