The Inca Trail – A dreamer’s dream
The Ralph Waldo Emerson quote “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” is a perfect description of the Inca Trail. Machu Picchu is, of course, stunning and breathtaking, but the real memories that last a lifetime are created on the trail leading there.
The 43 km trail is usually hiked in 4 days. People from all walks of life set out on this hike to discover something new about themselves and the Inca people.
The Inca Trail was used as a pilgrimage route to Machu Picchu in the 15th century. It was re-discovered between 1913 and 1915 by Hiram Bingham. Along the trail you will see many archaeological sites that demonstrate the unique culture that the Inca people practiced, worshiping mother earth and all of the elements.
If you are starting to dream about tackling this human masterpiece of trail systems, you must plan ahead.
Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site – it receives over 2,000 visitors per day. If you are planning to visit only Machu Picchu, there are options to bus or train right into the site. These modes of transportation also need to be booked well in advance to ensure that you have the correct ticket to enter the Huayna Picchu zone.
If you are feeling up to the challenge and want to hike in via the Inca Trail, you will also need to plan ahead – we suggest around 12 months prior to departure. There are other trails that lead to Machu Picchu including the Salkantay and Lares trails which are known to be slightly more advanced in comparison to Inca. However, all trails need to be planned and booked well in advance.
Visitors will also want to plan for the altitude. Cusco is where most visitors to Machu Picchu fly into; it has an elevation of 3,399 meters. The key is to fly in and take it easy for a few days to allow your body to acclimatize.
Some travellers make the mistake of flying into Cusco and setting out on the hike the next day. This is extremely hard on your body and is a recipe for altitude sickness. The site of Machu Picchu itself is at an elevation of 2,430 meters. Typically, altitude sickness can start to effect individuals at elevations over 3,000 meters. However, along the Inca Trail you will pass a point called “Dead Woman’s Pass” which is the highest point, at an elevation of 4,200 meters. If you have not given yourself some time to acclimatize in Cusco, this pass will be challenging or impossible to complete.
Lastly, visitors will want to pack for multiple weather conditions. In the mountains, and even in the city of Cusco, the weather can range from hot to cold and everything in between. Pack waterproof clothing, warm clothing, and sweat-friendly activewear. During the hike, porters will carry your main pack, which will enable you to carry a small daypack during your hike. However, that does not give you a free pass to pack a 100lb bag. All trekking companies have weight restrictions on packs. Check with your company or travel agent before packing everything from home.
Essentially all you need is sleeping gear, hiking boots (and socks!), passport/travel documents, camera or phone, chargers, personal comforts, medications, water bottles, waterproof clothing, warm layers, and activewear.
Exploring the trail
Along the way to Machu Picchu, you will have four days to experience more of yourself than ever before. The challenging route allows you to dig deep into your strengths, capabilities, and mindset. It brings a humbling sense of respect for the people of this region, and the beautiful land that surrounds.
In addition to a new perspective on your capabilities and mother earth, you will encounter some of the world’s most stunning archaeological sites. Sites to look out for along the way include Qorihuayrachina, Llactapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarka, Intipata, Wiñay Wayna, and Inti Punku (aka sun gates at Machu Picchu).
If you are trekking with a reputable company, guides will explain a bit about each site and its historical importance. Every day there are things to learn about the history of the land and the Inca people. Be sure to plan ahead and research the guides and company that you are trekking with to get the most out of your experience.
Ready to experience something different?
Hiking the Inca Trail usually starts off with a dream, and we can help make it a reality. With the right planning and preparation, it can become one of the richest and most fulfilling travel experiences one can have.
If you are thinking about exploring the Inca Trail, talk to one of our experienced travel specialists to ensure that you are getting the most out of your budget and adventure.