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Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail


Machu Picchu and Inca Trail travel guide, including map of Peru, tips for Machu Picchu travel, when to visit Machu Picchu and trek the Inca Trail

Located in southern Peru, not far from Cusco, the Inca Trail is the awesome Andean walk with the ultimate payoff: a path that runs along a scared valley, via a raging river, intriguing ruins and soaring condors, to pass through a regal gateway from which the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu unfurls before you.

Sadly you won’t be the first to have cottoned on to the wonder of the Inca Trail. Since Hiram Bingham ‘discovered’ Machu Picchu in 1911 – something the Spanish conquistadores failed to do centuries before – intrepid travellers have been tramping this stone-paved Incan highway to get to the hill-perched site.

In fact so many travellers were walking the Inca Trail that the Peruvian government stepped in, restricting numbers and banning independent trekking. You now need to apply for a permit to hike the Inca Trail, and you must hike with a guide.

This is a good thing. It has relieved some of the pressure on the Inca Trail, which is better for the fragile environment, and for your experience – the path and campsites will be far less crowded. It does mean you need to plan your hike in advance to ensure you get a place.

Advance planning is essential anyway. The Inca Trail is a four-day, 43km hike that reaches an altitude of 4,200m; you will be trekking for several hours a day, with some big ascents and descents. You need to be physically prepared before attempting it.

Your Peruvian guides and porters will help as much as possible, generally transporting your main pack, cooking you hearty meals and setting up camp each night, so you are free to just concentrate on the walk.

It's well worth the sweat and strain, however – even if you don’t get the trail to yourself. Enjoy the scenery en route – there are plenty of Incan ruins, stunning Andean views and interesting flora and fauna that your guide will be able to point out – then prepare yourself for the sight of Machu Picchu itself: the icing on the cake.

Further Reading

Machu Picchu and Inca Trail Top 5

  1. Allow time to linger at the Incan ruins of Sayamarca ('inaccessible town') en route to Machu Picchu, generally reached on day three of the hike; also look out for orchids in this section.
  2. Consider making your Inca Trail trek a charity challenge – many companies organise fundraising treks, where you get a cheaper trip in exchange for raising a minimum amount for a good cause.
  3. Get up early on your final morning to get to the Sun Gate for sunrise, for a view of Machu Picchu without the crowds; there's nothing like seeing the hilltop citadel swirling in morning mist – before the train from Cusco arrives.
  4. Consider an alternative trek in the region: the classic Inca Trail leads from km88 to Machi Picchu, but you can also reach the ruins along the Salcantay Route (which has a 4,900m pass) and the Huayanay Route (a two- to three-day route from Chilca). Or try something completely different: the nearby ruins of Choquequirao are little-visited and no less impressive.
  5. It’s possible to stay overnight at Machu Picchu – while the hotels are expensive, they do allow you to view the ruins after the daytrippers have returned to Cusco. And you might fancy a littler pampering after your trek to the site.

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