Thousands of intrepid explorers, history buffs and backpackers head to the ancient site of Machu Picchu each year. Rediscovered a hundred years ago, this jaw dropping sight frequently tops travel wishlists and is an undisputed wonder of the world.
Truly a once in a lifetime experience (conservationists recommend only visiting once, if at all), seeing these Inca ruins takes lots of forward planning.
First of all, don’t expect to rock up to the nearest town, Cuzco, expecting to hike your own merry way. All visitors must be part of an official tour group and only 2,500 passes are allocated each day. This sounds like a lot, but places fill up fast. And it includes everyone working on the site.
The surrounding terrain is vast and there are a number of trails to choose from. Whether you’re a die-hard hiker or would rather save your energy for buying souvenirs, there’s a route that will suit you.
Obviously some level of fitness is needed, as well as a clean bill of health. Machu Picchu stands at 2430m above sea level, and although there’s no sure fire way to beat altitude sickness, fit folk stand a better chance of keeping their dinner down. Try and give yourself some time to adjust before you set off on the trek.
Make sure you go with a reputable firm that pays its people a fair wage and takes the local community into consideration. Tourism is a lifeline for many Peruvians but that doesn’t mean you can pay them peanuts. They’ll be helping you carry your stuff, setting up camp and cooking as well as sharing their knowledge and expertise.
Do your homework. Look into the train, staying the night at Machu Picchu, taking a two to four-day trek or longer, and combining the tour with a flight over the Nasca Lines or a stint in the rainforest. Peru is a magical land with plenty to tempt the open-minded traveller.
Many people choose to avoid the Inca Trail altogether and go in search of other ruins and trails less travelled.
As long as Machu Picchu is up there with the pyramids and The Great Wall of China, people will keep coming. The trail is actually closed for a few weeks each year for preservation work, but the hoards of visitors take their toll. There’s no doubt that tourism provides a boost to a challenged economy, but indigenous communities nestled in the Andes are probably wondering if the trade-off is worth it. Ask nicely before taking their photo.
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Image courtesy of Flickr
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