Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail in Peru

Lonely Planet Travel Editor Tom Hall is on a mission to discover 52 of the most awe-inspiring places to visit across the world. This week he discovers the fabled Inca Trail.

Machu Picchu, Peru

The Lost City of the Incas draws in over 400,000 visitors a year but its impact is no less breathtaking for the attention it gets. Machu Picchu is perched on a mountain ridge in the Peruvian Andes overlooking the Urabamba River and is at such a high altitude that it is often surrounded by cloud. The site is well-preserved and the daily toils of the people who lived here are easy to appreciate.

The trek to Machu Picchu

A significant proportion of visitors to Machu Picchu decide to take the long walk to get here. Despite the Inca Trail’s wild popularity it is not an easy hike.

It takes three to four days to walk the 26 miles of the trail, crossing high passes, following historic trackways used by Incas themselves and pausing at ancient ruins. The final day generally involves an early start to reach Machu Picchu by dawn. The sun breaking over Machu Picchu is for many the most astonishing moment of their time in South America.

Useful tips for travelling on the Inca Trail

This popularity has its downsides. The trail is closed during February, and the rest of the year a maximum of 500 people are permitted to start the walk each day. This means during the May to September peak period getting onto the Trail is impossible unless you’ve booked several months ahead. It also means the Inca Trail is crowded. If you’re seeking solitude, look elsewhere.

Festival of the Sun

If you’re visiting the gateway town of Cusco at the end of June watch out for Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun. This enormous theatrical ritual is the world’s largest Inca cultural celebration and the city is crowded with revellers on 24 June. Hundreds of locals play the roles of Inca Priests, soldiers and nobles in an elaborate ceremony at the Sacsayhuaman ruins above the city.

Planning your trip to Peru

An excellent guide to the Inca Trail can be found at the Andean Web Guide to Peru. The National Tourist Office is also helpful.

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