The Classic Inca Trail is the definitive way to reach Machu Picchu, leading trekkers along a path that was used centuries before by the civilisation who built the amazing Andean city that’s now one of the most popular hiking destinations in the world.
It’s become something of an iconic route and is regularly cited as one of the top trekking trails in the world. So, if you decide to embark on the Classic Inca Trail, what can you expect along the way?
A glimpse of Inca civilisation
Although Machu Picchu has become synonymous with the Incas, it’s certainly not one of their largest cities. Rather than its size, it’s the location that makes this place so special. The Classic Inca Trail is, as its name suggests, the route people used to take hundreds of years ago to reach the citadel in the mountains.
Along the way you’ll pass numerous ruins of other Inca settlements, some of which are little more than huts and others where you can make out farming terraces, aqueducts and temples. One of the best examples of an Inca enclave before you get to Machu Picchu is Sayacmarca, which you’ll reach on the third day of your four-day trip.
The remains of this town are perched on a rocky outcrop high in the mountains and are only accessible via a narrow flight of stairs, which is flanked on one side by a very steep drop. Many of the walls are still standing and you can make out the outline of houses and a temple.
One of the best parts of a trip to Machu Picchu on foot is that you’ll get to walk through the cloud forest that covers the Andes, where there is all manner of flora and fauna to be discovered. Keen botanists should keep their eyes peeled for orchids, as there are believed to be as many as 400 species of the flowers along the route of the Inca Trail.
Hummingbirds, deer, wildcats, spectacled bears and the Andean Cock of the Rock (Peru’s national bird) all inhabit the forest, although you’ll be lucky to spot most of these around the path. Still, it’s always worth staying alert and looking out for any signs of the local wildlife.
Highlights of the trail
The Classic Inca Trail passes by many of the most famous sights associated with Machu Picchu, before reaching the iconic city itself. One of these is the Sun Gate, which you’ll pass through on the morning your reach the ruins.
This narrow gap on the mountainside is flanked by two stones and gets its name because the rising sun is framed between them first thing in the morning. From here, you’ll have amazing views of the terraces and buildings spread out ahead of you.
Crossing Dead Woman’s Pass is likely to be another highlight of your walk, not least because it represents the highest point of your trek at 4,200 m. From the top, you can see the valleys below, as well as your path that winds slowly down the mountainside.
Of course, exploring Machu Picchu is the main reason you made the journey in the first place and it’s a magical experience. You’ll usually get a couple of hours there the afternoon you arrive and then spend the night in the nearby Aguas Calientes – don’t miss the hot springs here – before returning to the ruins early the next morning for a full guided tour.
If you’ve tackled the Classic Inca Trail, what were your favourite moments along the way?