People from all over the globe have ventured to Peru if for nothing more than to gaze upon Machu Picchu. The ruins of this ancient civilization rest at nearly 8,000 feet. A long way to travel during Inca times for food and supplies.
As a result, the Inca Trail was blazed and 600 years later continues to be the most popular route for getting to the remains of Machu Picchu.
If you prefer the beaten path, the Inca Trail should be booked well in advance. The four-day trek can be reserved online or in person with one of hundreds of tour agencies in Cuzco.
Other trails that do not require as much planning as the Inca Trail include the Salkantay trek, the Lares Valley trek, and the Jungle Trail. Salkantay is the longest and best for those who really love to hike.
Lares Valley is less touristy and weaves through plenty of small villages. The Jungle Trail is unique in that the first day doesn't involve trekking but downhill biking. Though not physically strenuous, it is incredibly exhilarating.
The price tag associated with getting to Machu Picchu depends on how you book the tour, but can be very affordable since food and accommodations in Peru are relatively cheap. The Inca Trail ranges between $350-$500 if you book in person, and more if you book online.
If you go with one of the other trails, you will pay closer to $160-$400 per person. These prices include entry fee, guide, hostel/camping, all meals and the return train ticket to Cuzco.
Roundtrip airfare to Lima or Cuzco from the US can be as low as $400 if booked in advance. Between late April to early June is the best (and most affordable) time for the trek.
Along the Way
While the scenery changes from lush humid jungle to steep rocky terrain, the natural beauty is surreal and exciting to explore. You'll wander through small villages and balance your way around the edge of cliffs.
The people you will meet and the places you will see make for an authentic and endearing experience. Tour groups sizes typically range from five to ten people and consist of fun, easy going trekkers and evenings filled with beer, cards and good conversation. It's not impossible to acquire life-long friendships.
At the Top
The final assent to the top is available to all visitors, both trekkers and people who came by car or train. A steep flight of stone stairs provides quite the challenge and takes approximately an hour and a half to complete. If you have bad knees, you'll prefer to take the 20 minute bus ride up and down.
The best time to reach the peak is around 6:30 am, just in time for sunrise, which means if you're hoofing it you've got to be up by 4 a.m. in time for breakfast before starting your workout. While you'll reach the top most likely sweaty and out of breath, you'll gain an intense feeling of accomplishment and a glimpse of what Inca life up top was like.
So pack your bag and book your flight. These ancient ruins are quickly becoming endangered with limited access to the public. The best time to do something you've dreamed of is now, and few things in life are as awe-inspiring and rewarding as trekking to Machu Picchu.
Stephanie Katz is currently exploring the world and seeking adventure wherever she can find it. You can follow her journey at postcardsfromtheopenroad.blogspot.com