If I asked a group of adventure travelers about the highlights of their recent Peru trip, I can guarantee that I would hear a wide array of stories, about views from high mountain passes, to walking under magnificent towering peaks or through steamy jungles and cloud forests. For others it might be the impressive ruins or unique cultural experiences they enjoyed.
The fact is, we all have unique perspectives when we travel, and we all enjoy different aspects of an adventure. So when I say the words "Machu Picchu Trek" to you - what that means may be already imagined in your mind - or it may not yet be defined.
There are so many things to see and do in Peru, and lots of options to choose from, leading to the question "if I want to trek to Machu Picchu, what options do I have for getting there?".
Adventure lovers can have an absolute blast in a land so jam packed full of contrasting landscapes. For many Peru visitors their journey begins in Cuzco, the heart of the Inca Empire where most people spend the first part of their trip hiking past Inca fortresses, over stunning mountain passes on the way to Machu Picchu. Other popular choices include cycling through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, where you can get up close and personal with Peruvian wildlife, or sea kayaking across Lake Titicaca to isolated reed island villages, to spend time with indigenous families.
The wide scope of experiences on offer gives you a complete and comprehensive immersion in Peru, and one you’ll never forget!
One very popular trip for people who want to enjoy a full immersion in everything Peru has to offer is the 'Jaguar' trip, run by Active Adventures. The 'Jaguar' has been described by many, as an action packed, multi-activity adventure, including a trek to Machu Picchu. The 'Jaguar' captures everything the stunning and beautiful country of Peru has on offer. You can be sitting on top one of the mountain passes in the Andes one day, and walking through the steamy pathways of the Amazon jungle another.
There are three 'Jaguar' options: 14 days, 10 days and 7 days. Apart from the Machu Picchu Trek, there are other activities that returning guests rave about, including:
- Hiking in the Amazon jungle
- Kayaking on Lake Titicaca
- Staying with a local family on Amantani Island
- Hiking Sacsayhuaman Fortress
- Hiking and cycling in the Sacred Valley of the Incas
- Exploring Cuzco
- Cycling through Andean villages and La Raya Pass
- Hiking Amantani and Taquile Islands on Lake Titicaca
Here's a sneak peak at the Machu Picchu 4 Day 3 Night Trek, part of the 'Jaguar' adventure:
Day one: Arrive in Cuzco and hike the Sacsayhuman fortress.
Your days starts in Cuzco, the heart of the Inca Empire. You’ll be greeted by your trek leader with a cup of hot coca tea, a local Peruvian speciality. This warm and soothing beverage will also help your body gently acclimatise to the Andean altitudes.
After lunch, it’s time to set off for a walk around the fascinating ancient ‘mini-metropolis’ of Cuzco. This is the largest surviving fortress city of the Incas, and is a fascinating stop in its own right on your way to Sacsayhuaman fortress.
Sacsayhuaman fortress is a magnificent archaelogical site. Its impressive design was inspired by Jaguar's teeth, which you can make out in the arrangement of its massive and precisely fitted stones, each weighing up to 130 tonnes. This was the place where the Incas made their final stand against the Spanish conquistadores. You can stand here and imagine this scene as you enjoy the view from the fortress overlooking the Plaza and Cuzco valley below.
The actual purpose of Sacsayhuaman is still not known, some speculate that it was a sanctuary and temple of the sun, others summise it was a granary, and yet another more gruesome theory is that the old Inca King would play football here with the heads of his enemies. Whatever the truth, you’ll enjoy hearing many legendary stories like this that have intrigued locals and visitors alike throughout the centuries.
After your visit to Sacsayhuaman, you can take a further walk though the streets of Cuzco and absorb all the vivid colors, sights and sounds of the local markets. You can sit and take in the vibrant atmosphere of the town square, or stroll down the many ancient stone-clad alleyways. As you walk, try and spot the animal forms in the architecture of the hand built giant stone 'puzzle' walls. Later, you can meet up with your group for an evening meal.
Day two: Cycle Sacred Valley, Visit Pisac market and hike Pisac ruins.
