Make for Machu PicchuCusco/Aguas Calientas
If you go to Peru, but don't visit Machu Picchu, did you really go? We're all for getting lost (pun intended), but there are some destinations, that no matter how well trodden, are simply too epic not to witness or experience.
Located on the border of where the soaring Andes meet the lush Amazon Jungle, Machu Picchu is an immense and jaw-dropping archaeological site. Built by the Incas around 1450 AD, it was occupied for a just over a century before it was abandoned when the Spanish Conquest arrived. In fact, the Spanish never discovered it during their time there. I wouldn't be uncovered again until one fateful day in 1911 when Hiram Bingham, an American historian, would stumble upon it – more than 350 years later. Since then the ancient Incan estate has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the most popular attraction in Peru, if not in all South America. Better still, your journey there can be experienced two ways – take the scenic train ride or embark on the hiking trail to reach its magnificence on Intrepid Travel's Inca Trail Express.
Sitting among the clouds and often shrouded in mist, the site has a mysterious otherworldly quality and, despite its popularity, rarely feels as crowded as many other similar archaeological sites around the world given it's spread across such a large area. This makes it easy to get around and really take it in without feeling the need to move on or rush through it.
A local expert guide will give you the history of the site (the local llamas that live here also make it easy to imagine what life was like in this incredible city in the clouds). A guide is a must as, unlike other sites, there are no markers or plaques explaining the significance of each area, so your options are a flimsy pamphlet or a knowledgeable and passionate local who knows the area inside out and will ensure its an depth and enjoyable experience (plus, who wants to be reading when they could be looking anyway?) A visit here isn't just about seeing though, it's about feeling and wondering and imagining – and this part of it? That's an experience you can't buy.
- Nothing can prepare you for seeing this place with your own two eyes
- Watching the sun rise over the extraordinary site and learning all about the history imbued within this ancient place
- Getting that perfect photograph is going to be ACE
- Altitude sickness is very real side effect of journeying here and, while getting fit beforehand will help you with the walk itself, it can strike anyone. Keep hydrated, look out for any other symptoms and alert your trip leader if you are not feeling well
Located almost 80 kilometres from the beautiful city of Cusco, Machu Picchu is accessible by train or, for the more active traveller, a range of treks can be undertaken, including the four-day Classic Inca Trail with Intrepid Travel. The town at the bottom of the site, Aguas Calientas, is a picturesque town and worth spending a night in before getting up bright and early to visit the site itself.
- Taking the train? Aguas Calientas has a range of hotels in town across all star ratings, many cafes and restaurants and a bustling local craft market for all your souvenirs. There is just one hotel located at the entrance to the site itself which is a five-star property.
- If trekking, you’ll need to join a tour as there are a set amount of porters per person, a rule set by the government. You’ll depart from Cusco, and all camping gear and food is provided whilst trekking (no showers and only camp toilets on trek)
This journey is part of Intrepid Travel’s Inca Trail Express tour, which starts from US$905.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) or altitude sickness is a real concern in most of the area, therefore it’s recommended that passengers spend a few days acclimatising in Cusco before trekking or heading to Machu Picchu (as Cusco is almost 1000 metres higher than Machu Picchu). It is also important to wear DEET insect repellant at Machu Picchu given its proximity to the Amazon. The area does get mosquitos and Peru is a malaria and yellow fever region. In addition, the site itself has many steps, often high or uneven, so can prove challenging for those who haven’t gotten their fitness up to scratch or anyone with mobility issues – though, rest assured, this will not prevent you from visiting, you will simply need to wear appropriate footwear and take it easy. The trek is for the fit only and requires moderate fitness to be completed.