There are few sites as famed as Machu Picchu– a lost Inca city, tucked deep in the heart of Peru’s remote mountain forests.
Machu Picchu, perched high above the Urubamba River, has gained worldwide recognition since it’s rediscovery. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it was voted one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.” People from all across the globe travel to see this intact representation of Incan culture, and to hike the exclusive Inca Trail, which has strict limits on the number of people who may make the hike each day. It’s a difficult trek, and the experience of a lifetime for those who get the opportunity to make it.
A pilgrimage to Machu Picchu is not for the faint of heart, nor is it a trip well suited for last-minute visits. In 2001, Peru imposed new trekking regulations, which require all hikers who wish to make the ascent to Machu Picchu to travel with a licensed tour operator. These experts ensure that visitors arrive at the Lost City safely, and help to keep the trails in pristine condition despite a huge increase in the number of trekkers. They provide local knowledge of the trails, and they also prepare all meals and set up camps along the way.
More recently, the Dirección Regional de Cultura Cusco placed a limitation on number tourists who could visit Machu Picchu each day. Now, only 2,500 visitors may enter the city daily, including those who skip the hike and travel by bus or train. Additionally, restrictions were placed on the number of hikers who could travel on the fabled Inca Trail at one time. This number currently rests at 500 people, including support staff and guides.
So, if you’re planning to check Machu Picchu off your bucket list sometime soon, you’d better plan ahead.
Machu Picchu Travel Tips
- A newer, alternative trail- the Salcantay Route, is gaining popularity among avid backpackers. This trail winds around 20,000-foot peaks and follows sparkling riversides and tiny villages. Along the 39-mile route, travelers will experience 15 ecosystems, and will approach Machu Picchu from the southwest, which is a rare and beautiful view of the Lost City. If you’re not a tent person, this route also offers luxury ecolodges along the trail as an alternative.
- Monsoon season, which begins in November and ends in April, should be avoided if you’re imagining sweeping views and clear skies. During this time, low-lying clouds can make it difficult to see the epic architecture and spectacular scenery. Travel in May- when skies are clearer and high season crowds haven’t peaked yet (high season is June through September).
- If you’re staying nearby and stretching your visit to multiple days, don’t miss the sunset of a lifetime! Rise and shine before daybreak, and head to Intipunku– the Sun Gate, where hikers watch the first rays of light illuminate Machu Picchu’s ancient walls.
- If you’re feeling tired, you may be in luck! Many Peruvian children pass on Lemonade Stands and instead earn spending money by lining the trails, offering to carry the packs of weary travelers. Be sure to bring small bills and change in order to thank them for their help and give yourself a break.
Most people include Machu Picchu on a longer trip, soaking in Peruvian culture along the way. High school students who wish to learn Spanish, volunteer in Peruvian mountain communities, or immerse themselves in the Peruvian lifestyle- while also embarking on a 4-Day Machu Picchu Trek- should consider Global Leadership Adventures programs in Peru!
Read the journal entries below from a student who completed GLA’s “Spanish Service Adventure” Program over the summer, and who had the chance to make the incredible journey to the Lost City of the Incas.
June 21st, 2013:
The first day of our trek along the Inca Trail toward Machu Picchu began with the group boarding two vans for a long ride along a winding road (within feet of a daunting cliff!) until we reached Soraypampa, the origin point of our hike. In this town, we had lunch surrounded by the mountains we would soon be conquering. We started our adventure by learning how to breathe and hike correctly at an elevation of over 11,000 feet above sea level! The hike began with a “gradual incline” lasting about 2 hours, including hiking across rocks and crossing many creeks. At Salkantaypampa we set up camp surrounded by towering mountains and gorgeous views, ready to settle down for our first night of camping in the Salcanty Mountains.
June 22nd, 2013:
After a cold night, we woke up at sunrise and packed up our belongings. Next, we ate a scrumptious and “gourmet” breakfast (for camping) of omelets and pan, a type of bread. After a little pep talk, we embarked on our strenuous excursion. We climbed boulders, crossed rivers on unstable stepping-stones and bridges, and used all of our leg power to climb the mountain! After four hours of heavy trekking across frozen terrain, all uphill, we reached the summit. It was breathtaking, literally. We took a quick break at the top of the summit and then started our downhill journey to the campsite. We walked along a beautiful river under mountains shrouded by clouds and snow, and it was a very peaceful and serene walk. It was still strenuous, however, because we had to keep our balance while trudging through loose rocks and mud. Finally, we made it to the campsite, which was already set up for us. Throughout the entire camping journey, a crew of cooks raced ahead of us in order to prepare the campsite for us. The amount of dedication that these men had for their work was inspiring. By the time we got to the campsite, all of our tents were set up and the food was ready. We were all extremely thankful for these hardworking men! Next, we ate a hearty lunch and then retreated to our tents to rest. Later, we had a tasty dinner and bonded a lot by singing various songs. After this incredibly long day, we retired to our tents for some much needed sleep.
June 23rd, 2013:
On our final day hiking, we hiked for four more hours downhill in the mud, and while a little gross at times, the end was quite rewarding when we reached a small farm and had a pleasant lunch. After lunch, we had to hike for another two hours to meet the van that would drive us to a train station. When we got to the train station, we caught a brief fifty-minute ride to Aguas Calientes. We went to dinner at a buffet style restaurant, and afterward had pastries at the bakery next door to our hotel while listening to live music that was playing down the street. After showering up, we went to bed, eager for the next day at Machu Picchu!
June 24th, 2013:
After a wake up knock at 6 AM, and eating a quick breakfast, we left the hotel to take a bus up to Machu Picchu. We arrived early and spent three hours walking around with animated and excited tour guides, who revealed secrets of the lost city of Machu Picchu. During our tour, we walked the path of the original Inca inhabitants, learned phrases of Quechua (the Inca’s original language), maneuvered through dark tunnels and learned the secrets of the Inca’s amazing architecture! It was an indescribable experience. We were also given plenty of time for independent exploration and photo taking in the lost city. Finally, after a long awaited day of exploration, we had a long way home; taking nearly four hours of transportation by train and a direct bus. Through the journey was difficult at times, we persevered to finish the trail and were rewarded with a wonderful day exploring Machu Picchu!