The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a path every traveller must take at least once in their lifetime. Possibly the most famous panorama and archaeological site on the planet, Machu Picchu is an intricate labyrinth of stone temples and palaces on brilliant green terraces, cradled between two dramatic peaks and surrounded by the all-consuming beauty of the Andes.
The surrounding mountains reach for the skies above as cloud forests give way to sheer cliff faces, sharply descending into the deep canyon and the rushing river Urubamba far, far below. It is famous for a reason – there’s not a soul on Earth who can fail to be impressed by the awesome majesty of this lost Inca city in the clouds.
Our Inca Trail & Machu Picchu trail walks offer something for everyone. From a little extra comfort and super-specialist tour guides to extended trips taking in the best Peru has to offer, find the perfect trip for you below.
What happens when one Irishman takes on the Inca Trail – as a porter?! In 2016, Jarlath McHale took on Peru’s most famous trek, the Inca Trail. In 2017, he went back to complete the same four day route – but this time as one of the porters who so inspired him first time round. Filmed and edited by our own videographer.
The trip was very tiring due to many early starts and very long bus journeys and the high altitude, but oh my goodness it was so worth it. Overall the trip far exceeded my expectations and ranks amongst the best experience of my lifetime.
A challenging first few days over Salkantay pass etc., then a simply beautiful second third as we descend to the Sun Gate and into Machu Picchu itself, then a very relaxing few days sightseeing several amazing towns (Ollantaytambo and Pisac in particular – we only had an hour in Pisac and I’d’ve liked to stay there for an afternoon). The porters on the trip are amazing of course, but the cook was a genius! The most delicious trout in quinoa one night and cooked in a mess tent over a single gas stove…
As with all Exodus trips that I have been on, prepare yourself for early starts and long days. It is not a holiday but more of an adventure so be prepared to immerse yourself in a feast of archaeology and anthropology in order to gain some understanding of the cultures and history of one of the cradles of civilisation. You will explore the diverse geographical regions from coastal deserts, islands, high altitude lakes, the Altiplanos, the famous sacred valley from Cusco, the spectacular Machu Picchu and the depths of the Amazon rainforest. There are an endless numbers of churches, museums, archaeological sites to admire and inform your thirst for knowledge. The Incas, although significant, were not the only civilisation to occupy Peru.
If you are as lucky as we were, Exodus managed to make the earth move for us (4.3 on the Richter scale at Arequipa} and a nearby volcano even elected a new Pope! Later on, they conversed with the gods to allow us to experience a 24-hour rainstorm in the forest- it easily beat the 5inch days I used to see in Wales.
Our driver, Alex, successfully managed the frenetic driving conditions in the cities, Pan American Highway and our ascent into the Andes- I could not work out whether a Highway Code actually exists. At the end of each day, he was also skilled in Acupressure and massage- enough to release any tensions.
Our guide had the unique knack of managing and leading our group to maximise their understanding of not only his proud identity as one of the ‘locals’ but also to find other passionate guides at different intervals to further our understanding of the history of his country. Despite the farmers’ protests towards the end, he still managed to get us to the pinnacle of the trip- Machu Picchu.
Truly an adventure in which you have to immerse yourself.
What makes Machu Picchu so compelling that it draws thousands of tourists here is that it stood forgotten for centuries until Hiram Bingham brought it to the world’s attention in 1911. The Incas kept the secret of its existence closely guarded from the Spanish invaders and no written records exist. To this day, nobody truly knows why it was built.
Theories abound; Machu Picchu is thought to have been constructed perhaps as a site of astronomical significance, an observatory, an important agricultural station, a military fortress, a place of learning, an important ceremonial centre, a royal Inca retreat or perhaps just to celebrate the unspeakable greatness of the natural beauty around it. It is certainly successful at the last.
The site was only inhabited for approximately 100 years before being abandoned. There is no evidence that the Spanish ever reached Machu Picchu, and it is not known what prompted the inhabitants to leave the city. There are still lots of mysteries surrounding this world wonder, but archaeological research continues in search of answers.
