The place we now know as Peru was once the capital of the great Inca Empire. Built around the Andean mountain range, with Cusco (now Peru) as its capital, the area was the center of the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The civilization, with its rich culture, was destroyed in the 1530s by the Spanish Conquistadors.
Years on, the magnificent temples and pathways, many of them now ruins, provides a glimpse into history. Each year thousands of curious and adventurous travelers descend on the continent to begin an arduous trek along the very same mountain pathways created and traveled by the Incas, each eager for some small insight into how this magnificent people lived and worked.
There are easier options. A luxurious train can whisk you straight to the ruins to ensure you get that selfie with Machu Picchu in the background. The best way to experience the beauty of the landscape is to walk in the path of these ancient warrior people. There is a reason why the trek along the Incan trails tops many people’s bucket list.
The Inca trails must surely be the greatest gift that the Incas have given walkers. These trails are a system of pathways which covered tens of thousands of kilometers running down the west side of South America.
From a huge assortment of Inca trails, the more famous mountain trekking trails include the Huayhuash Circuit and Ausangate Trek to geological absurdities like the Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons. In recent years more alternative trails to Machu Picchu have become available. These include the Lares trek and the Salkantay trail, and the more strenuous 8-day trail from Cachora via Choquequirao to Machu Picchu. In fact – you should read the complete trekking guide before visiting Peru.
There are some areas to avoid, such as the Shining Path where guerrillas are known to conduct occasional operations. Other areas that border Ecuador and Colombia should also be avoided as this is drug country.
Most known is the classic Inca trail. It is so popular that the numbers are normally restricted with permits that you need to obtain prior to going on your trek. Due to the large numbers of potential trekkers, it is advisable that you book at least a month ahead to ensure your spot on the tour.
This trail remains a feast for the eyes. You pass Inca monuments along ancient pathways that range from paved stones to dirt trails, while trekking past ruins alongside the banks of the Urubamba and soaring ice capped peaks and valleys covered by forests and lagoons, until you end at Machu Picchu. The route is not all easy. The Dead Woman’s Pass, with its highest point at 4 200 meters above sea level, and the Runcuray Pass, before descending towards the Sun Gate can be extremely dangerous and challenging. Be sure to select a tour operator that makes use of skilled local tour guides who know the area by heart.
Before going on the trek to Machu Picchu it is well advised to spend a few days acclimatizing to the altitude. The trek is physically exhausting, and altitude sickness has brought many an over-eager tourist’s journey to an abrupt end. You can stay at hotels that are run by charity organizations where the funds earned are reinvested in the area and its people.
Besides the classic Inca trail, there is another great alternative trek to the lost city of Machu Picchu – the Mollepata/Salkantay trail.
Between the months of June to August the air is dry and it can get very cold up in the mountains. The rest of the year gets progressively wetter and warmer. During the months of December up until May it is still possible to visit the upland, although it will be very humid and the frequent heavy downpours will make your trek a rather muddy experience.
There is a trail for every age and fitness level. Walking on the steps created by this lost civilization, breathing in the mountain air, and taking in the magnificence that once was, the Incan trail will continue to attract and inspire tourists for years to come. This is one item that can and should be crossed off your bucket list.
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