Machu Picchu, Peru

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Cover photo by David Stanley. (CC BY 2.0). ISBN 978-1-988944-29-6.

Huayna Picchu - David Stanley. (CC BY 2.0).

Machu Picchu is the site of an ancient Inca city, high in the Andes of Peru . Located at 2,430m (8,000 ft), this UNESCO World Heritage site is often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas". It's one of the most familiar symbols of the Incan Empire and also one of the most famous and spectacular sets of ruins in the world. A visit to Peru

would not be complete without seeing it, but this can be very expensive and crowded.

Understand

History

These remarkable ruins became known to the scientific world in 1911, after the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham was led to the site by locals. Perched dramatically 1000 feet above the Urubamba river, Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site . It is also the end point of the most popular hike in South America , the Inca Trail . The story of Machu Picchu is quite a remarkable one; it is still unknown exactly what the site was in terms of its place in Inca life. Current researchers tend to believe that Machu Picchu was a

country resort for elite Incas. At any given time, there were no more than 750 people living at Machu Picchu, with far fewer than that during the rainy season. The Incas started building it around 1430AD, but it was abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. One thing that is clear is that it was a remarkably well hidden place, and well protected. Located far up in the mountains of Peru, visitors had to travel up long valleys littered with Inca check points and watch towers. Remarkably, the Spanish conquistadors missed the site. However, many people are said to have knowledge of the ancient city as it was referred to in some text found in the 20th century; even so, it was not until

Bingham that Machu Picchu was scientifically discovered (he was on a trip sponsored by the Yale University, actually looking for Vilcabamba, the last Inca hideout). Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Since it was not plundered by the Spanish when they conquered the Incas, it is especially important as a cultural site and is considered a sacred place. Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry- stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These are located in what is known by archaeologists as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. In

September 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of artefacts which Hiram Bingham had removed from Machu Picchu in the early twentieth century.

Landscape

Flora and fauna

Both are abundant and varied. Typical plant life in the historic reserve of Machu Picchu includes pisonayes, q'eofias, alisos, puya palm trees, ferns and more than 90 species of orchids. The fauna in the reserve includes the spectacled bear, cock-of-the-rocks or "tunqui", tankas, wildcats and an impressive variety of butterflies and insects unique in the region.

The lay of the land, the natural surroundings and the strategic location of Machu Picchu lend this monument a fusion of beauty, harmony and balance between the work of the ancient Peruvians and the whims of nature. There are a few ways to reach Machu Picchu:  Hike the Inca Trail (you need to book months in advance in high season, there are only 500 spaces available per day [1] and you cannot go independently)  Hike another trail — for example, the Salkantay trek that finishes in Hidroelectrica or Santa Teresa (see below), or the Choquequirao trek Get in

Machu Picchu - Marrovi. (CC BY 3.0).

(from Choquequirao to Santa Teresa).  There are tour operator agencies to organise an adrenaline trip to Machu Picchu: biking, rafting, hiking and zip lining. This is usually marketed as the Inka Jungle trek to Machu Picchu .

 The Lares Trek is a high altitude trek

Train from Cuzco or Ollantaytambo , either on a day trip, or overnighting in Aguas Calientes . Overnighting allows you to visit the park early or late in the day and avoid the worst of the crowds, and on sunny days, gives you a nice window of reprieve from the beating sun. Don't forget sunblock. Train tickets are probably the most expensive in the world (by distance). A one way ticket from Ollantaytambo will set you back USD55-80 and from Cuzco even more. There is a luxurious service that can cost as much as USD700 . Peru Rail (Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes) is a concession run by foreign investors; so much of the money does not stay in Peru. (Some people

take this into account when they choose their way to get to Machu Picchu.) Inca Rail (Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes) is a concession run by Peruvian investors. Advance train bookings are recommended, as trains are often sold- out, particularly return trains. Minibus to Hidroelectrica through Santa Maria and Santa Teresa (altogether around PEN40 one way, allow 6-7 hours, you might have to change in Santa Maria and/or Santa Teresa). Then you can walk along the railway from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes (free, 2.5-3h) or take the train (USD28 one way). If you go for this option, ask around agencies in Cuzco as it might be cheaper to buy a package that includes the trains to and from Hidroelectrica, buses from Aguas Calientes to MP,