The Inca Trail and Sun Gate
While it is possible to reach Machu Picchu by train, most adventure travellers strive to reach these dizzy heights by the power of their own two feet on the Inca Trail. Once you’ve scaled Dead Woman’s Pass, pushed yourself to your limits on the ancient Inca pathways, passed through the mystic cloud forest and countless Inca ruins en route, you’ll be rewarded at the Sun Gate – Intipunku – by the panorama of Machu Picchu laid out before you. Truly one of the world’s most thrilling viewpoints and the only way to see Machu Picchu in its full glory.
Inside Machu Picchu
Those hiking to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail will get their first glimpse of the ruins at the Sun Gate however the ancient main entrance is closer to the citadel, where most of the buildings and other points of interest are located. It’s worth taking a closer look at the stones in order to appreciate the exquisite technique of Incan masonry. You’ll see that all rocks have been precisely cut to fit to one another without the use of mortar, so that the walls would stay up like a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle.
One of the best places where this can be seen is the Principal Temple, the largest building in the entire Machu Picchu citadel, facing the main plaza. Another is the torreon or Temple of the Sun, an elliptical-shaped tower once used for astronomical observations. It is believed to be a sacred place where only high priests and dignitaries were allowed to enter.
Inside the temple there is a rock, which was probably used as an altar. During the summer solstice, the sunrise shines through the temple window on the rock. This is only one of many places around Machu Picchu that were built in accordance with the movements of the sun and the stars, giving further evidence to the Inca’s advanced knowledge of astronomy.
The most mysterious location within Machu Picchu is probably Intihuatana, a huge carved slab of rock found on the highest point of the citadel. Intihuatana means “the sun’s hitching post,” and it is believed that the Inca thought that the stone was what kept the sun in its place in the sky. The rock casts no shadow at all during the two equinoxes. It was probably used as a location for ceremonies to honour the sun and give thanks for good harvests, but not much else is known about its purpose.
Other places worth visiting within Machu Picchu include the Caretaker’s Hut, from which you can get the iconic Machu Picchu shot found on all the postcards; the Temple of the Condor, with a giant bird carved outside; and the agricultural terraces. The latter are the reason why this isolated town– which is located at high altitude and surrounded by steep mountains on all sides– was self-sufficient, and even exported food to other locations within the Inca Empire.
Endangered Machu Picchu
Can ancient monuments like Machu Picchu sustain the impact of 21st-century tourism? It’s a troubling question, especially as scientists have already discovered landslide threatening subsidence on its western side and UNESCO has called for restrictions on the number of visitors taking Machu Picchu tours in recent years. Currently, the international community is keeping a watchful eye on the situation and the Inca Trail already operates responsible tourism policies with restriction on numbers, licensed local guides, organised porter welfare and eco-camping regulations.
Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu
If you want to get the iconic Machu Picchu photo of the archaeological site surrounded by wispy clouds set against a clear blue sky, your best bet would be visiting during the dry season between May and October. But do be aware that early morning mist and unexpected downpours are likely to happen no matter what time of year you choose to travel.
The months of June, July and August are also the busiest in terms of mass tourism. During these peak times it will be difficult to move around the ruins freely. There are likely to be lines everywhere—on the way to Huayna Picchu, for the bathroom, and to access the best photos of Machu Picchu.
April, May, September and October are all good shoulder season months. During this time you’ll find smaller crowds and dry (but still pleasant) weather, with warm days and cool nights. They are probably the best all-round time to travel to Machu Picchu.
Book Your Tour to Machu Picchu Today!
Are you ready to set your sights on this sprawling Inca citadel? Whether you’re hoping to experience Machu Picchu in isolation or as part of a wider journey through Peru, our Inca Trail to Machu Picchu trips are justifiably popular. It’s a good idea to book early to secure your place on the journey of a lifetime.