A travel bucket list would not be complete without a trip to the Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu, which is possibly one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites. It is not only the 15th century site and its Inca architecture which gives the destination its deserved place on our Best Trips in Latin America for 2015. The dramatic location of Machu Picchu perched on a 7,972ft mountaintop offering spectacular views of the surrounding Sacred Valley of the Inca. Few travelers come to South America without making the unforgettable trip to Machu Picchu and for adventurous travelers, the challenge of the high altitude; multi-day and legendary Inca Trail through the Sacred Valley adds a unique dimension. As Machu Picchu’s popularity continues to soar, the government and UNESCO’s limited entrance numbers can create complexities when deciding when to start planning your trip to the Lost City of the Incas. To help you decide, here’s a guide to the different options available for planning your perfect visit to Machu Picchu.
♦ How to get to Machu Picchu
The Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu is located 69.5 miles northeast of Cusco in southeastern Peru. Typically the easiest or rather the less strenuous way of reaching Machu Picchu is taking the Vistadome train from within the Sacred Valley or Cusco to the town of Aguas Calientes located at the foot of Machu Picchu. Boarding the Vistadome train from the Sacred Valley to Aguas Calientes shaves 2 hours off what normally is a 4-hour journey from Cusco, beginning at the most beautiful part of the stretch, leaving from Ollantaytambo. The Vistadome train has a glass viewing dome, with large windows allowing you to see from the peaks of the Andes as they fall down into the flowing rivers on the valley floor, all from the first Class comfort of your seat. Alternatively, there is one of the world’s best hikes, the Inca Trail with the most popular option being the classic 4-day Inca Trail Hike. Showing off numerous sights and Inca ruins along the way, you’ll hike through the Sacred Valley before reaching the spectacular destination of Machu Picchu.
♦ When to go to Machu Picchu
So whether you’ve decided to take the Inca Trail or the train to Machu Picchu, the next thing to do is to consider when to go. During the month of February, the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance; however you can still visit Machu Picchu by taking the train or perhaps one of the other walking routes such as the Salkantay Trek. The most popular time to visit Machu Picchu is between May and September which are the driest months of the year but it is still possible to visit the archeological site throughout the rest of the year. The shoulder months either side of the driest period in Peru (March-April and October-November) are warmer with fewer crowds as during these months, there is a higher probability of some rainfall.
♦ You better be quick as there are limited numbers
The Peruvian Government regulates the number of visitors allowed on the classic Inca Trail to 500 hikers per day which is typically broken down to about 200 travelers and 300 guides and porters. You need to book the Inca Trail and any visit to Machu Picchu in advance with a registered travel company like, Encounter Latin America. We highly recommend doing so at least 6 months in advance as entrance permits are given on a first-come first-served basis and by booking well in advance you are more or less guaranteed your favored departure slot. By booking early we are also able to include the limited number tickets to scale the secret surrounding mountain of Machu Picchu known as Huayna Picchu which provides a spectacular aerial view of the ruins.
♦ What to pack for Machu Picchu
Whether hiking the Inca Trail or taking the train to Machu Picchu, there is some basic essential items which you cannot leave home without. Make sure to have a pair of closed-toe, sturdy hiking boots for trekking along the Inca Trail or while exploring the rugged paths of Machu Picchu. Bring sunscreen and lip balm as the high altitude of Machu Picchu makes it easier to get sunburnt and chapped lips even if it’s just for the time you are at the ruins. Come rain or shine, zip-off hiking pants are perfect for the unpredictable weather at Machu Picchu as well as a rain jacket which you can easily put in your backpack when not using it. With 2014 being the year of the selfie and the trend looking to continue into 2015, relive all the wonderful sights upon reaching Machu Picchu by not forgetting your camera, additional batteries and memory sticks. We also recommend taking with some binoculars to help you spot wildlife flying above the ruins and roaming the Sacred Valley below. Check out travel tech writer, Dave Dean’s article on keeping your gadgets charged on the Inca Trail for more hints and tips for your visit to Machu Picchu.