minibuses between Hidroelectrica and Cuzco, accommodation in Aguas Calientes and the ticket to MP. The package might be cheaper than going independently, although you will be less flexible once you buy the package. The wet season in Peru is from November (often only really taking off in December) until the end of March, so then it is best to include a few extra days for flexibly dealing with delays. From Aguas Calientes, there are two ways to reach the ruins: by bus (USD18 for a return ticket, with each leg taking 20 minutes) or walking (free steep hike), as described below. Depending on when you arrive, the site may be quite crowded or nearly deserted. The busiest periods are in

the dry season (June-August), with the slowest being in February, the height of the rainy season, when the Inca Trail is closed. Most visitors arrive on package tours and are in the park between 10:00 and 14:00. All visitors must leave Machu Picchu by 17:00 To access the site, you must have a ticket (128 sol / 65 sol for students with ISIC card) for Machu Picchu - which are available online in advance (see Fees/Permits below for more details) or from various ticket offices described on that website, including one across from the town hall in Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu tickets are NOT sold at the entrance gate and are limited to 2500 per day, with entrance to Huayna Picchu and Montana Machu Picchu each being further limited to 400.

During peak times of the year, tickets can sell out days in advance.

By train to Aguas Calientes

There are a number train companies operating to Aguas Calientes, the end of the line, most of which start from Ollantaytambo. If you are travelling from Cusco, you have three main options. Take a minibus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo (roughly 90 minutes), stay the night, then take a morning train to Aguas Calientes, arriving in Macchu Pichu relatively early (around 9am) 2) Take the minibus to Ollantaytambo, and get straight on a train to Aguas Calientes, and stay the night there. In the morning you can get an early bus up to Macchu Pichu avoiding the later crowds. 3) You can also do a (long) daytrip from Cusco,

Machu Picchu - Danielle Pereira. (CC BY 2.0).

but getting a very early bus to Ollantaytambo, then a train to Aguas Calientes around 9am. You’ll arrive in Macchu Pichhu around 12 noon. You can then either get a late train back, then minibus to Cusco, or stay in Aguas Calientes or Ollantaytambo. 4) Take the very expensive Belmond Hiram Bingham train, which runs from near

Cusco directly to Aguas Calientes. This service is timed to offer day trips from Cusco. Overnighting allows you to visit the park early or late in the day and avoid the worst of the crowds, and on sunny days, gives you a nice window of reprieve from the beating sun. Don't forget sunblock. However, it can be quite foggy in the morning, especially in the rainy season. Ollantaytambo is small, and a good option for a night before an early train. Aguas Calientes is much larger, busier and noiser, but also have a much larger range of hotels and restaurants. Train tickets are probably the most expensive in the world (by distance). A one way ticket from Ollantaytambo will

set you back USD55-80 and from Cuzco even more. There is a luxurious service that can cost as much as USD700 . Peru Rail (Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes) is a concession run by foreign investors; so much of the money does not stay in Peru. (Some people take this into account when they choose their way to get to Machu Picchu.) Inca Rail (Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes) is a concession run by Peruvian investors. Advance train bookings are recommended, as trains are often sold- out, particularly return trains but you can typically get a last minute booking on the extremely early morning train. The final train of the day from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo arrives around 11pm. There are normally plenty of taxis and minibuses waiting for

customers to drive back to Cusco, where you’ll arrive around 1am. Make sure you don’t take too long to get off the train, as there is normally a mad scramble to get going ASAP. Alternatively stay in Ollantaytambo. Whilst train fares are high, service is generally good both at offices, and on- board. Even the cheapest class of train includes a drink and snack, and the trains are clean and comfortable. Whilst at the stations, you may see less comfortable and very busy trains full of people. These are for Peruvians only (mostly workers in Aguas Calientes). The fares are tiny in comparison to the tourist trains, but without a Peruvian ID card, you won’t be sold a ticket, or be allowed on board. There are ID checks for all passengers on all trains when

