One of the best trips I have done in South America was with friends, walking the Inca Trail into Machu Pichu. I have been in Machu Picchu for many occasions, but the Inca Trail trek is one not to miss. Of course, trekking is not for everyone. So here are a few tips on the different ways to explore Machu Picchu.
Did you know that there are ancient Inca trails or roads in Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Peru? The whole network of roads and paths is estimated to cover 25,000km. Some of these Inca roads are still used in remote parts of the Andes. There is even a road that can be traced from Quito all the way south to San Pedro de Atacama. This road is called “Qhapaq Nan”.
Visiting Machu Picchu ruins can be done in one of four ways.
First, a day trip by train, which we don’t recommend, because today visitors can either enter in the morning or afternoon with limited time to explore, then you have to exit to catch the bus back down the hill to the town of Aguas Calientes.
The second way is to stay overnight in Machu Picchu village and book two entries to the site.
The third way is to enter the site through the Sun Gate Intipunku. For that WOW-moment, catch the train to km 104 and start your trek of 5-6 hours walking. You will walk through the ruins of Winay Wayna to get to the Sun Gate. As soon as you reach the Sun Gate look down at the splendour of ruins.
But the best way to explore Machu Picchu is to walk in on the four-night five-day trek. Just like the Incas did!
I generally don’t recommend the 3-night 4-day trek as it’s way too fast and crowded. There is so much to do and see along the trail. And if you are going all the way, better make it the best trek to see it all.
The Inca Trail Discovery Trek
On this extended trek, you stay at different campsites from the standard options. This makes the evenings more relaxed, and you are less likely to encounter ‘traffic jams’ on the trail in the mornings. To acclimatise on my trip, we stayed in Ollantaytambo village in the Sacred Valley for three nights. And to prepare we did lots of local walks and short treks to the granaries and quarries.
On the first night of the Inca Trail, we camped at km 88 beside the Llaqtapata ruins, so we had 4-nights at low altitude. The next day we started our walk up to the second campsite increasing the altitude, then up and over Dead Woman’s pass at 13780 ft /4200 metres. From here, it was all “downhill” so to speak. It was, indeed, a fantastic walk and experience.
The last night on the trail was at Phuyupatamarca, known as the village above the clouds. Walking down from there was the hardest for me as we had to trek down the mountain along oddly carved and a worn-out, knee -jarring stairway. We walked through the Sun Gate late afternoon. We were speechless by the experience as the feeling of achievement and then seeing the ruins below us was just incredible. Better still, at about 4 pm, there were hardly any people around!
Throughout the trek, we were well looked after with hot breakfasts, comfortable tents, picnic lunches and 3-course dinners. I’m not sure how they did it! The porters and the guide were wonderful. We also had an older Incan shaman that knew about the history, the mountains, the food, the flora and fauna. He enriched our experience with all his knowledge.
Want to visit Machu Picchu?
Perhaps you’re not sure if you can manage the trek and you want to talk to someone who has firsthand experience? Or maybe you are tossing up between the Vistadome and Hiram Bingham trains? Our team of Travel Specialists have visited Machu Picchu in every possible way! So we can guide you through the options until we find the perfect way for you to experience this magical place.