Today you will head into the lush green Sacred Valley. Jump on your bike and cycle through this green fertile region enjoying beautiful scenery from local villages, surrounded by the massive green slopes of the Andes. Next is a brief stop in Pisac, a small town that hosts the colourful mercado arsenal, which you'll have time to explore. From here there is a spectacular hike up to the Pisac ruins. The Inca terraces, these ruins look down on, rise up 610 metres (2000 feet) from the river at their base. Yes, it’s a heart pumping hike, but the views of the ancient terraces on the trail, combined with the view of Pisac and the Urubamba valley make it very rewarding! After wandering around this ancient complex, it’s time to make your way down the Inca-built stairs to where you depart for the trip back down the valley to Cuzco. It’s a great warm-up day for the next phase of your trip, the Machu Picchu Trek.
Now is the point where you head off on your trek, having chosen from two options for your route to Machu Picchu, the Inca or Lares Trail.
When booking your Machu Picchu Trek, you can choose from two 4 day/3 night options, the Inca Trail or Lares Trail. Both options will take you through the magnificent Andean wilderness and give you an authentic view into the indigenous Peruvian culture that is still thriving throughout the highlands. If you like ruins, then choosing the Inca Trail has a wide range of structures along the way, if you prefer a closer look into Peruvian culture in the small villages dotted along the trail (and a slightly less physically challenging trip), then you may prefer the the Lares Trail. Many locals along the Lares trail have very little contact with tourists, so you'll get to enjoy the most authentic Peruvian cultural experience with descendants of the Inca! If you are going to choose the Classic Inca Trail, keep in mind, that tickets are very limited, so you will need to book well in advance.
Option One - Machu Picchu Trek via The Classic Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is by far the most traveled route to Machu Picchu. This is probably because of the vast array of ruins you can encounter along this trek. Some say it is a more 'commercial' way to go because locals are so used to seeing tourists. This doesn't mean you will miss out on absorbing the Peruvian culture, but it is justified to say that that the Inca Trail is the most well worn track the Inca literally paved more than 500 hundred years ago, and by western visitors for the next 500 or so years. No matter which route you take, you will leave with a sense of wonder and awe, at the scenery and the ruins, but with an understanding - or curiosity - about the legends and little extra side trips you'll be taken on if you travel with the right guide(s). This adds another complete dimension to your trip.
Day One: Hike through the Sacred Valley Of The Incas
Leaving Cuzco, this leg takes you through the Sacred Valley of the Incas to begin your trek at Piscachucho, otherwise known - by the locals, as Kilometre 82. From this point you follow the Rio Cusichacha river. The river is flanked by huge Andean peaks, Inca ruins and segments of dry forest. You’ll stroll though a couple of small villages along the way, stopping for lunch before making your way to the first camp at Pisonay for a sumptuous feast where you can enjoy a rest in your new surroundings, ready for the next day's adventure.
Day Two: Hike the Inca Trail to Pacamayo
Get ready for an amazing day with a cup of hot coca tea and good hearty breakfast! Today is the day for a challenging but rewarding trek up 914 metres (3000 feet) to reach Warmiwanusqa - or Dead Womans Pass as an altitude of 440 metres (14,435 feet). As the name suggests this is an exhilarating trail that winds its way up through a spectacular mountain pass that rewards you with a magnificent panoramic view of the Andean scenery below. Now is the time to pull out your camera if you are inclined, and capture the expansive view to share with your friends and family back home. Yes its a challenging hike, but the full unobstructed view in all directions makes it worth every step!
After catching your breath and taking in the beauty of the whole region, you will make your way down over 500 year old Inca paved steps to the Pacomayo Valley for another stay and well earned feast after your days walk!
Day Three: Hike the Inca Trail to Winay Wayna
Today Peru ups the wow factor with even more stunning scenery. As you walk down through yet another change of scenery, through humid cloud forest, you will emerge to the captivating sight of several Inca fortresses. As you travel on further you will notice as you pass by many more ancient ruins, the increasing presence of colourful floral blooms on your way to the the next camp. Once again you’ll enjoy stunning views at the last point you will stay at before entering Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate the next day.