boarding. In Aguas Calientes, make sure you proceed through the manned gate to the tourist waiting room, and not to stop or join the queue for the locals train to your left when entering the station. If arriving by train into Aguas Calientes, walk out of the station and keep going roughly straight through the warren of handicraft stalls and over a foot bridge to the bus departure area. Frequent buses leave to the ruins (USD10 one way or USD19 for a pair of one way tickets), for adult foreigners) starting at 05:30. There's often a queue, so if you're intent on being on the first bus up, you should arrive at least 90 minutes early. The journey takes around 1/2 hour to slowly wind around the switchbacks and up to By bus from Aguas Calientes

the park. Buses depart when full, which typically means they run quite regularly. At popular times, there may be a lengthy queue for the buses and a lengthy queue to buy bus tickets, so plan the return trip accordingly in order not to miss train departures. On foot from Aguas Calientes From Aguas Calientes to get to the ruins themselves it is also possible to walk along a similar 8km route that the buses run, which will take about 1- 2 hours up, and around an hour back down. This route is mainly stairs, connecting the switchbacks that the buses take. It is a strenuous and long hike but is very rewarding, recommended to start around 05:00 when the gate at the bridge opens (it takes around 20 minutes to walk from

Machu Picchu — the ancient city of the Inca Empire - airpano.

Aguas Calientes to the bridge (where a checkpoint is in place to verify that hikers already have entrance tickets), so there is little use in starting from Aguas Calientes earlier than 04.40), to make it to the top before sunrise. The descent is fairly easy, just take care when the steps are wet. Keep alert for the bus drivers that rarely brake for pedestrians.

On foot via the Inca Trail

Hiking the Inca Trail is a great way to arrive as you first see the city through the Sun Gate (instead of arriving from below as you do from Aguas Calientes). Both the four-day and two-day hikes are controlled by the government. Travellers should be fit enough to walk for days and sleep in tents. Every traveller needs to travel with a tour agency because of the rules and regulations of entering the park. Some of these approved tour agencies: Tierras Vivas , Cusi Travel , Llama Path, and Adventure Life.

Alternative treks to Machu Picchu

There are also other options available for hiking to Machu Picchu. This is important to know as the Inca Trail hike

is limited in the amount of people that can go on it each day, including porters. As such, there is a much steeper price on that trek and it is necessary to book far in advance to get a place on the dates you will be there. Two other optional trek options, but equally as good, are the Salkantay trek and the Inka Jungle trek to Machu Picchu . Most, if not all, tour agencies in Cuzco offer these. The Salkantay trek is a 4-5 day trek through the Salkantay Mountain Pass (4600m, mind the altitude!) and can also be done independently if you have the gear and some experience. The scenery is amazing and if you go in the rainy season you will be rewarded with dozens of waterfalls.

Though, at the same time, you will be wet for the most part anyways. The Inka Jungle trek to Machu Picchu is an alternative and adrenaline hike to Machu Picchu. The Lares Trek is a high altitude trek; you will appreciate the Andean Lifestyle, the classic colourful ponchos, Llamas, Alpacas and stone thatched houses. If you don't have much time to hike the Inca Trail 4 days and there aren't any spaces available now they are 200 spaces per day for the 2 day Inca trail and they don't sell out completely. Other alternative trip to Machu Picchu is by car, but the "backdoor" route they use is also an option for independent travellers wishing to go- it-alone. Minivans and buses are cheap (PEN15-

30) from "Terminal Santiago" in Cusco and take you to either Santa Maria or Santa Teresa. Santa Maria is further away from Aguas Calientes than Santa Teresa but is a nice option for those wishing to hike an alternative Inca trail used locally. The walk takes you through the mountains and tiny villages, even people's farms and offers impressive views of the valley. You can end up in Santa Teresa the same day and there are villages, such as Huacayupana and Quellomayo en route which offer an alternative view of local life and accommodation if you don't make it to Santa Teresa that day. Walking on from here to Santa Teresa is along the river (May - November) and by road during rainy season, although it is advisable to get advice before taking this route

between November and April due to severe weather, but be very careful. From Santa Teresa to Hidroelectrica is a 25 minute taxi or minibus ride and from here you can walk 3 hour flattish trek to Aguas Calientes which is one of the nicest parts of the journey. The Peruvian government has imposed a 500 person pass limit per day on Inca Trail traffic. Passes do sell out far in advance, particularly for the high season. Travellers must have a valid passport in order to purchase a pass at the time of reservation. Many local tour operators have since opened up alternate trekking options that allow for similar trekking opportunities in the area. Most visit other Inca ruins, not as well excavated, and finish with the train trip

