Walking the Inca Trail to the lost city of Machu Picchu often features on must-do travel lists and it is little wonder why. Machu Picchu is named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site - but words on paper can't do justice to the unbelievable feeling of seeing the site for the first time. Machu Picchu truly is one of the world's greatest feats of construction, and our Explore travel tips below aim to give you more information on how to enjoy your trip to Machu Picchu to the fullest.
Best times to hike the Inca Trail
Peru’s dry winter season runs from May to September, making this an ideal time to trek the Inca Trail. June to August is particularly cold at night, especially at altitude, and lots of layers are essential for taking you from day to night. March, April, October and November are warmer months but there may be some rain. Many people say that September and October are the best months to travel to Machu Picchu - there are fewer tourists, but the weather is warm and mild.
The Inca Trail starts at an altitude of about 2,800 metres and ends four days later at Machu Picchu, at 2,500 metres. You'll hike over the notorious ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’, which at 4,200 metres is the highest point of the trek. The Inca Trail is justifiably famous for its spectacular Andean scenery, with the mountain tops usually snow-capped between June and October. Altitude sickness is something a lot of people worry about, however by walking steadily, keeping well hydrated and drinking coca tea, most people encounter no problems.
Fitness and training
Trekking the Inca Trail requires a good level of fitness but with a little pre-tour training it should be well within the capabilities of anyone who leads an active and moderately healthy lifestyle. Endurance training is essential - walking up hills and climbing stairs are both great ways to get your lower body in shape, and as you will need to carry a daysack each day on the trail, we'd also recommend that you add weight to your hikes to get used to it.
Permits and the 'alternative Inca Trail'
Only about 200 trekkers per day are given permits to walk on the trail, so popular dates sell out months in advance. We recommend that people book the year preceding their preferred trip. Fear not, however, as Explore also offers an 'alternative' Inca Trail route. The Salkantay hike is located in exactly the same beautiful mountainous location as the Inca Trail, but there are fewer tourists and you'll often get the spectacular Andean scenery all to yourself. However, no permits are necessary and you still visit Machu Picchu at the end of the hike.
Visiting Machu Picchu without walking!
If the idea of walking and camping doesn't do it for you, we have plenty of non-hiking trips to Peru, which all involve a visit to Machu Picchu. There are plenty of options to hike with the site itself - including summiting the vertiginous peak of Huayna Picchu.
All of Explore's trips to Peru can be paired with a 3 night extension to the Amazon jungle, which is a perfect way to round off your time in this varied country. After you spend much of your time in the mountains throughout most tours to Peru, it can be a shock to the system to go from the vast open valleys and jagged peaks of the Andes to being enclosed by thick, dense, leafy jungle.
A massive 60% of Peru is comprised by the Amazon, and the Peruvian Amazon is the second largest section of the Amazon Rainforest after Brazil. With Explore you'll generally be discovering the Tambopata ecological reserve, only 30km from Puerto Maldonado on the Madre de Dios River. All journeys into the Amazon start with a boat or canoe trip from Puerto Maldonado town, which is an adventure in itself.
The remote locations of the Amazon lodges mean that electricity is usually provided by a generator, and only available for certain hours of the day. This just adds to the sense of being in the middle of nowhere, and it's a great place to go without technology for a few days.
Part of the joy of an Explore Amazon trip is simply observing the local flora and fauna close up. Caiman spotting by night, observing macaws and parrots at a clay lick, spotting giant river otters and learning about the indigenous uses of the many plants found in the forest are just some of the many wildlife opportunities that you'll have during your jungle experience.