Machu Picchu and Hiking the Inca Trail
One thing that immediately springs to mind the first time you see Machu Picchu is that the Incas definitely built this place on purpose. This was no accidental community, conveniently located for trade by a river or road junction. Machu Picchu was purposely built in an awkward and difficult location - why? It's something to muse when you're not breathlessly agog at the matchless majesty of the surroundings.
Theories behind the building of Machu Picchuu
Majesty is an apt word to use because one of the most popular archeological theories about the purpose of Machu Picchu, is that it was built as an estate for the famous 15th century Incan Emperor Pachacuti. His reign was such a flourishing period for the Incan Empire, that Pachacuti European scholars later dubbed him "The Napoleon of the Andes".
Other theories abound about Machu Picchu, too. Perhaps it was placed there due to its relative position to sacred, astrologically relevant mountains. Or maybe it was an experimental agricultural station, a prison, a fortress to control the surrounding dominions, or a spiritual center for the Virgins of the Suns.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Hiking the Inca trail
How to Get There
As the most popular tourist destination in Peru, Machu Picchu can be a busy place, and many people want to try hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. There are a number of options for routes, but only five hundred trekkers are allowed at a time on the Inca Trail, so it's often best to go with an established trekking company to ensure you get to the site.
Your primary options are two, four, five or seven day trek packages, which follow different routes and take in different scenery. Prices range as from $200 to $1500 depending on the length of trek and level of service required. You can have porters carry your belongings, which makes the trip easier for you. Booking well in advance is required, as trek permits have to be purchased for the trail, and in high season spaces can fill up months in advance.
You can also hire your own guide if you're part of a group with under eight people. The guide must be professionally qualified, must purchase the trek permits, and take on responsibility for the group including meeting all Inca Trail obligations, like carrying first aid equipment and emergency oxygen. The disadvantage of this option is that you will have to carry your own supplies and equipment. Finding an appropriate guide may prove difficult, as trekking companies are sometimes loathe to hire out their own operators.
The starting point to Machu Picchu is Cusco, the old Incan capital. At a height of over 11,000 feet, altitude sickness can become a problem, so acclimatizing for a few days is always recommended before climbing higher. There's plenty to do and see in and around Cusco, so you won't be bored spending a few days getting used to the elevation. Near Cusco, you can visit other Incan ruins at Pucapucara, Q'enko, Tambomachay and Ollantaytambo, or the traditional Quechua market at Pisac.
Read about Machu Picchu
What to Take
Whether you carry your own gear or employ a porter, there are certain things you'll need to hike the Inca Trail. Focus on wearing layers so you can remove or add when required. You'll be hiking at a high elevation, where it gets cold at night, and the sun is strong during the day.
- Backpack with enough capacity to hold all you'll need
- Sturdy hiking boots
- Sleeping bag
- Clothes (factoring in the length of trek you select)
- Thermal underwear (comes in useful on cold mountain nights)
- Fleece jacket
- Rain gear
- Sun hat or cap
- Sun cream, sun glasses and lip salve
- Travel first aid kit
- Money belt with passport and emergency cash
- Insect repellent
- Water bottles
- Water purification tablets
Experience of a lifetime
A little preparation can make a big difference to your trip to Machu Picchu, so plan in advance, book in advance, and be prepared to deal with the altitude. When you reach the end of your hike on the Inca Trail, and the wonders of the ancient city appear in front of you, you will realize that this is an experience of a lifetime.
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