Machu Picchu - Peru.

up to see Machu Picchu at the end. One such option is the Choquequirao Trek, which starts in Cacharo and ends in Los Loros or the Cachiccata Trek which starts in Racca and ends in Cachiccata.

Fees/Permits

Machu Picchu ticket:

Machu Picchu (MP) entrance only. s/152 for foreigners, with discounts for children and students with an ISIC card (s70. All non ISIC cards will be refused). To buy your tickets: 1. The current fee schedule and online tickets should be available at the official government website and Reservation, payment then ticketing. Unfortunately, the reservation page only works properly in Spanish (not in English) so make sure you click on the Espanol flag before you click Step 3. Online payment can only be made using VISA (not MasterCard) and has a processing fee of s5 but you can pay at a Banco de la Nacion from ticket offices listed on that website. It is a 3 step process:

branch with no processing fee. All you have to do is show the teller your reservation, your passport and hand over the cash. They will give you a receipt but the website should update automatically confirming your payment. You must pay within 3 hours of making the reservation. Once you have made payment you then go back to the website and click Check-in to print your ticket. 2. You can also buy and pay your ticket directly at the ticket office in Aguas Caliente (open 05:30 - 20:30) or Cusco (as of March 2016 the office is located next to the Plaza Regocijo, at the corner of the street Garcilaso, in front of the Choco museum. Closes around 19:30) but NOT at the Machu Picchu entrance.

Only 2,500 people are allowed to enter Machu Picchu each day. The government website http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/ lists how many tickets are available for each day. In the low season it shouldn’t be a problem and you should be able to buy your ticket at the last minute. During high season it fills up quickly and you might need to buy your ticket in advance. The number of visitors climbing each of the mountains is restricted to 400 a day. Huayna Picchu is not as high and easier and therefore more popular. Tickets for it might sell out more than a week in advance in high season. Montaña is higher and more difficult, but the views are actually better. Tickets for it sometimes sell out. You can check

the availability for any, at any time on the website. When preparing your budget, do not forget to include train tickets and bus tickets. Officially, you are not allowed to bring food inside, but no one checks backpacks. If you bring it in a transparent plastic bag, they will ask you to store it at the entrance. Officially, disposable plastic bottles are not allowed either, but no one seems to care about this. Again, it is best to carry everything in the backpack. In the rush at the entrance they don't have time to check everyone. Students get a 50% discount of all entrance tickets. You need to show an ISIC card. Non ISIC cards are usually

refused. You can try to argue but good luck, they don't really care! - The staff, especially at the ticket office in Aguas Calientes, can be quite arrogant and they really want your money anyway. Most hostels can sell entry permits and bus tickets. Don´t buy them at the travel agency at the Ollantytambo train station, as they don´t actually sell you tickets, but a receipt that you need to give to a person to get your tickets, you´ll end up running all around Aguas Calientes looking for this person. Be sure to bring your passport, as it is requested upon entry. There's a popular stamp booth as you exit where you can prove to your friends you've been there, although it is technically illegal for the citizens of many countries to mark their

Machu Picchu - Peru .

own passports.

Only small packs are allowed in the park (no more than 20L), but there is a luggage storage at the entrance mostly used by Inca Trailers.

Get around

There are no vehicles of any kind in the

park, bring some comfortable walking shoes, especially if you plan to do any of the hikes such as Wayna Picchu. No walking sticks are allowed, but this rule is rarely enforced. The main ruins are fairly compact and easily walkable. See Take your time walking around the site, as there are many places to see and explore. Although it is not necessary, taking a guided tour does provide a deeper insight into the ancient city, its uses, and information on the geography of it. Keep in mind that relatively little is known about the history and use of the ruins, and some of the stories told by the guides are based on little more than imaginative hearsay. Guides always wait at the entrance and cost PEN120 for a

group.

