Arguably the most iconic world heritage site on Earth, Machu Picchu has been a source of wonder and intrigue for years. Originally constructed as an elaborate estate for the 15th century emperor Pachacuti (whose name literally means "earth-shaker") in Cusco, Peru, Machu Picchu and the famed Inca Trail remain a symbol of civilization lost. The Incans were the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.
Abandoned after only 100 years, its demise is assumed to be a result of the Spanish Conquest of the Americas, but is more likely the result of a series of deadly small pox outbreaks brought on by foreign tourists. The site is believed to have immense religious significance and is referred to as "sacred geography" because the surrounding mountains hold high religious importance in the Inca culture and the previous land occupants. Symbols of worship to various deities, most notably Huacas the sun god remain evident throughout the land.
Hiking the Inca Trail
Today, Machu Picchu is the most visited destination in Peru and one of the most visited tourist attractions in all of Latin America. Rated one of the top 10 hikes in the world, in just 26 miles the Inca Trail manages to combine beautiful mountain scenery, lush cloud-forest, subtropical jungle and a stunning mix of Inca paving stones, ruins and tunnels. While there are thousands of "Inca Trails," over 40,000 kilometers to be exact, the most classic route takes four days and starts at km82 (82 kilometers along the railway from Cusco to Aguas Calientes) and treks into the mountains passing the ruins of Llactapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna before finally arriving at Machu Picchu for a breathtaking sunrise on the fourth morning.
Know Before You Go
The Inca Trail is rated as moderate so any reasonably fit person should be able to complete it, yet you need to be prepared to acclimate to the altitude. Reaching a height of 4200 m, it's highly recommended you arrive in Cusco at least two days prior to starting the hike so your body can adjust. There's plenty to do during the pre-trek though and you should definitely make a point to visit the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, Q'enko, Pucapucara and Tambomachay, and explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the Pisac market. There are both shorter and longer versions of the trek (7 days), but whichever you choose, do your homework because all tour operators are required to have certain permits to access the sacred area and we don't want anyone to be the victim of a scam. March-December is the best times to go weather-wise.