Thursday, 10 March 2011 12:00 AM
This year sees the 100th anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s discovery of the stunning ruins of Machu Picchu. The American explorer and historian’s incredible finding now means that around 300,000 visitors each year are lucky enough to view and explore this historic Incan site, with up to 16 per cent more tourists expected to Peru in 2011 to celebrate this special year.
Framed by Andean peaks and surrounded by lush green forest, Machu Picchu’s temples, streets, staircases and terraces stretch between the surrounding mountains. The fact that the city is still standing today is a testament to the incredible skills of the Incan people.
What’s more, the extraordinary Inca Trail, often described as one of the top five treks in the world, allows thousands of visitors and lovers of adventure travel the opportunity to walk to Machu Picchu in the footsteps of the Incan pilgrims.
Bingham’s incredible archaeological discovery and struggle through the Peruvian jungle to uncover the hidden city has even led to him reportedly becoming the inspiration for adventure movie hero Indiana Jones!
Visiting Machu Picchu
With the intricate maze of white granite ruins and walkways to explore it’s easy to spend an entire day or more wandering through Machu Picchu, enjoying this area of outstanding natural beauty.
If you book a tour then a guide should be included in the price and will ensure you don’t miss some of the best attractions, such as the Temple of the Sun, the Royal Tomb and the Chamber of the Princess.
Keep an eye out for llamas working their way up and down the stairways and the tiny chinchillas and elegant Peruvian Orchids hiding amongst the rocks and trees.
Trekking the Inca trail
One century ago, while exploring the area in search of lost cities and hidden treasures, Bingham battled the altitude, fast-flowing rivers and thick Peruvian jungle to take his first glimpse of Machu Picchu.
Luckily, for those wanting to travel to the city by foot today the path isn’t nearly as treacherous, thanks to the 26-miles of Inca Trail walking route that wind through various religious sites on the way to Machu Picchu.
Taking around four days to trek, the route passes through sites of archaeological importance, mysticism and beautiful scenery, meaning that this epic journey is guaranteed to be a memorable one.
Tips for trekkers
- Rising early on the final day allows trekkers to reach the Sun Gate, which offers stunning views over Machu Picchu, in time to see the rising sun peek over the mountains and through the gate.
- As the area is protected by the Peruvian state, Trail hikers must be accompanied by a guide and a maximum of 500 hikers are allowed on the track per day. You will need a permit, which must have been booked no later than 90 days before departure, but if you book a tour then operators will ensure that these details are organised on your behalf. Places are expected to fill particularly quickly this year, when travellers will be flocking to the ruins to celebrate this special anniversary.
- The Inca path takes visitors through rugged mountain pathways and steep inclines, so the journey can prove a challenge to those with lower fitness levels. Make sure you give yourself time to acclimatise to the high altitude before setting off on the Inca Trail – altitude sickness can be exhausting and is likely to hold you back on the physically demanding journey. Spending a few days in Cusco before the hike should allow your body time to acclimatise.
Taking the train to Machu Picchu
Don’t let the challenge of the Trail put you off! If you don’t think you could make the trek, but still want to experience Machu Picchu then you can take a day trip by train. A winding journey from Ollytaytambo station, about 40 miles from Cusco, or Poroy station, just on the outskirts of the city, takes visitors through farmland and jungle to Aguas Calientes at the base of the mountain.
From there buses carry visitors up the mountain, zig-zagging along the ‘Hiram Bingham highway’, straight to the gates of Machu Picchu.
During the peak months of May to September, and especially in the anniversary month of July this year, all train tickets to Machu Picchu are likely to sell out several days in advance. Make sure to book as early as possible to avoid disappointment
Useful websites for details and prices on trains can be found at perurail.com or incarail.com
When you’re there
For those wanting the best views of the ruins, Huayna Picchu is the mountain adjacent to the city that not only provides a stunning backdrop to Machu Picchu, but offers breath-taking views of the ruins and surrounding area. It’s a challenging climb with a narrow path and tough steps taking anything from 45 minutes to 2 hours to reach the top, which rises some 400 metres above the site. You need to get there early, as only 400 people are allowed to climb to the peak each day and often those travelling by train are likely to arrive too late to take part. You can climb any time from 7am until 2pm, with the pathway closing at 5pm.
If you’re not in a rush to go down from Huayna Picchu, there is an alternative route to the great cave of the Temple of the Moon. The temple is formed from a natural cave with niches carved into a massive white granite stone wall and its name originates from the way it radiates with moonlight at night. To reach the cave you will need to climb ladders and tackle narrow cliff-side staircases, so prepare yourself for some heights and tricky scrambles.
General tips for travel to Machu Picchu,/h3>
- The site opens from 6am until 6pm but is much busier when the crowds from the train are visiting – usually between 11am and 3.30pm. If you’d like to take in the ruins without the crowds, then try to avoid these times.
- Monday is the busiest day, and Sunday is one of the quietest. June, July, August and September are the busiest months when as many as 3,500 people visit the ruins every day. Even during the low season you can expect between 1,500 and 2,000 visitors per day.
- You can take small bags into the ruins but anything larger must be left at the luggage store near the entrance for a small charge.
- Inca Trail tours are best booked at least a couple of months in advance to ensure you get a place on the trek.
Gap Adventures offers a range of packages that incorporate acclimatisation time, visits to local markets and the nearby Sacred Valley, with a four-day Inca Trail. They are currently offering 20 per cent off a 10 day Machu Picchu tour in Peru, which includes a two-night Amazon jungle excursion, Cuzco city tour, a four-day Inca Trail with local guide, cook and porters, guided tour of Machu Picchu. All accommodation, arrival transfer, breakfast daily and 5 lunches and five dinners are included. The tour leaves from Lima on April 5th 2011 and costs £992. For more information and to book online visit the Gap Adventures website or call 0844 272 0000.
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