 Sun Gate ( Inti Punku ) – if you've just arrived via the Inka Trail, this will be your first experience of the ruins. Others can backtrack from the ruins along the trail and up the hill. From here you can see back down each valley offering excellent views. Its a  fairly strenuous hike (probably 1-1.5 hours each way) but well worth it. If you catch the first bus from Aguas Calientes and head straight here you may be able to reach it in time for sun to peek over the mountain and through the gate.  Temple of the Sun – Near the summit of the main city, the stonework on the temple is incredible. Look closely and you will

see that there are a variety of stone walls throughout the city. Most are rough stones held together with mud, the common stone walls found throughout the world. But many buildings or parts of buildings are done with the more distinctive and impressive closely-fit stonework. The temple is the absolute pinnacle of this technology. Observe it from the side, descending the stone staircase in the main plaza.  Intihuatana – A stone carved so that on certain days, at dawn, the sun makes a certain shadow, thus working as a sun dial. From Quechua: Inti = sun, huatana = to take, grab: thus grabbing (measuring) the sun. (pronounce 'intiwatana')

 Temple of the Three Windows  Main Temple  Temple of the Condor – The tour guides will try to tell you that this was a temple, but look closely: between the wings of the condor is a chamber with grooves cut in the stone to secure manacles, a walkway behind where a torturer may have walked to whip the prisoners' backs, and a scary looking pit to let the blood of prisoners drain. Clearly the condor was a symbol of cruel justice, but a sanitized version is told for the benefit of middle- aged tourists and their children.

Do

If you have some energy in you, there are a few great hikes involving a bit of

legwork. Do make sure that you've taken the time to acclimate to the elevation either in Cuzco or Aguas Calientes for a couple days before exerting yourself too much, especially on Wayna Picchu.  Wayna Picchu . Towering above the south end of Machu Picchu is this steep mountain, often the backdrop to many photos of the ruins. It looks a bit daunting from below, but while steep, it's not an unusually difficult ascent, and most reasonably fit persons shouldn't have a problem. Stone steps are laid along most of the path, and in the steeper sections steel cables provide a supporting  handrail. That said, expect to be out of breath, and take care in the steeper portions, especially when

Machu Picchu - Peru.

wet, as it can become dangerous quickly. There's a tiny cave near the top that must be passed through, it is quite low and a rather tight squeeze. Take care at the peak, it can be somewhat precarious, and those afraid of heights may want to hang out just below. The entire walk is

through beautiful landscape, and the views from the top are stunning, including bird’s eye views over the whole site. There are also a few ruins near the top. If visiting these ruins, you'll see a second way to start making your descent down the mountain, along some very steep and shallow steps. These steps are a bit dangerous if wet, but the hike may be well worthwhile. This hike is one of your best bets for getting away from Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu crowds. Note 1: you need a specific, more expensove ticket to climb it. Note 2: Only 400 people allowed per day to climb the mountain, split into two groups. Group one enters 07:00- 08:00 and is told to be back by 11:00. Group 2

enters around 9- 10am.  If you have some time at hand, or long for a sparkle of solitude, you can also walk to the Moon Temple ( Templo de la Luna ) and the Great Cave ( Gran Caverne ). It's a long walk and adventurous hike involving several ladders. Some may find that the sites aren't really rewarding, but unexpected wildlife can be seen (wild spectacled bears have been reported). This hike is also quite interesting because partway through you leave behind the mountain terrain and enter a more conventional forest. The caves can be reached either by hiking down the trail from the peak of Waynapicchu (which includes some semi-harrowing but fun near-vertical descents) or by the

split from the main Waynapicchu trail (look for the sign that says Gran Carern). Remember that it is much easier to descend from Waynapicchu than to ascend from these temples. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks for this long hike. The hike from the summit to the caves and back to the checkpoint takes about two more hours. Eat Officially, you are not allowed to bring any food or plastic bottles into the park, and must check these in at the luggage storage at the entrance. In practice, however, bags are rarely searched, and most people have no problem getting a bottle of water and some snacks in with them, which you'll definitely want,

