Machu Picchu – Route Options and Recommendations

machu-picchu-trekking-optionsAlthough the Inca Trail is by far the most popular route to Machu Picchu, there are other options.

Sometimes we just want to get away from the crowds and find our own path. The Inca Trail requires you to be accompanied by a licensed tour company and also requires a permit and, whilst this suits many people, others want to go it alone!

We have therefore put together a little list of the possible other route options available. We’ll also conclude by quickly mentioning the Inca Trail itself.

Alternative Machu Picchu treks

Huchuy Qosko – 3 days, 20km trek: This is a relatively easy and short trek that is best attempted between May and September. It offers up great scenery and the Huchuy Qosko ruins a well worth a look.

Choquequirao – 9 days, 69km trek: This is the longest trek up to Machu Picchu and is best attempted in the dry season between May and September. The Choquequirao ruins are a great thing to see and this particular trek can be shortened or lengthened depending on energy levels. Read more about Choquequirao.

Lares – 4 days, 33 km trek: This little trod trek is a great way to get away from the crowds! You’ll be able to immerse yourselves in the local culture and get up close and personal with the locals.

Salkantay – 5 days, 55km trek: This is a fairly tough trek at high altitude. Like the Lares trail, the Salkantay trail is one of the least busy treks to Machu Picchu. The reward for this tough trek is getting up close to Nevada Salkantay.

Junge – 4 days, 60km (cycle) 15km (trek): Great trek for the thrill seekers as it has a super-fast downhill cycle track! Also includes a zipwire and rafting if that’s your cup of tea!

Vilcabamba – 5 days, 62km trek: Probably the toughest trek to Machu Picchu, the Vilcabamba trail is for experienced backpackers and offers up incredible scenery!

The Inca Trail Variations

Classic – 4days, 45km trek: The Classic trail is of course the most popular. Great for people with a sense of history as this was the original pilgrimage trail when Machu Picchu was a functioning site. Includes a lot of steps! Remember to book early as permits sell out months in advance!

Short – 2 days, 13km trek: Ideal for the trekker looking to understand the Inca Trail without so much of the effort.

Salkantay (combo) – 6 days, 65km trek: The ultimate option! Combining both treks to make a beautiful trail that flows through the ancient trail and also the mountains.

Here’s a packing list for the Inca Trail –

Click here for a recommended Machu Picchu tour operator.

Lesser-Known Things to Take on the Inca Trail

inca-trail-equipment-listThe Incas constructed an elaborate network of almost 25,000 miles of trails in order to to connect their mammoth empire that reaches from Quito in Ecuador to Santiago in Chile and Mendoza in Argentina. You can travel along a 26-mile stretch which is widely regarded as one of the best treks in the world and encompasses the important Incan archaeological sites of not only Machu Picchu but also Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna. This trek has grown increasingly popular in the last 30 years. Access to it is strictly controlled – the number of permits available has been limited to around 200 a day for tourists since 2001. If you attempt this venture, there are some less well-known items you should bring.

Sleeping in the company of others, you may well find yourself reminded that some people snore, in which case you would rather have earplugs, particularly if you are a light sleeper. A blow-up pillow will increase your comfort in return for little packing space. Sleeping with a hat on will prevent your body from losing heat.

Some cash will be required for pay-to-use toilets, to tip the porters and guides and purchase snacks. The need for snacks will arise due to your burning much more in the way of calories than usual and the opportunity to satisfy it will present itself as you pass small villages. You will surely feel the need to tip – those people carry and set up tents, amongst other things, and cook three meals a day and prepare a snack. Porters should be awarded $15 per day. Bills larger than $20 will not be accepted. There are ATMs in Cuzco and Aguas Calientes, but precious few, so it would be wise to obtain cash before arriving to begin your trek.

With soap and water not readily to hand, you should take hand sanitiser. A travel-sized pack can be clipped to your backpack. You will already have become aware of the need to always have toilet paper, even for restaurants, and the consideration is even more important given that you will often be using the “Inca toilet” – the bushes. It is pretty much expected that you will take some from the last hotel or hostel in which you stay.

