Machu Picchu and Hiking the Inca Trail

Machu Picchu

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.

Machu Picchu. Photo by szeke (flickr)
Machu Picchu. Photo by szeke (flickr)
Statue of Pachacuti in the town center of Aguas Calientes. Photo by Chang'r (flickr)
Statue of Pachacuti in the town center of Aguas Calientes. Photo by Chang'r (flickr)

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

show route and directions
A markerMachu Picchu, Peru -
Machu Picchu, Peru
[get directions]

B markerInca Trail, Peru -
Inca Trail, Peru
[get directions]

C markerCusco, Peru -
Cuzco, Peru
[get directions]

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Photo by Christian Haugen (flickr)
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Photo by Christian Haugen (flickr)
Part of the Inca Trail. Photo by Emmanuel Dyan (flickr)
Part of the Inca Trail. Photo by Emmanuel Dyan (flickr)

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.

Trekking Options
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.

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
  • Toiletries
  • Sun cream, sun glasses and lip salve
  • Travel first aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Money belt with passport and emergency cash
  • Insect repellent
  • Camera
  • 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.

More by this Author

  • What to do in Venice, Italy

    How ever well you think you know Venice, Italy, you're in for a some surprises! One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, it's still possible to escape the crowds in its narrow streets and hidden...

  • 5 Great Travel Gadgets For Your Next Trip

    When you're traveling, a few cool travel gadgets can make your life a lot easier.  But which ones are essential and which ones aren't?  Here's a list of 5 great travel gadgets for your next trip.

  • 7 Great Travel Gifts for Women

    Do you know a woman who loves to travel? Whether globetrotting for business, or for the sheer joy of it, it can be difficult to find the perfect gift for someone on the move. Fear not! Here are 7 great travel gifts for...

Comments? 7 comments

Sonya 6 years ago

Along with the Classic Inca Trail there are some other great trekking options in the area. Check out If you have a group of two or more you can do your own private trek with dates you choose, or there are scheduled group departures. The Classic and Royal Inca Trail treks end at Machu Picchu, and for the others you can take a train to Machu Picchu before or after your trek.

happyexplorer profile image

happyexplorer 6 years ago from Mostly USA, sometimes elsewhere Author

Sonya - Thanks for the tips! I'm sure some of the other trekking options are spectacular too.

FashionFame profile image

FashionFame 6 years ago from California

It was a nice hub! Voted up!

couponalbum profile image

couponalbum 6 years ago from Sunnyvale, CA

It's a nice hub with great information but images are not so appealing. Overall, it was a nice read. Liked your other hubs too. Joining your fanclub and would like to invite you to join mine. :)

happyexplorer profile image

happyexplorer 6 years ago from Mostly USA, sometimes elsewhere Author

FashionFame - Thanks a bunch! (-:

Couponalbum - Something went wrong when I posted the photos the first time, and I'm still not sure why they came out so grainy! Hopefully you'll agree with me that these are much better now!

JonBaker 4 years ago

Love the Machu Picchu pictures, so reminds me of my trip there a month ago. Having been and read your suggestions about what to expect, spot on.

happyexplorer profile image

happyexplorer 4 years ago from Mostly USA, sometimes elsewhere Author

Hi JonBaker - Thanks for the comment! That's wonderful that you were able to visit there recently. I hope you had a terrific trip!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article