Travel in Latin America
Machu Picchu, the so called “Lost City of the Incas”, has become a classic “see before you die” sight since it was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century by the American explorer Hiram Bingham. It is an unforgettable place - a set of excellently preserved Inca ruins perched on top of a mountain in the middle of the Peruvian Andes.
Machu Picchu is visited by almost a million people every year, and though the site is accessible by bus from the local town of Aguas Calientes, many people choose to trek the Inca Trail to get there. If Machu Picchu is one of the most famous historical sights in the world, the classic Inca Trail is one of the most famous treks; a four-day walk following an ancient Inca roadway and passing through a number of other Inca ruins before your first mesmerising glimpse of Machu Picchu from the ‘Gateway of the Sun’.
Sound exciting? It can be the trip of a lifetime, but if you are considering the trek to Machu Picchu, here are four things to be aware of...
In recent years, the Peruvian government has imposed tight restrictions on Inca trail treks in an attempt to lessen damage and erosion of the route and ease overcrowding. Only five hundred people (including porters and guides) are allowed to begin the trail each day, and you are required to book a permit to walk there. This means you typically need to book a place several months in advance, especially if you intend to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in peak season (between June and August.)
Get in shape
While it is only a four-day trek, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is quite physically demanding, with high altitude passes and long days of hard walking. You don’t need to be a hugely experienced trekker to walk the Inca Trail, but some trekking experience and a decent general level of fitness are recommended.
When they try and trek the Inca Trail, far too many travellers fly straight in to Cusco from Lima and immediately start the trail. This can be a serious mistake, as Cusco itself is at over 3000m, and the trail itself goes even higher. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to acclimatise to the altitude. If you are flying straight into Cusco, it is a good idea to spend a little time at a lower altitude to give your body a chance to adjust, perhaps by taking a tour of the Sacred Valley before your Inca Trail trek.
Take the right equipment
Any reputable tour company will be able to provide you with a list of equipment, and some may even offer to rent equipment to you. As a bare minimum, you need some broken in hiking boots (trainers are not recommended!), several layers of warm clothing, a waterproof jacket or poncho, water bottle, good quality sleeping bag, and daytime trekking clothes. You may also want to take a pair of trekking poles - the stone staircases on the Inca Trail can be hard work on your knees!
Tip the porters
When you trek the Inca Trail, it is likely that most, if not all, of the camping and cooking equipment will be carried by local porters (pack animals are now banned from the trail). The treatment of the porters varies from company to company - some are well paid and well looked after, while others are definitely not. That’s another reason to go with a reputable company, who are committed to responsible tourism and have an established policies and practices regarding porter care.
Interact with your porter as much as possible (bringing some coca leaves as gifts is a good way to show your appreciation), and keep an eye on how the porters are treated - make a complaint after the trip if you feel that they have been hard done by.
Make sure that you bring some money to tip the porters at the end of your Inca Trail trek. The amount that you should tip varies with the quality of service, of course, but it is generally recommended that you bring between £25 - £35 in dollars or soles to cover the tips for your cook, guide and personal porter.
Jude Limburn Turner is the Marketing Manager for Mountain Kingdoms, an adventure tour company who have run Inca Trail treks http://www.mountainkingdoms.com/machu-picchu-inca.ihtml for many years. They now offer treks and tours worldwide, including destinations in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central and South East Asia.