Most foreign visitors will touch down at Jorge Chavez International Airport located in Callao, a few miles outside the center of Lima, the capital of Peru. Another connecting domestic flight takes visitors to Cuzco, where there will be an overnight stay at a hotel ahead of an early-morning bus ride to the start of the trail at the 82-km mark on the railway line between Cuzco and Aguas Calientes. The bus drive takes around 3 1/2 hours, and follows a scenic road through the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba River.
There is a weigh station at this point close to the river, where the porters will have their bags weighed. The entire group then crosses over across the suspension bridge on the river and begins the trek in earnest. The first few miles through the wide open valley are deceptively easy, but then the path begins climbing up into the mountains towards Mt. Veronika's snow capped peaks.
An overnight halt will be called upon reaching Wayllabamba. The campsites here offer the crisp freshness of mountain air at over 3,000 feet. This might be a good time to point out that there is more than one path that can be taken to reach Machu Picchu. The four-day trek can also be shortened by starting from another marker ahead of the 82-km point.
There is an alternate route which begins from the Village of Mollepata. The main path described above, starting from the 82 km point, is the Classic route. This is a four day trek which goes through the cloud forest and climbs up into the Andes Mountains, passing many Inca ruins before ending up in Machu Picchu on the morning of the fourth day.
This difficult expedition can be made significantly easier by driving further ahead and starting the trek at a different marker. The two other most popular points on the trail from where many guided tours begin are the 88-km mark and the 104-km mark. The latter starting point reduces the time required for the trek to two days.
Intrepid adventurers seeking a thrill can expand the itinerary by taking the Mollepata route. This path goes a lot higher up into the mountains and only reaches Machu Picchu after seven days. A bus from Cuzco goes to the starting point in Mollepata, to be followed an arduous trek involving some real mountain climbing on Salkantay Mountain. It includes a hike through a mountain pass in the snow up above 4,000 feet.
Permits are needed to enter the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and it has to be booked well in advance. The usual arrangement is to book a guided tour, which means that it becomes the tour operator's responsibility to handle all the logistics. They arrange for the permits and provide tour guides and porters to carry the bags, cook meals, etc. It makes the trek easier, and trekkers can focus all their energy on the challenge of getting to Machu Picchu in one piece.
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