Sleep would not come easy. After three days on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu we were tired, but we would still not sleep. Tomorrow we would finally see the beautiful lost city of the Incan Empire.
“We will wake up at 3:00 am and begin our final hike to Machu Picchu” Claudio said. “We will get in line and wait for the gate to open. No one is allowed to pass the gate until it opens at 5:00 am. We will then hike the final one and a half hours to Machu Picchu. We will be there shortly after sunrise. We will have time to explore the city on our own before the tourists on busses arrive.”
We were already awake when the Chaskis came to our tent with warm water and tea. We were too excited to sleep soundly. We packed and walked a short distance in the dark, down the trail to the gate to Machu Picchu.
Shortly after sunrise, the gates opened. We showed our passports and were allowed on the final segment of the Inca Trail. Our group was more than ready. We had been on the trail for three days and were excited to make the final trek to the fabled lost city.
When the gates opened we took off at a very brisk pace. Some were even sprinting down the trail. Even though it was before 6:00 am I was working up a sweat trying to keep up with the much younger hikers. After a while I realized that even though the group was sprinting, we would stop every few kilometers and wait for the others to catch up. It didn’t matter that some were running ahead, the group still had to stay together.
About an hour after we began, we saw the ruins of another Incan site.
“This is the famous Sun Gate. The entrance to Machu Picchu” Claudio announced.
We made it! Passing through the Sun Gate we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. Down below us we could see the beautiful city glowing in the first rays of the morning sun. It was breathtaking. The iconic image that I had seen in photographs all my life was actually before my eyes.
Four days of hiking up and down the steep and treacherous steps of the Inca Trail had finally paid off. Our reward was a sight that only a few would ever see. Machu Picchu at sunrise, just as the Inca travelers had experienced it centuries before. It was truly a mystical and magical experience.
“From the Sun Gate it is another forty five minutes to Mach Picchu” Claudio said. “But, the view into the city for this final segment is amazing. Enjoy the final trek. When we arrive, I will point out some of the important features of the city and then you will be free to explore on your own.”
Claudio was right, I couldn’t help but stop every few feet to admire the view of Machu Picchu and to photograph this incredible city. I wanted this moment to last as long as possible. I was in no rush to reach the city because I did not want the moment to end.
When we reached the city we posed for more group photos and soaked in the incredible views. It was hard to believe that the city had been abandoned and rediscovered centuries later, virtually untouched.
After a brief tour, we separated to explore the city at our own pace. The city was larger than I had imagined. Although there were hundreds of people now wandering the site, I felt as though I were alone in this sacred space.
The experience was made even more magical by the llamas that wandered freely through the city, grazing on the terraces and open fields. I probably took too much time following these beautiful creatures around trying to photograph them among the ruins.
We explored the city for the next few hours. Even though we were tired and ready to return to civilization, it was difficult to leave. I kept wanting one more photo.
We boarded the bus for the trip down the mountain to the town to Aguas Caliente. We had reservations at a restaurant in town where we would all meet and share a final meal before boarding the train for the return trip to Cusco and going our separate ways.
At the restaurant we swapped stories, photos, and contact information and vowed to keep in touch. When we discovered that the restaurant had wifi, we all immediately got lost in our devices. We had been unplugged and it was time to catch up with our modern lives.
Four days on the Inca Trail had transformed a group of strangers into friends who had shared a unique experience. Regardless of where we would go from here, we would always have the common bond of trekking to the magical lost city of Machu Picchu.
When I reached the top, there was Claudio to welcome me to the Sun Gate! I made it!