Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top 5 Must-Do Experiences at Machu Picchu by Tucano Peru

The #1 landmark in the world according to Trip Advisor
2500 visitors per day can't be wrong and Trip Advisor agreed, naming Machu Picchu the world's #1 landmark. Sure, it can be crowded but even with the hoards of tourists, it's still a magical place. And while not that long ago the only way to get to Machu Picchu was by hiking the Inca Trail, today you also have the less strenuous option of taking the train.

Getting to Machu Picchu:
If you have the time and energy, there's still nothing like the experience of walking in the footsteps of the ancient Inca along the royal trail to Machu Picchu. It's a 26 mile hike over a minimum of 4 days of hiking reaching altitudes over 13,000 ft. The trail combines stunning mountain vistas, lush cloud-forest, subtropical jungle and a plethora of fascinating Inca ruins along the way. Nothing beats walking through the Sun Gate and catching that first view of Machu Picchu, just as the Inca's did centuries before.

Even the tourist class train to Machu Picchu
is pretty comfortable
Most visitors to Machu Picchu take the train, which is also a very memorable journey for those not interested in walking 26 miles. Peru has built a first class railroad from the Cusco through the Sacred Valley of the Incas to the base of Machu Picchu. There are two train companies - PeruRail and IncaRail - and each has several different classes of service from tourist class (which still has huge picture windows and comfortable seats) to pure luxury including gourmet meals, drinks and entertainment (Hiram Bingham service on PeruRail and the Presidential service on IncaRail). Most trains depart from Ollantatytambo, which is about 1.5 hour ride to Aguas Calientes, the gateway village to Machu Picchu.

So once you've decided how to get to there, below are Tucano Peru's Top 5 must-do experiences at Machu Picchu:
  1. Walk through the Sun Gate like the Incas: For those hiking the Inca Trail, this signifies the end of the epic journey and the pinnacle of the trek where you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu. But you don't have to spend four days hiking to experience this view of Machu Picchu. It's about a 30min - 1hr hike from the entry gate of Machu Picchu up to the Sun Gate, depending on your fitness level and how often you stop to take pictures! 
  2. Tour with an archaeologist: Explore Machu Picchu with the former resident archaeologist, Alfredo Mormontoy Atayupanqui. Alfredo has participated in more than twenty different excavations and archaeology research projects to date. For the ultimate in-depth Machu Picchu experience, this is the tour. 
  3. Hike Machu Picchu Mountain: This is the lesser-known of the optional hikes around Machu Picchu. While it's about twice as long as the Huayna Picchu hike, it's far less crowded and the trail is less steep with fewer vertigo-inducing dropoffs making it a better option for those with a fear of heights. From the peak you can take in the entire site and gasp at the winding river valleys on both sides of the Machu Picchu.  This may be the best photo vantage point as well, especially in the early afternoon after the morning mist has burned off. There is a limit of 400 permits issued per day and the permit costs $52. 
  4. Sunrise tour: Beat the crowds (somewhat) and experience Machu Picchu at it's most mystical, shrouded in the morning mist as the dawn breaks and the sun rises above the mountain peaks across the valley. Not much more to say, it's one of those experiences that words really cannot adequately describe. 
  5. Hike Huayna Picchu Mountain: Huayna Picchu is the towering mountain behind the actual site of Machu Picchu. For the adventurous who want a birds-eye view of the site, this is will be a highlight. For the height adverse, this isn't your hike. It is a strenuous climb requiring both hands and feet at some points. The view from the top is certainly a highlight but it's also fascinating to see how the Inca cut steps and a tunnel out of the rock. There are also some impossibly located ruins that appear glued to the side of the mountain, with nothing but air for hundreds of meters below. You will need a permit to hike Huayna Picchu ($56) and like Machu Picchu Mountain, these are limited to 400 per day but the demand is far greater, so plan ahead. 

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