The high road to Machu Picchu
Each year thousands of hikers, dogged by mosquitoes and altitude sickness, make the four-day trek to this Incan wonder of the world. Jeremy Freed sought a more civilized route to the summit
It’s Monday morning at Machu Picchu and by 10 a.m. the site is already crowded. The footpaths that snake up the mountainside terraces are lined with elderly Americans in cargo vests, Aussie backpackers taking selfies with llamas, GoPro-wielding honeymooners and a significant number of dreadlocked hippies.
Among the first things one notices is this: Age, nationality and wildly divergent opinions on bongos aside, we who seek the summit can be easily divided into two distinct groups.
There are the hikers, tired and sunburnt, lugging their packs around the ruins, boots caked in dust and mud, looking disoriented and perhaps a bit sad. Their fatigue is understandable: To reach this sacred site by foot requires a four-day trek along the Inca Trail, through cloud forests and over high mountain passes, sleeping in tents, swatting mosquitoes, squatting over holes and fighting altitude sickness. It is, some say, the adventure of a lifetime, a walk in the footsteps of the ancient Incas, culminating at the ruins of their most spectacular surviving temple.
“Many feel that the only proud way to arrive at this place is the Inca Trail,” says Carlos Castillo, our guide arranged by the hotel. There was a time in my life when I would have been swayed by such reasoning, that the hardest way has to be the most meaningful. As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve embraced the fact that life can be just as meaningful without jungle bugs and sleeping on the ground. Especially on vacation. Which brings us to the second group.