Day Four: Hike to Machu Picchu
After breakfast, and before the misty dawn, you hike via the morning light for around an hour to Inti Punku, or the Sun Gate. This is the perfect place to wait for the sunrise, and watch the morning fog lift away for your first peek at Machu Picchu. It’s a special moment in a very magical place to just sit and enjoy, before making your way into Machu Picchu for a day of exploration.
Option Two - Machu Picchu Trek via The Lares Inca Trail
The Lares trail is less publicised as an alternative trek to the Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu. It is a trek that takes you on an exploration of the wilderness, and gives you a more immersive experience in the local indigenous culture as you travel through numerous settlements, past lakes, and around the Lares Valley.
It is a physically less challenging trek, and so if you're more interested in the cultural aspects of Peru than the physical challenge its a great choice. That doesn't mean the Lares trail won't also allow you enjoy beautiful landscapes and interesting ruins to take home in your memories. There are still plenty of gorgeous and equally memorable natural and archaeological discoveries to make along the way.
Day One: Hike Lares Trail to Cuncani
Depart from Cuzco and arrive at the town of Quiswarani to begin your hike alongside raging Andean rivers, lined by hillsides dotted with llama stretching up to towering snow-capped peaks. Continuing on you walk up and through the beautiful Hualcajasa Pass then back down to the camp situated in the tiny town of Cuncani. This is just one of many small communities you will visit in the Lares Trail, populated by the descendants of the Inca. It's one of many opportunities you will get to experience the mostly unchanged and unique culture of the people who still continue with many of the same customs as their predecessors did 500 years ago. You'll be greeted with a hot cup of coco tea, as by now you may have guessed, is customary in Peru.
Day Two: Hike Lares Trail to Ipsaycocha Lake
Starting your day with a hearty breakfast following your hot cup of coca tea, you'll head off down in to the Chancachaca Valley. On the way down the valley your senses will be treated to picturesque views along the valley floor.
Next is the small village of Huacawasi, a small village where you can stop for lunch, before heading off for a traverse over the Ipsay Qasa Pass. Again this is another place you can enjoy incredible panoramic views, this time looking down over the alpine terrain. From the top of the pass, you can catch your first glimpse of the 5600 metre (18400 feet) high Mount Mantanay. The trail then leads back down via a short hike to Ipsaycocoha lake, where you can have a go at catching local trout to compliment your evening meal.
Day Three: Hike the Lares Trail to Ollantaytambo
From the lake the trail drops down into a gorgeous valley to arrive at the village of Patacancha. In this quaint village you will see children dressed in colorful red ponchos, a traditional style of dress worn with white pants and colourful hats. The children are often seen herding alpacas and llamas around the village.
Next you arrive at Ollantaytambo, where you can't miss the brilliantly engineered and constructed terraces strung along the steep mountain sides, where local farmers grow crops. The next place you stop is for lunch at either Pallata, or Ollantaytambo, a town with cobbled streets lined with traditional thatched roofed houses. Walking around this town is like being transported back half a millennium to Inca times.
From here you catch a train to Aguas Calientes, a colorful village with a mild sub-tropical climate. Here you can enjoy a delicious Peruvian meal to replenish your energy store in readiness for tomorrow's big hike up to Machu Picchu.
Day Four: Visit Machu Picchu
Today is the big day, when you walk up to the ancient site of Machu Picchu departing right after a nice early breakfast.
At the site of Machu Picchu you will meet up with your local guide who will be your host showing around this fascinating citadel. They will explain some of the legends and myths surrounding machu picchu carried forward by generations of Inca, as well as some of the later theories from archaeological discoveries made in more contemporary times.
You'll have the chance to explore the many passageways and stone buildings on your own, and if you arrived here via the Lares Trail, you might also like to visit the Sun Gate.
So there you have it - a preview of what you can expect on either the Inca Trail or Lares Trail options on the Machu Picchu Trek section of the 'Jaguar' trip. Of course there is a lot more to see and do in Peru, both destination and activity-wise. Check out some more options here.
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