Many people do not consider it until it comes to pass, but a blister on your foot can drastically curtail your joy. Unaddressed, this issue will only get worse. Hence you should take some form of blister treatment. You might be able to prevent this situation if you break in your shoes before hiking.

You will find many uses for a smartphone – as an alarm clock, to take pictures and to provide music, which works wonders against tiredness. One use you will certainly not have for your phone is phoning, as there’s no reception. Bear in mind that you will have no electricity for at least four days.

Your knees are generally asked to cope with flat surfaces. This will not be the case on the Inca Trail, where you also have increased pack weight and may be active for longer than you are used to. People often suffer discomfort in this area. Knee supports – either an athletic support or just a bandage around the knee – can be useful. They should only be employed if you need them, because otherwise, the knee grows accustomed to external support and can be weakened.

You will make use of a good torch to locate your belongings in your tent and to make potentially perilous trips to the toilet after dark, which will involved walking on steps or uneven, muddy banks. Chemical toilets tend to be perched precariously on slopes.

Finally, some brief points: you will need plastic bags for rubbish and to protect your belongings. At midday, the sun can be harsh, so you should have good quality sunscreen – cheaper variants get cakey. At high altitudes, the sun can be strong even if it does not feel very hot. Bring something to read in the evenings. You will most assuredly not be gathering around the campfire, as fires are not permitted.

Here is a complete Inca Trail Packing List.

Trekking to Machu Picchu – How to avoid the crowds?

machu-picchu-treksFor the vast majority of people, Machu Picchu is the principal feature of any holiday in Peru. With its name meaning “old mountain” and coming from the mountain to its south, it was originally constructed by the Incas in the 15th century, going undisturbed by the invading Spaniards and falling into disrepair. It was rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, a professor of Latin American studies at Yale University. It retains many of its original features to this day and is one of South America’s most impressive sights as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Machu Picchu sits in a saddle betwixt two lushly-forested peaks, 7,970 feet above sea level. Its elevation could be to make it less prone to the landslides that are highly common in the valley below and allow a clear view of the three different valleys, which would have been strategically useful. Of course, the views garnered from the site are most beautiful, and the Incas would have appreciated them just as much as you will.

Machu Picchu’s inaccessible location only serves to highlight its impressiveness. It covers 116 square miles, while the state of Liechtenstein is only 62. Unless you are walking the Inca Trail, one of the 10 best trekking trails in the world, a train from Cuzco or the Sacred Valley will deposit you in the valley below, whereupon you take a bus along the windy road that cuts into the side of the mountain.

You can partake of the city’s streets, temples, staircases, delicate gardens and complex system of aqueducts. Entry costs around £37. It is wise to stay overnight at Machu Picchu or the nearby village of Aguas Calientes to enable you to return to the site in advance of the multitudes of day trippers. Almost 2,000 people come every day.

Two of Machu Picchu’s most striking features are the Intihuatana stone and the Royal Tomb. The Intihuatana stone is a carved pillar with a square stone base whose corners point to the four cardinal points – north, south east and west. It shows when the equinoxes occur. The Royal Tomb is believed to be where sacrificial and burial rituals were performed, and over 100 skeletons have been found there.

Knowledge of Machu Picchu remains sketchy despite scores of studies. Much speculation has been made as to its function. Early in the 20th century, US osteologist – one who studies skeletons – George Eaton declared the skeletal remains found to be 80 percent female and Bingham speculated that Machu Picchu was a city for chosen women with a temple dedicated to the Virgins of the Sun, a holy order devoted to the Incan sun god, Inti.

Now, however, the work in 2000 of John Verano, an anthropologist then employed, like Bingham, by Yale, has shown the gender breakdown to be 50/50. The Andean people are generally shorter and less muscular than the European and African skeletons with which Eaton would have been more closely acquainted. Eaton believed that those skeletons that were of children were the product of “indiscretions” by the virgins.

Machu Picchu could have escaped the Spanish because the large numbers of natives working for them and willing to aid them in any fashion were unaware of its existence. This was perhaps because its was one of the royal estates of Pachacuteq in the middle of the 15th century and would have been abandoned after his death. Alternatively, it could have been known only to the Inca elite.

Here is some great information on the Machu Picchu Trek and check out these tour options from Private Expeditions.