Perhaps no other place on Earth has captivated me quite like Machu Picchu in Peru. It is as if someone took everything I love and put it in one place.
Many visitors to Machu Picchu report a strange energy they feel, walking among the ruins. Perhaps this energy is simply the impact of the extreme beauty of the area. If you have been, you know what I am talking about. If not, allow me to paint a picture for you. You are at one of the peaks of the Andes, in lush green tropical forest. Beautiful stone ruins perch atop the green, with stone terraces cascading below you, and as your eye travels down, you see the winding Urubamba River below. Just the right amount of moss covers the stones. If it is sunny, the stones ignite with different hues and textures. If it is cloudy, the clouds and mist wisp across Machu Picchu as if doing their own dance. Wild orchids find sustenance in small cracks in the ruins, and alpaca graze in small fields and terraces of the ancient ruins. So, yeah, if you are into pretty scenery, you're going to like it, rain or shine.
The mystery of Machu Picchu is, of course, fascinating. Upon visiting Peru, as soon as you ask a few experts what led the city to fall to ruin, you will quickly learn one thing: no one really knows, but you will hear lots of theories, often presented as fact. Probably the theory I hear most often is that Machu Picchu was a kind of retreat holy city that ran out of water. However, this has never made much sense to me because as I mentioned earlier, the Urubamba River is directly below, and if the Inca people could figure out how to direct the rays of the sun onto specific altars at different times of the year, I think they could figure out how to get water up the mountain. Furthermore, they had the manpower to do it too.
One particularly great thing about Machu Picchu is that people of all different fitness levels can enjoy it. If you are not feeling very fit, are a beginner in terms of hiking, or the altitude is kicking your behind, you can explore the main site of Machu Picchu, at your leisure. If, however, you are feeling bad-ass, you can hike up to the taller peak call Huayna Picchu, and then even over to the Temple of the Moon, my favorite spot at the ancient citadel. The Temple of the Moon is the toughest spot to reach so you won't find many other tourists. You will find, however, natural caves with Inca ruins built around them. It is an incredible workout, and immensely rewarding. Of course, if you are somewhere in between "beginner" and "bad-ass" walking to Sungate is the perfect choice. Sungate marks the end of the Inca trail, and the entrance to Machu Picchu.
Especially if you have taken this opportunity to challenge yourself physically, you want to come back to great food and a wonderful hotel. Peru, and the area around Machu Picchu has both. In fact, Peru is home to my favorite cuisine and some of my favorite hotels in the world. Here's the deal: I love ceviche, and it was born in Peru, and no one does it better. There, I said it. Plus, virtually everything grows in the Sacred Valley. There are thousands of varieties of potato and hundreds of corn. The cuisine is a sophisticated blend of predominantly Chinese, native South American, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish influences. As far as hotels go you can stay in a 5 star property right outside the Machu Picchu grounds, or venture down the mountain where you will find my favorite, which is converted from an old coffee plantation. Or, take the luxury train to Cusco, as we do on our Zoom Vacations tours, and stay in a 5 star monastery-turned-hotel, almost 500 years old.
I am convinced that this energy people feel is not just the visual beauty, sense of wonder, or physical exhilaration but something more: something that cannot be explained, and it is this same thing that keeps me thinking about Machu Picchu on my flight home. On my first trip to Machu Picchu, I was mesmerized. On my second trip, I was spellbound. I am going back in a few months for my 9th time, and I already find my thoughts drifting to my upcoming trip almost daily. As our planet becomes more and more e-focused, it seems that our connection to one another and even to ourselves is suffering, and it can be a challenge to find meaning, connection, balance, and spirituality. When I step foot on Machu Picchu (and this is the thing that I still cannot adequately explain) I feel a connectedness to everything around me, and a kind of peace, energy, and serenity fills my own spirit.
When I was living in New York City many years ago, I was introduced to a film called "Baraka" (which I highly recommend if you have never seen it) and both the film and the word stuck with me. Baraka is an ancient Sufi word, describing God's nourishing force of prosperity, protection, and happiness that flows through everything. It can be found in objects, people, and places and can be absorbed, for lack of better words, by other creations of God through physical proximity. For those who have a distaste for various reasons for the word "God", replace it with "Universe" or "Source" and you may understand what I mean. Baraka is present in Machu Picchu, and for those with open hearts it can truly flow into them.