Contrary to popular belief Machu Picchu was not just a lone city on top of the mountains, but the most important center and command post of a complete region in Inca times. There’s no better way to realize this than by hiking along the old road now known as the Inca trail and experience all the ancient remains of Inca culture you will pass along the way.
Though only about 26 miles in total length, because of the crossing of three mountain passes and a maximum elevation of almost 14,000 ft, the classic route will take you a little over 3 days, whereby most groups try to arrive at Machu Picchu early on the morning of the fourth day to catch the sun rising over the imposing ruins of the city.
Since 2002 the number of travelers who can start the Inca Trail each day has been brought back to around 200 to protect the fragile remains and nature. This means that you can nowadays only go in pre-booked groups (or are added to one on the spot) of around 10 to 16 people depending on the organization. Especially during the high season from May to October it’s a good idea to book at least 6 months in advance if you want to be assured of specific days to fit your schedule. The trail is closed every February for conservation work.
The first day of the trek usually starts at either kilometer 82 or 88 from Cusco at about 9,000 ft above sea level with a relatively easy day to get used to the terrain with a total climb during the day of only around 500 ft. With porters carrying most of your gear, this should be an easy day for almost everyone.
The second and third day are a lot tougher since you have to climb up and then descend from 3 mountain passes, with the Dead Woman’s Pass at almost 14,000 feet on the second day being by far the most difficult one. All in all though, when you finally come up on Machu Picchu itself at first daylight, you will surely agree that this has been one of the most impressive experiences in your life and that it has all been more than worth it.
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