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April 30, 2010

Great Walks of the World: The Inca Trail, Peru

By Guest Blogger

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Classic view of Machu Picchu
VIEW FROM THE TOP: Machu Picchu (Ted Stedman)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post is part of a series profiling ten of the world's great long-distance walking trails. Thanks to The Wayfarers, with over 25 years experience out in the field, for their help in compiling these recommendations.

Such is the popularity of this enigmatic jungle mountain trek to the Inca's sacred and mysterious city of Machu Picchu that hikers are no longer allowed to tackle it independently. Instead, they must be part of an approved group that generally includes porters, a guide, and a cook with tented accommodation, including a dining tent. Each walker must also have a trek permit. Only 500 permits are issued each day, and 300 of these are for the guides and porters of the trekking companies. Advance booking is therefore required, and this is most safely done six months in advance for the May to September high season. Three days altitude acclimatization in Cusco (11,200 feet) is also recommended to ward off acute mountain sickness in preparation for the trail, with a high point of 13,800 feet. Though the trek is only 28 miles long, it commonly takes four days, cramming in an intriguing mix of the Incas' man-made roads, tunnels, agricultural terraces, and buildings and nature's spectacular cloud forests, lush, sub-tropical jungle, and stunning mountain vistas. The normal start of the “classic” trail is at kilometer 82 on the railway from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Challenging (but do-able for the reasonably fit) ascents and descents are the order of the next three days, culminating in the memorable and moving climax of Intipunku, the Inca's Gateway to the Sun, which provides the first picture-framed look of the lost city of Machu Picchu.

Walking vacation experts since 1984, British-founded and -owned The Wayfarers offers hiking vacations with an emphasis on culture and fitness, exclusive entrées into homes and gardens otherwise closed to the public, graceful accommodations, outstanding cuisine, and meetings with local residents. Walks are rated easy to energetic and span 14 countries, ranging from 5 to 12 days. The Wayfarers is proud to be a member of Trusted Adventures, an alliance of independently owned and operated small adventure travel companies recognized for their mission to provide the finest active vacations around the world.

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