especially if you're planning to stray from the central set of ruins. Buy these beforehand, as they're much more expensive at the site itself. Don't even think of leaving a shred of trash behind you. The concession stand near the entrance of the site is appropriately overpriced given their captive audience. Once in the site, there is no food or drinks for sale, though it is possible to leave and return.  Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant , Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, ☎ +51 84 21 1039/38, [2] . 11:30-15:00. A casual lunch buffet. The food is decent and

the restaurant quite busy at peak times. A discounted train + buffet ticket is available on certain trains

from Peru Rail. USD40.  Tampu Restaurant Bar , Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. 05:30- 09:00, 12:00-15:00, 18:30-21:30. Open to hotel guests only, also expensive prices. Due to the fact that this is a protected park, further construction in the area is nearly impossible. Thus, there is currently only one expensive hotel at the site itself. Almost everyone who wants to stay overnight near Machu Picchu books a hotel in nearby Aguas Calientes .  Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge , ☎ +51 84 21 1039/38 ( res- mapi@peruorientexpress.com.pe ), [3] . This superbly over-priced hotel is the only option for sleeping at the Sleep

park. There are two restaurants on site, and 2 suites that have partial views of the ruins. It's located just outside the ticket booth. Prices vary from USD500 to over USD900 per night, and includes all full 3 meals, internet and TV. Machu Picchu is a world heritage site, very popular, very well marketed and indeed situated in a place of exceptional natural beauty. This is where the good news ends. On the other hand, it can be extremely expensive to visit (most of the time you will be treated as a walking ATM), it can be very crowded, very touristy, much of the staff around the site and in Aguas Calientes look like it's a long time since they last smiled and they Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu - Peru.

can be very arrogant. Many people therefore choose not to visit. Below are some alternatives. If you are interested in Inca ruins, try those around Cuzco , Ollantaytambo and the excellent Choquequirao . If you still go to Aguas Calientes, but decide not to pay for the entrance to Machu Picchu, you can climb Cerro Putukusi (highly recommended

even if you visit MP), right next to Aguas Calientes (1-2h up, 1h down) to get fantastic views of the site and the surrounding nature. Also, the branch of the Salkantay trek that ends in Hidroelectrica, has good views of MP from further away and some ruins, where you can camp and enjoy the view to MP. The Inca trail is one of the most popular treks in Peru and South America . It starts from Chillca and follows a route to Machu Picchu , The Lost City of the Incas. The Inca Trail

Understand

Many countries have mountain ranges with beautiful scenery and Peru itself is richly blessed in this respect with many other areas for hiking. However the

scenery is only one of the elements responsible for the magic of the Inca Trail. Can there be any walk anywhere in the world with such a combination of natural beauty, history and sheer mystery and with such an awe-inspiring destination? The various ruins along the way serve to heighten the hiker's sense of anticipation as he or she approaches what would surely find a place in any new list of archaeological wonders of the world - Machu Picchu. Walking the Inca trail can be very rewarding and is possible for all ages as long as you are fit. Over the course of the Trail, you gain and lose 1000 meters several times, all of which is over 3000 meters where oxygen is noticeably thinner. Acclimation to the altitude is a must, with generally a minimum of 2

days advised before starting the hike, and good physical condition advised. The journey winds through the valleys and hills of the surrounding area, taking you through the scenic landscape, from high alpine to cloud forests. Many agencies operating from Cusco offer organized hikes along the trail, providing most of the equipment (tents etc.) and people to carry it. Also, don't forget that the trail ends at Machu Picchu. When you hike the Trail, you get to descend from the Sun Gate (Intipunku), and it is recommended to reach the Sun Gate at dawn to see Machu Picchu before the busloads of tourists show up around 10AM. The trail is scattered with ancient monuments and Incan sites and is

definitely worth the effort.

