Hiking Peru's Inca Trail

Amanda Hagar

Hiking Peru's Inca Trail

Amanda Hagar

Peru, heart of the ancient Inca Empire, is one of the most wonderful destinations in South America. With a backdrop of spectacular scenery which stretches from the sun-drenched Pacific coast, high up into the mysterious Andes mountains, and down to the lush wildlife rich Amazon rainforest, this incredible country is proud of its rich cultural heritage and home to some of the most friendly people you could ever meet. Perhaps the jewel of Peru’s rich archeological treasure trove is the high mountain enclave of Machu Picchu. And while most travelers journey to the citadel by train, following alongside the meandering Urubamba River through the Sacred Valley, some choose to make their way on foot following the famous Inca Trail, a 4-Day/3-Night walking adventure. We invite you to take the opportunity to hike this wonderful path and discover for yourself why some call this one of the best journeys in the world.

Lush green forests fleetingly rise from ethereal mists. A veritable Shangri-La extends in all directions as you pass by intricately engineered stone ruins—dramatic architecture built into the verdant landscape. The Inca Trail is an outdoor lover's delight, traversing through several Andean habitats, including cloud forest and alpine tundra, ascending to Machu Picchu, an Incan citadel overlooking the Sacred Valley. Along the way you pass through a mystical cloud forest, where small wizened trees bearded in moss, lichen and hanging vines cover the land, lush colorful plant life dots the terrain. The profusion of biodiversity abounds, from the incredible birdlife to the unusual plants. This distinct environment provides opportunities to glimpse the Peruvian national bird, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, as well as soaring condors, diminutive hummingbirds, and exotic flora. Ferns, orchids, bromeliads and an assortment of delicate and verdant plant life flourish in this environment.

The Inca Trail is actually a section of the vast network of the Inca road system, the most extensive and advanced transportation system in pre-Colombian South America which provided the Incas with an essential means of trade, transportation, and military prowess, and serving to this day as a monument to this great civilization. The Inca Trail is Peru’s best-known trek and possibly one of the most stunning in the world. Archaeological sites, spectacular mountain scenery and lush cloud forest rich in Andean flora and fauna are encountered along the way, and visits to Cusco and Lima round out this Trip of a Lifetime. Hiking the Inca Trail is an amazing experience that offers plentiful birding opportunities, kaleidoscopic arrays of flowers and plant life, breathtaking scenery, cultural incite, historical significance, and a satisfying physical challenge.

Sweeping panoramas make for extraordinary scenery, but the Inca Trail is a full sensory experience that creates a closeness with the environment and nature. Enjoy the music of a burbling stream and chattering birds, inhale the fresh air perfumed with the scent of blooming flowers, reflect on the beauty of luminous starlight set against an inky-black night sky blanketing the valley and mountains, commune with new friends and nature. The Inca Trail provides a great bonding experience with the earth and fellow travelers as you engage in an invigorating and physically demanding challenge.

The immersion in history and culture along the Inca Trail is unmatched and offers a keenly unique perspective from accessing Machu Picchu by rail. The journey allows for thoughtful cultural, historic and connective experiences. Though the trek doesn't pass through villages, the journey with your Peruvian guides establishes opportunities for amazing learning and cultural exchange. The trail also allows you to experience the same perspective of the Incas that traveled here before as you follow in their footsteps and encounter similar sights and sounds en route to Machu Picchu. This perspective and experience provides travelers a significant sense of place, what some describe as spiritual—feel close to nature, the mountains, the wildlife, the history and culture, and fellow travelers, as well as truly take time to experience the destination and deeply appreciate it in a way that most cannot. The archeological sites and ruins that you pass are impressive, incorporating the signature stonework of the Incas—massive blocks fit snuggly together like a jigsaw puzzle, tightly joined without mortar. The sights you pass create an intellectual curiosity that make one into a casual archaeologist, connecting with this powerful civilization and engaging with the descendants of the people that built the impressive Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. The massive architecture and engineering create a sense of awe and mystery.

The trek takes 4 days and includes 3 nights of camping on the trail. Over the course of the hike, the distance covered is 25 miles (40km), however, despite being a relatively short distance, the altitude can be a challenge even for seasoned hikers. Along the journey you will reach an altitude of up to 13,780 feet above sea level, (4200 meters). Our advice is to spend at least two days in the Andes prior to starting the trek to give you the opportunity to acclimatize, especially if you are coming from sea level. Outdoor enthusiasts of all ages who have experience hiking for several hours and camping overnight can make the journey. However in preparation we strongly suggest a few weekend trips closer to home before you go to get used to being outside. To fully enjoy the trail, we recommend you bring binoculars and your camera for spotting assorted birdlife and capturing great shots of panoramic views, and pack a journal to record your reflections and experiences of each day—encountering spectacular flora and birdlife, studying the amazing stonework of the ruins you'll pass, or reveling in your triumph of reaching Machu Picchu, truly the trip of a lifetime.


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