Peru: Hiking the Inca Trail
Peru: The ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu
Still shrouded in mystery a century after their re-discovery in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu are one of the world's most intriguing travel destinations. While it is possible to reach the ruins without undergoing a rigorous trek through the Peruvian Andes, the magic of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is an experience you will always remember.
Video of the Inca Trail in Peru
The Trek to Machu Picchu
Four-day trek to Machu Picchu
There are several hiking routes you can take to Machu Picchu. The classic route begins with an early morning bus ride from the city of Cusco to "Km 82," which is simply an indicator of the trail's distance from the city (82 kilometers or 50 miles). An alternative route begins at Km 88 and is most often used by trekkers who wish to also explore the ruins at Llactapata.
With 50+ miles to trek, you want to make sure you're in good shape, and those hiking boots are broken in before you get to Peru! It's also important to plan carefully, so you have the best travel clothes to keep you comfortable and minimize weight.
Day One of your four day trek takes you on a lovely trek through the Cusichaka Valley to your first campground at Wayllabamba. This first leg of the trip is a mercifully easy warmup for what is to come. Beginning at an altitude of 2600 meters (8500 feet), you only climb 400 meters (1300 feet) over the course of the day.
On Day Two, you will do some more serious hiking. Beginning at an altitude of 3000 meters (9842 feet), you will climb to an altitude of 4200 meters (13,800 feet) as you navigate the Warmiwanusca Pass, otherwise and ominously known as "Dead Women's Pass." You will then get a well-earned rest at the campground at Pacamayo.
Day Three of the Inca Trail hike is a mostly downhill climb mixed with several opportunities to explore several Incan ruins. After crossing Rio Pacamayo, you will come to three different sites in succession. Then, after a descent of nearly 1000 meters (3280 feet) down a succession of steep Incan steps, you come to your 3rd campground at Winay Wayna.
Anticipation will overcome fatigue as you start Day Four of your hike with a 4:30am wake-up call in order to reach the ruins of Inti Puku (the Sun Gate) in time for one of the world's most breathtaking sunrises. It only gets better from there, because you will then move on to your final destination - the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu.
Photographs of and documentaries about Machu Picchu may inspire you to hike the Inca Trail, but nothing short of going there in person can match the experience. Especially after having done it "the hard way" by taking the trail, you will find yourself transported to a magical and mystical era in time. You will leave Machu Picchu with more questions than answers. Who were the Incas? How did they live their daily lives? What secrets are still hidden behind those stone edifices?
Getting There - First stop: Lima, Peru
Travelers from overseas will most likely make Lima their first stop in Peru. There are regular plane flights from Lima to Cusco. Although flights are plentiful, it's a good idea to book yours in advance, since most visitors to Lima are includes Machu Picchu in their travel plans.
If you have time on your hands, taking the trip from Lima to Cusco by bus in stages is well worth the effort. It gives you the opportunity to see a variety of Peruvian landscapes and cities. Once you are in Cusco, be sure to give yourself extra time to explore this amazing city and its sights. Once called "the Navel of the World," Cusco was first established in the 13th century by the Incas and is filled with fascinating archaeological and cultural sights.
With 50+ miles to trek, you want to make sure you're in good shape!
Staying in Cusco for a few days before hiking is a good idea
It's a good idea to stay in Cusco for a few days prior to hiking the Inca Trail. At an altitude of 3300 meters (around 2 miles) above sea level, it is perfect for acclimatizing to the thin air you will be experiencing on your trip.
Prepare for both direct exposure to the sun and cold temperatures. Sun screen and a protective hat are a must and you will want to carry warm clothing and a good sleeping bag for the cold nights. It is also advisable to take water purification tablets with you.
While rated as a "moderate" climb, you do need to be in reasonable shape to handle the Inca Trail. It is steep at times and far from adequate medical facilities, should an accident or medical emergency arise.
Would you like to hike the Inca Trail?
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Flickr: Machu Picchu, szeke
Flickr: Llama headdress, afroboof
Flickr: Plaza Mayor Lima Peru, Emmanuel Dyan
Flickr: Cusco, ntn6