Since 2001, the Peruvian government has instituted a quota system on how many travelers can be on the trail on any given day and the permits now sell out months in advance for the high season. Permits for the entire current year usually become available at the beginning of January. Availability can be checked at the Ministry of Culture - Cusco Region website [1] . You must book with an authorized tour operator well in advance of the date when you wish to walk the trail, as it is not allowed to organize the trek yourself. Don't expect to pick up last-minute cancellations either, as tour organizers must register client passport numbers with the government, and they are strictly checked at control points on the

Llama on Machu Picchu - Alexandre Buisse. (CC BY-SA 3.0).

trail. The Inca Trail is part of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary, a protected area of 32,592 hectares, managed by the National Institute of Natural Resources, INRENA. Every visitor must obey park regulations that prohibit littering, cutting or damaging trees, removing or damaging stones

of ruins and the Trail, removing plants, killing animals, lighting open fires or camping in the archeological sites (only authorized campsites can be used). When to go Cusco has a Andean climate with year round temperatures fluctuating between 14-16°C, with warm days and cold nights. The rainy season in Cusco is from December to March. Machu Picchu has a semi-tropical climate, with warm and humid days and cold nights. The rainy season in Machu Picchu is from November to March, so be prepared to get soaked and slippery trail conditions. The wettest months are January to April, when roads are often closed by landslides or flooding. The

best months for visiting Machu Picchu are from April to October. The High season is June to August (book well in advance). The trail is closed in February for maintenance and to clean up the garbage left behind (please do not litter when hiking the Inca Trail), and because the rain makes it too dangerous to open to the general public. What train to take Beware: your return train ticket from Machu Picchu will have a large impact on how much time you can spend there and whether or not you have time to climb Huayna Picchu at all. When you are booking an Inca Trail ticket from home, the time of your train is probably

a very low priority item. You are probably assuming that someone else made sure you have enough time to spend at Machu Picchu. But the reality is that trains get booked and your trail operator may buy you a train ticket out of Aguas Calientes at 1 p.m. To make it to this train, you will have to be at the train station at 12:30, which means you have to leave Machu Picchu by no later than noon, which means that you will be there only briefly, and have to leave it when it is the most crowded. Machu Picchu is the best in the first half hour after opening and during the last two hours before closing. Most people are gone after 3 p.m., and the light until 5 p.m. is gorgeous, the heat a little gentler, and you can sit on a patch of grass and soak in the scenery. You do

not want to miss this. It will make Machu Picchu yours. At 10 a.m. Machu Picchu is hot, crowded, loud, and bustling. You will be running around to not lose track of your tour group. At 4 p.m. you can really see it at your own pace, and hang out with the resident chinchillas and llamas. But to do that, you have to take a later train. Keep in mind though, that from Aguas Calientes to Cusco the travel time is about 4 hours, so the later you stay in Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes, the later you will arrive in Cusco.  Vistadome : there is no point in taking Vistadome after ~ 5 p.m. because it's dark, but sometimes service and comfort is well deserved after the strenuous hike.

Booking your Inca Trail

 For 2015, the Inca Trail permits for the month of May sold out the first day they became available (in the second week of January). Permits for certain dates in March and April also sold out quickly. To book permits for March, April, and May, it is best to do so by December, before the permits become available [2] .  Tickets for the rainy season (low season) are generally easier to book. 1-2 months in advance would be sufficient. The rainy season runs from October to March. You can reserve and make your deposit for the Inca Trail with a tour operator even before permits for that year are

Machu Picchu - airpano

available. Although there is no way for the tour operator to 100% guarantee they can get the tickets for you, they should do their best to make sure you get the date you reserved. The worst case scenario if your date becomes filled is that the tour operator would try to reserve a date before or after the one

you wanted.

Preparing for your trip

 At its highest point, the trail reaches 4200m above sea level, so you should spend at least 2 days in Cusco acclimatizing before you start the trek. If you don't, altitude sickness could make your first few days pretty uncomfortable. How to book your Inca Trail: You will need to have an experienced, certified guide when hiking the Inca Trail. Contact your travel agent or tour operator in your country, or use an authorized Inca Trail Trek Operator in Cusco. On the trail

What to take

 Passport  First aid kit  Headlamp/flashlight

 Warm top/bottom for the evenings  Hiking boots; runners are possible if you don't mind them  Getting thrashed by the rocky trail and you have strong ankles  Wash kit, 2L water bottle and water purifying tablets.  Hat, preferably something covering your neck  Cash to tip porters/guides and buy

snacks along the way  Long pants or slacks  Long-sleeved shirts.  Several T-shirts

 Rain wear (you never know when will rain even if it’s the dry season).

