... And why it's more than just walking to Machu Picchu. One of the best ways to discover the culture and history of Peru is by trekking the Inca Trail. More than just a 4-day walk, this ancient pilgrimage route through lush cloud forest, meandering valleys and towering peaks was once undertaken by the Incas themselves in dedication to the Sun God ‘Inti’ and Earth Mother ‘Pachamama’.
Here are the top 5 unexpected discoveries you’ll make on the Inca Trail:
1. Peruvians live and work on the Inca Trail
Passing the descendants of the Incas themselves on the trail is one of the first surprises. In the lower part of the Sacred Valley, beyond 82km, you’ll pass locals with their mules or spot people working the terraces originally created by the Incas all those years ago.
2. The Inca trail is more than just mountains and cloud forest
Due to the varying altitudes of the trail (1,800m difference between the highest and lowest points), you will find yourself walking through diverse environments on the trail. The ever-changing scenery is beautiful: from the wide sweeping valleys of the Urubamba River to the heights of the mountain passes, and from the deciduous forests in the valleys to the vibrantly-coloured, floral cloud forests surrounding the higher paths.
3. There is no light pollution on the Inca Trail
On a clear night on the Inca Trail you’ll be amazed by the sheer number of stars in the sky and how much light they provide. A perfect storm of conditions created by the altitude, mountain backdrop and distance from local towns mean that you will see the Milky Way as a bright ribbon of stars in the sky. As you’re close to the equator, you don’t even have to stay up late to see them - it’s usually dark by 7.30pm.
The perfect way to relax after a day’s hiking on the Inca Trail.
4. The food on the Inca Trail is delicious
One of the biggest surprises for many is how well they eat on the Inca Trail. The locally-sourced food is carried by porters and prepared at camp each day by the chefs. All meals are eaten under canvas as a group. Breakfast can be anything from porridge to fruit or pancakes, and lunch and dinner are three-course affairs with soups, stir-fries and pasta all on offer. To help keep you going, snack bags are provided each day to take on the trail with fruits, nuts and sweets. The day ends with a well-earned hot chocolate or tea before bed.
5. The Inca Trail is not just a trek to Machu Picchu
Travelling to Machu Picchu, it’s often assumed that the trail is a means to an end. However this ancient trail once featured active watchtowers, towns and sanctuaries that all contributed to the pilgrimage undertaken by the Incas. You can wander through each of these along the way, learning about the incredible construction of these ruins and about the Incan culture and beliefs. With only 200 tourists allowed on the trail each day, you’ll have enough space and time to absorb it all at your own pace.