For the longest time, my mother told us that it had been her lifelong dream to visit Machu Picchu. If there was only one trip she could take for the rest of her life, this would be the one. Keep in mind that my mother has a tendency to to make such grand, sweeping statements. I'm fairly certain she has said the same thing (multiple times) about Tibet.
Thankfully, we were able to check one thing off her growing wish list in late 2011. Our nearly 2 week trip around Peru took us to Lima, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Cusco and further afield to Lake Titicaca. I'll share thoughts from some of the other stops later, but for now, let's focus on Machu Picchu.
There's typically no shortage of superlatives when travelers recall their first hike to these famed Incan ruins. "The most beautiful, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping place ever." Needless to say, I was a bit skeptical. This place surely couldn't live up to the hype. I was wrong.
The drive (hiking was not an option with parents in tow) up through the mountains is fairly uneventful. Everything is covered in dense foliage and the park entrance is completely unassuming. All of this makes the final turn around the corner that much more dramatic. The sun pouring over the mountains, the remarkably well preserved ruins and the high altitude figuratively and literally take your breath away.
The park gets pretty busy during peak hours, so visitors are recommended to go early in the morning or towards the end of the day. Luckily, these times are also when you get the best views. If you get up early enough, you can also hike up to the top of Huayna Picchu. The trail is steep and demanding but well worth the effort.
Walking through the ruins, a surprising portion of which is open to visitors, is a surreal experience. Looking back, I only wish I had taken more photos. I've shared a few below (all edited with VSCO), but none of them do Machu Picchu justice. My mom likes to reminisce about this family trip, calling it a "once in a lifetime" experience. I hope she's wrong.