The road to Machu Picchu is as arduous today as it was during the great Inca Empire of the mid-15th Century. The Incas who traversed this dizzying passage cut through the Andes did so with the aid of all-conquering llamas. However, these days you'll only encounter fellow tourists on one of the last remaining passages of what was once a 20,000-kilometre system of trails which stretched across the so-called 'Tahuantinsuyo Empire'. That shouldn't deter you from making the journey along this breathtaking trail, as it soars high above the skyline en route to majestic Machu Picchu.
Camino Real de los Inkas
The Camino Real de los Inkas or 'short Inca trail' is the shortest of three distinct Inca trails. This overnight option from Chachabamba to Machu Picchu starts from the 104-kilometre mark on the Cuzco to Machu Picchu railroad. It climbs for 800 metres from the Vilcanota River footbridge to Winay Wayna, before joining the so-called Classic Inca Trail and making a gradual descent into Machu Picchu. Along the way you can immerse yourself in the clouds and enjoy spectacular natural waterfalls, before exploring the ancient ruins of the remarkable Winay Wayna – built deep into the terraced hillside.
Classic Inca Trail
The most popular route to Machu Picchu is via the Classic Inca Trail. It generally takes hikers four or five days to complete the roughly 45-kilometre trek from its starting point near the Urubamba River to the ruins of mystical Machu Picchu. The trail climbs gradually alongside the Rio Cusichca – or 'happy river' – until reaching its highest point at a campsite at Llulluchapampa. From there, it's a slow descent down into the spine-tingling remains of what is commonly referred to as the 'Lost City Of The Incas'. Machu Picchu clings precariously to a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley, with the ancient ruins considered by many to be one of the great wonders of the world.
Mollepata via Salkantay
The most difficult of the three main routes to Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the lengthy trek from Mollepata. A less travelled path, what makes the Mollepata trek so enticing are the spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges from the soaring Salkantay mountain pass. It looms over the surrounding Cusco countryside like a towering natural steeple, forming one of the most distinctive sights in the sprawling Andes range. You'll need to be fit to undertake this gruelling five-day trek, though it's well worth it to do so. Not only is the Mollepata trail far less crowded than other trails, it also offers some of the most breathtaking views imaginable.