This majestic view of Machu Picchu, one of the ancient wonders of the world, comes with a cost. To reach the pinnacle from which the picture was taken requires a four-day trek through perilous terrain. Although the famed 'Inca Trail' is the road most traveled by, there are less strenuous options.
If you don't feel like climbing into the clouds on foot, you're not alone. But what are your alternatives if you want to explore the wonders of Inca Land?
A bus or train from Puno or Cusco can to take you to the town of Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu town) at the foot of Machu Picchu, where some may join the rugged trail to the peak. For people with average mobility, a shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes to the peak is available and runs on a frequent schedule for under $20 round trip. You will find walking around the peak (shown above) brisk but doable if you are comfortable with stairs.
The Machu Picchu peak is a national park and has an admission fee as well as timed entry in order to manage the crowds. Single-entry or multi-entry passes can be purchased in the town where the shuttle buses depart.
If photography is important to you, it may benefit you to visit the peak both in the morning for sunrise and again at sunset. The view changes and reveals differing, yet amazing sights. Also note that fast moving clouds can obscure your view, so if you only plan on visiting the park once, you may have to "wait" a while to get the perfect photo.
The altitude of the town is under 7000 feet, while the peak is just around 8000. For comparison, this is the same air pressure you would experience on a commercial airline flight. Precautions for altitude sickness can be taken, but are not necessary for most for this adventure.
From Machu Picchu, one of the most spectacular views is to Huaynu Picchu shown above. You will see dozens of brave hikers attempt the winding path up the taller peak. Many of them have just completed the 4 day "Inca Trail", claiming this beautiful trophy as their prize. But the photo opportunities are best from Machu Picchu.
The Machu Picchu town lies a bit more than 1000 feet below the peak and serves as a gateway for tourists and locals to the ancient jewels of the mountain. Welcoming restaurants, shops, and cafes line the streets, as do accommodations of varying qualities. The river that runs through town is fed by mountain water and hot springs. Therapeutic hot baths are a welcome respite for hiking (or non-hiking) tourists. The river is one of many tributaries to the mighty Amazon.
While Machu Picchu is a fantastic destination for many, while in Peru, why not also check out Cusco, or Puno (on Lake Titicaca). It will add a few days to your trip, but it will also grant a much fuller picture of Peru's beauty.
The mountain city of Cusco is one of the highest altitude major cities in the world. At 12,000 feet, a much more active approach to manage altitude sickness is advised. Nonetheless, the cultural and historical activities in the city make it worthwhile for a one or two day stop.
Slightly more out of the way, Puno (the town on Lake Titicaca) is also definitely worth the jaunt. The altitude here is even higher than Cusco, at 12,500 feet, making it the most elevated large lake in the world. Check out the Uros floating village, where friendly locals will show you their spectacular homes on the water.
While Lima, Peru is the probable gateway for most visitors, it has a lot to offer in itself. Plan to spend a few days here after your long flight, and be sure to check out some of the neighborhoods and the dramatic coastlines. Short flights from Lima can take you either to Cusco or Puno to see Peru's Andes mountain range.
Most people traveling to Peru (from the United States and Canada) will not need a visa to travel, but will need a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining validity. Many people who have made the trip spend a week or two to explore this South American beauty, but shorter or longer trips can be planned.