 Camera.  Insect Repellent and sun block (sun is always stronger in such altitude).  Personal toilet items.  A light backpack.

 Gloves, scarf, wool socks.  A towel and toilet paper.

Companies

 Llama Path - Santiago was an outstanding tour guide in 2012 with Llama Path  Cusi Travel - Tour operator with projects that give back to local communities  Tierras Vivas - Is a tour operator specialising in Inca Trail tours since 2006  G Adventures - The largest tour

operator on the Inca Trail, helping over 10,000 travelers get there every year

Hiring an extra porter

 Porters require a permit as well and they won’t be available if permits are sold out. Each porter is allowed to carry up to 20 kg (44 lb.) If you request an additional porter, he will carry up to 15 kg (33 lb) of your belongings; the remaining 5 kg (12.5 lb) will be for the porter’s personal belongings. The tips for 'your porter' are part of the shared pool as well - so it's not really the case that you are paying for a porter for yourself. The Extra Porter can be shared between a maximum of two persons. A Porter

(who is a part of the tour price and who is not an Extra Porter) is in charge of carry camping gear, food, kitchen equipment, etc., plus 5 kg of his own personal belongings, which is given by Peruvian law. There seems to be about 1.5 porters per client on the trail, and you'll spend a fair amount of time getting out of their way as they haul all your gear to the next camp. Fortunately, the government has recently restricted the amount of gear tour operators can pile on each porter to 25 kg (including their personal stuff). On many tours you can pay extra for personal porter to carry most of your things, although you will always want a daypack for water, snacks, and clothing. Porters

Partially Restored Inca Buildings - Martin St-Amant. (CC BY-SA 3.0).

A recent documentary chronicling one year in the life of an Inca Trail porter, Mi Chacra [3] , won the Grand Prize at the 2010 Banff Mountain Film Festival.

Costs

Around US$700. If you are paying less than US$400 for the 4 day trip, something is fishy. Make sure your tour

includes the entrance ticket to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu (US$90), and trains through PeruRail http://www.perurail.com/ such as the Expedition ($70-80) or the Vistadome train ($80-90) although the prices may vary from low to high season. Be aware that many companies subcontract tour operators in Cusco, so if you book with a company, you could be going with a completely different company on the ground that may cost more. Companies such as Llama Path, Cusi Travel, and Tierras Vivas are all tour operators, so they have their own guides, equipment, staff and offices in Cusco. When you book with these companies, you know you are going with them. Stay healthy

The tap water in Peru is potable but it is not recommended to drink directly from the tap, so do not drink it. You must either boil the water for five full minutes or drink bottled water. However you can brush your teeth with tap water without causing any problem to your stomach, as long as you do not swallow it. Because you are visiting Andean areas, don't forget to take precautions to avoid altitude sickness. Be sure to try a hot tea or an infusion of coca leaves on arrival at the high altitude. During your first day move slowly and eat lightly, resting the first couple of hours. Also make sure you drink plenty of water. Sample altitudes above sea level:  Cuzco: 3,360 m (11,000 ft.)  Machu Picchu: 2,400 m (7,800 ft.)

 Urubamba Valley: 2,850m (9,300 ft.)  Highest point on the trail: 4,200 m (13,600 ft.)

Alternative Route to Machu Picchu

With the new regulations regarding availability of spaces to do the trek each day (500 permits per day), you might consider trekking to Machu Picchu following a different route. Alternatives are:  The Salkantay trek is up to 75km and doable in three to five days, via Mount Salkantay, and reaches an altitude of 4600 meters. So it requires a somewhat greater fitness than the traditional Inca trail. Salkantay was one of the trade routes for coca and potatoes and passes some recently discovered Incan storage facilities.

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