Hiking the Historic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu


Sure, you could zip up to Peru's premiere tourist attraction via train or helicopter, but you'd miss out on the ancient ruins and dizzying high-country views that make this Andean region so famously magical. Whether you hire porters or lug everything yourself, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is not for the weak of leg or lung, but for those willing to endure the three- to four-day hike, there is no substitute for the experience. The 25-mile trek from the sacred Rio Urubamba valley to the ancient city crosses suspension bridges, penetrates deep valleys and high-cloud forests, and climbs arduous mountain passes—three above 12,000 feet.
The Llactapata ruins are the first stop for most Inca Trail travelers; a vast fortress clinging to the hillside, the site offers sweeping views along the winding Cusichaca and Urubamba rivers. Trekkers scale Warmiwañusca (Dead Woman's) Pass, the highest point of the trail (13,773 feet), then descend to the ruins of Runkuracay for a panoramic view of the valley below and the pass behind. Farther on, check out the flower-filled Aobamba Valley from the Sayacmarca ruins, perched on a rocky spur, as well as the intriguing ceremonial baths, complete with running water, in the restored town of Phuyupatamarca. Intipunku, the "Gateway to the Sun," is the last stop before the main attraction. Arrive at dawn to catch the sun's rays illuminating the features of Machu Picchu on the ridge below.
A labyrinth of temples, stairways, terraces, and houses, the well-preserved city of Machu Picchu was constructed without the benefit of modern technology—or even the wheel. Built to be nearly invisible and inaccessible, this miracle of engineering lay hidden from the world until 1911. Get a full-day pass for U.S.$20 and lose yourself in the maze of mysteries that have kept this ancient Incan city such a mysterious, surreal, visually overwhelming destination.

Published: 31 May 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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