For many years, I had my eye on Machu Picchu. I really, really wanted to hike the Inca Trail and visit this amazing place. I read books and watched documentaries—and it became something I had to do. Right before my 28th birthday, this dream became a reality.
I signed up to hike the Inca Trail through the Andes Mountains for three days and four nights. This was ironic because as much as I was thrilled about seeing this magical, ancient place, I also had little to no experience with hiking (and a big fear of heights).
The first day of the trail was the easiest. I hiked with a group of people from all over the world. Our guide was a local Peruvian man who shared the history of the trail with us along the way. Out of my excitement to come to this place, I’d researched all the supplies I’d need, what company to hike the trail with, where to stay in Cusco, the nearest city, and what Spanish phrases I needed to re-learn in order to be polite. But I didn’t spend any time learning about the actual history of the Inca Trail.
So, it was eye-opening when our guide started explaining that the Incas considered the trail to Machu Picchu to be a spiritual experience. Throughout the next few days, we stopped at many Inca “rest stops” along the way—each of which had a purpose. We saw the remains of an old stone building where people stopped to shower and cleanse their soul before arriving at Machu Picchu. The afternoon before we arrived, we stopped at a temple overlooking the mountain behind Machu Picchu where the Incas prayed and made intentions for their visit to the ancient city in the clouds.
The experience that I’d been craving for years was now turning into much more than a travel adventure. Being immersed in nature and away from technology with a new group of people hiking this old path filled with so much history felt extremely spiritual. By following the pilgrimage the Incas used to undertake, we embarked on one too. I spent time watching and listening, soaking up all the ancient wisdom our guide shared with us along the way. I felt connected to the history and to nature, which led me to feel connected to something greater than myself.
The hike was a big preparation for our arrival. Reaching the destination, Machu Picchu, I felt joyful, filled with wonder and awe. I’d accomplished something I’d only dreamt about for years. We’d all worked hard (physically) to get to this place, climbing up and down mountain peaks (one called Dead Woman’s Pass at more than 13,000 feet!). And the work we put in made the reward at the end all the better.
Being in an ancient place and exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu felt so surreal. The city is broken into three areas: farming, urban, and spiritual. Walking through the old homes and religious sites while learning about the Inca principles of reciprocity with nature (a give and take relationship) made me feel like I was soaking up ancient wisdom that needed to be remembered. Their three laws of don’t steal, don’t lie, and don’t be lazy felt equally applicable to my life today.
I later learned that Machu Picchu is considered to be one of many places in the world where the “veil is thin”—meaning the human (earth) and the holy (heaven) are closer here. Something felt really true to me about that because when I was there, I felt connected to more than what I was seeing through a tourist’s eyes. And since then, I’ve found myself on other trips where there’s a deeper spiritual meaning, like visiting an ancient temple in Bali, or climbing Croagh Patrick in Ireland where St. Patrick is buried. And I’ve got my eye on the Camino next!
I think travel is intrinsically linked with spirituality because by exploring a new place, we’re able to experience universal truths, like the fact that everything is always changing, no matter where we go. There’s a sense that something greater is happening beyond just us and our personal experience. I felt this during my trip to Machu Picchu. I didn’t have a ton of money and I was terrified of heights, but everything came together, and I was able to go there. And once I was there, it felt like I was meant to have that experience. Travel helps us to see our connection to the past, to nature, to other people, and to God—which is very spiritual, if you ask me.
Originally published on July 31, 2018.