Inca Trail, Peru
Trek the Inca Trail and arrive at Machu Picchu at the end of a memorable journey. The Inca Trail covers 24 miles (39 km) through the mountains above the Sacred Valley. Much of the Inca Trail is paved with stones put in place by the Inca. This trail will take you through cloud forests – rare environments dense with jungle growth and mist. You’ll see many different types of delicate orchids, and experience the biodiversity that only a humid jungle can produce.
Trekking the Inca Trail requires some planning. There are rules about where you can camp, and you must go with a guide. The Inca Trail is maintained by the Peruvian government, and in the interest of conservation, there are limits to how many people can hike the trail at once. You can visit the trail at any time of the year except February, when the trail is closed for maintenance.
To avoid hiking during Peru's rainy season, sometime between May and October is the best time to visit. The complete trek comprises 4 days and 3 nights. You have some options if you would like to do a shorter or longer trek. Depart from the mountain of Salkantay for a longer journey of 5 days and 4 nights. Or hike only the portion of the trail closest to Machu Picchu, for 2 days and 1 night. For the two longer hikes, porters and pack animals will help carry camping equipment and food.
To prepare for the altitude, you will need to spend some time in Cusco adjusting to the thin mountain air before you begin hiking. In the course of a single day's hike, the altitude can change by 3,280 feet (1,000 m). It's a good idea to go on a few hikes in the mountains surrounding Cusco while you acclimatize. Depending on what length of trek you choose, you will hike past approximately 30 Inca ruins on your way to Machu Picchu. Some of the highlights of the trail include Warmiwañusca, the highest point of the trail. It is 13,828 feet (4,215 m) above sea level, often shrouded in clouds and mist. In Inglés, Warmiwañusca translates to "Dead Woman's Pass," so called because the surrounding terrain is said to resemble a recumbent woman.
After a long descent from Warmiwañusca, you'll find the ruins of Sayaqmarka, an acropolis that juts out from the side of a mountain. Just like Machu Picchu, archaeologists cannot discern the original purpose of the structure. Further along, at the Wiñaywayna site, the Inca left behind have an important piece of their agricultural legacy - a mountainside shaped by man-made terraces. Terraces hold water in, allowing crops to survive hot, dry conditions.
From Wiñaywayna, you'll descend down a staircase to your end destination. Have your camera at the ready in case you spot the bright purple orchids that grow in the area. Nearly to Machu Picchu, you will arrive at Inti Punku, the stone doorway to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Inti Punku is on a peak, elevated above the ruins. It's a good distance from Machu Picchu, far enough away to survey the size and complexity of the site. This point marks the end of Inca Trail. From here, it's about an hour downhill to the stunning remains of Machu Picchu.