Visiting Machu Picchu: Is It Overrated?

Visiting Machu Picchu: Is It Overrated?

Visiting Machu Picchu: Is It Overrated?

After returning from Peru and finally finding functional internet, I did what any sensible world traveler would do–I updated my profile picture to one of me standing in front of Machu Picchu. I know, I know, how cliche of me. But it immediately garnered 60-some likes and suddenly people started crawling out of the internet woodwork to message me and say that Machu Picchu is their ultimate travel bucket list item and ohemgee they are so jealous.

After seeing the reaction to this picture, I was struck by a surge of guilt. Why? Because I almost didn’t go to Machu Picchu. I almost didn’t do this thing that is apparently on the top of literally everyone else’s bucket list. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to Machu Picchu, but I went to Peru for a bike race. Machu Picchu was kind of an after-thought, like, hey, look how close we’re going to be, we might as well, right?

This was Peru, for god’s sake, and the train, which cost locals seven soles (less than five dollars), cost those of us with international passports almost 120 USD–or basically the entire contents of my bank account.

We might as well… But that’s not a very good reason to go somewhere and it tends to crumble when circumstance gets in the way. Circumstance in this case took the form of a nasty case of food poisoning that struck me in the middle of the bike race and left me crawling down the side of the road until I was rescued by the police escort vehicle. My boyfriend Macky had taken a nasty spill off his bicycle and smashed his back into a rock.

Our friend and teammate, Sean, had both crashed and contracted a stomach bug. Basically, we were a pretty motley crew and climbing a mountain, regardless of how famous it might be, seemed like a painful and potentially diarrhea-inducing ordeal.

And so, a day before we had been planning to “do the Machu Picchu thing,” the three of us found ourselves outside the train station feeling pretty glum. I had just finished throwing a minor temper tantrum about how much the train tickets cost.

This was Peru, for god’s sake, and the train, which cost locals seven soles (less than five dollars), cost those of us with international passports almost 120 USD–or basically the entire contents of my bank account. I hadn’t budgeted for this, because, like I said, I hadn’t really given Machu Picchu much thought.

“We could just not go,” Macky suggested.

For a brief second, it was a liberating idea. Yeah, we could just not go. We could just say screw it to tourism and price gouging and tour buses full of gray-haired church ladies. We could declare ourselves better than cheesy photos and fake baby alpaca sweaters. In fact, we could stay in Ollantaytambo and eat lunch at the market for four soles and chat with the locals and never be too far from a bathroom. Wouldn’t that be more authentic? Wouldn’t that be what a real traveler would do?

Machu Picchu is, quite simply, worth the hype.

However, I can be a stubborn person and suddenly the idea of not going to Machu-Frikkin-Picchu when we were only one hour and an extremely overpriced train away seemed stupid.

We weighed the options. They weren’t good. We could take a taxi to Quillabamba, a bus to Hidroelectrico and walk along the train tracks for an hour and a half to Aguas Calientes. Or two-and-a-half hours, depending on who you asked. At the moment, even hiking around Machu Picchu sounded like a lot to ask of our battered bodies, so 120 USD train tickets started to seem less unreasonable. Getting to Machu Picchu is surprisingly complicated, considering its popularity. And so, we pulled out the plastic and purchased our train tickets.

And I’m glad we did. Machu Picchu is, quite simply, worth the hype. The landscape is visually stunning and the structures themselves are perplexing, in a beautiful, how-did-that-boulder-get-up-here-without-a-backhoe-kind-of-way. The scale of the city defies imagination, yet it is still dwarfed by the mountains that surround it.

Visiting Machu Picchu: Is It Overrated?

This is not the kind of place you visit every day, or even once a year. It’s the kind of place you visit once in a lifetime–if you’re lucky. And so, in that sense, I understand the reactions and messages I received about my trip.

However, I still don’t see Machu Picchu as the be-all-end-all of my trip. The Peru you see on your way to Machu Picchu is a dressed-up version, just like Machu Picchu is a dressed-up version of Incan civilization. Machu Picchu is the grandiose side of the Incas, the side that ultimately led to their downfall.

The temples, the city on a hill, the steps that climb into the sky. A friend who lived in the Sacred Valley for 11 years put it this way: “I know what the historians say, but when I look at Machu Picchu, I can’t help but think that the Incas didn’t worship the gods–they thought they were the gods.”

This is not the kind of place you visit every day, or even once a year. It’s the kind of place you visit once in a lifetime–if you’re lucky.

Machu Picchu was not the most impressive relic of Incan life that I saw in Peru. Driving through the Sacred Valley, you will notice terraces along every mountain side. Terrace upon terrace upon terrace stretching from the valley floor up to 15,000 feet, built by the Incans or the peoples who proceeded them, maintained and used now by their descendants. Many of these terraces are grown over and hidden, as Machu Picchu was until 1911.

However, they are still there, evidence of what, to me, is the most striking Incan accomplishment: the Incans succeeded in taming a landscape that, to this day, remains outside of human control.

And so where am I getting at with this? You should go to Machu Picchu. It’s worth it. But don’t make it your entire trip. Machu Picchu isn’t overrated. The rest of Peru is just underrated.

Visiting Machu Picchu
Visiting Machu Picchu

Visiting Machu Picchu: Is It Overrated?

Related Reading

Miracles in the Shape of Mountains at Macchu Picchu
Conquering the Mountain Within on Machu Picchu
Visiting Machu Picchu: Everything You Need to Know
A Leap of Faith: Travelling to Peru with My In-Laws
Looking for a Cheap Way to Visit Machu Picchu?
Salkantay Trek: An Alternate Route to Machu Picchu
Discovering Machu Picchu: In the Footsteps of Hiram Bingham
Machu Picchu Trek: The Real Deal with Kelley Kitley

Have you traveled to Peru? What where your impressions? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Visiting Machu Picchu: Is It Overrated top photo credit: unsplash.

About Syd Schulz

AvatarSyd Schulz is a recent graduate of Middlebury College (it’s okay
if you’ve never heard of it). She is currently wandering the world
looking for things to write about and good places to ride her bike
down mountains. She blogs at Nomadically
Inclined.

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