Machu Picchu, the 15th century Incan site in southeastern Peru, is atop most bucket lists when it comes to travel in South America. Rightly so -- the setting alone, on a mountain ridge at almost 8,000 feet, is impressive. When you imagine what it must have taken for the Incas to build those terraced fields and massive stone structures in such a remote location, all by hand over 600 years ago, Machu Picchu becomes all the more remarkable.
Find the Right Path
Of course, you can enjoy and appreciate the ancient Incan city as a day trip from the town of Cusco. However, you can also choose a hike to the foot of a massive 20,575-foot (6,271 meter) glacier, a walk through Andean valleys and villages, and a touch of the Peruvian jungle all by way of what is commonly referred to as the Salkantay Trek. From this route, the Machu Picchu experience becomes more fulfilling and carries even more meaning.
Enjoy an Uncrowded View
The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is not nearly as famous as the traditional Inca Trail. However, we’d contend that this alternative route gives it a run for its money with tough-to-beat glacier views from Salkantay Pass (15,100 feet), the diversity of landscapes that you’ll experience, and fewer people on the trail. Not to mention, the Salkantay Trek provides you more flexibility in planning, as it doesn’t require booking months in advance to secure a trekking permit, as one must with the traditional Inca Trail.
Climb the Wayna Picchu Peak
The final reward for all your efforts in traversing the Salkantay Trek? You can arrive at Machu Picchu just as the gates open, grab one of the limited daily permits to climb Wayna Picchu peak (for great bird’s eye views), and enjoy the early misty hours in relative peace before the crowds arrive.
In these early morning moments, you can sit by yourself in the quiet of a new day and take in the vastness and complexity of a city built into an unforgiving mountainside. By undertaking the Salkantay Trek to get here, it’s not only that you’ve “earned” the view once you arrived at Machu Picchu, but also that you can better appreciate the challenges the Incas must have faced building their city amidst such difficult terrain. In that light, you can truly appreciate the ingenuity and perseverance it took to create Machu Picchu.
About this History Buff
Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott are the husband-and-wife storytelling team behind Uncornered Market, a travel blog focused on adventure, offbeat, and responsible travel. Over 90 countries and eight years later, they are still traveling…and still married.