Macchu Picchu Best Summer 2015
Machu Picchu, Peru
Make this the summer you take, or plan, that bucket-list trip through the Sacred Valley of the Inca to the ancient city of Machu Picchu. Get inspired closer to home at two Washington, D.C., events: the Peru-focused Smithsonian Folklife Festival (June 24-28 and July 1-5) and the National Museum of the American Indian exhibition "The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire" (June 26, 2015, through June 1, 2018). Then, book a group tour such as National Geographic Expeditions' Peru: Land of the Inca, or a classic, four-day hiking trek to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail.
To help protect the integrity of the legendary route, only 500 government-issued Inca Trail permits are available per day. But limited access shouldn't dissuade people from making the trip, says Alistair Butchers of G Adventures, which leads a variety of Sacred Valley tours. "It's important for travelers to visit … and do so in a sustainable manner, so they can become ambassadors and help spread the word about the importance of sustainable tourism," he says. "Through awareness and education we can help preserve iconic destinations such as the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu."
How to Get Around: If permits are sold out during your travel dates—or you'd rather not make the four-day, 27-mile Inca Trail trek—there are several alternate routes through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. G Adventures' itineraries include a variety of Machu Picchu options ranging from easy day tours from Cusco (via train and bus), to multiday hiking trips along the less-traveled Lares, Salkantay, and Choquequirao routes.
Where to Stay: Peru's first ecological community-owned and managed campsite opened in February 2015 in the remote Andean village of Cuncani. Located on the Lares route, the project was developed by G Adventures' nonprofit Planeterra Foundation to help promote sustainable tourism in the Lares Valley. Any tour company can use the site, which includes eco-friendly amenities such as composting toilets and solar showers.
What to Eat: In the Andean region, guinea pig, or cuy (pronounced "kwee"), is a common specialty of the house. At small cuyerías (traditional cuy restaurants) in the Cusco region, order the crispy cuy al palo (guinea pig barbecued whole on a spit with the head, ears, and teeth intact). Or, fill up on the locally grown side dishes such as potatoes and corn on the cob.
What to Buy: Visit the Planeterra-supported Women's Weaving Co-op in the indigenous Ccaccaccollo community. Here you can learn about traditional Andean weaving and watch the artists hand-spin alpaca fiber into yarn. Over 40 local women belong to the cooperative and sell their intricately woven textiles (including brightly colored blankets, ponchos, and hats) to Sacred Valley travelers.
What to Read Before You Go: Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time chronicles travel writer Mark Adams's steps and often hilarious missteps along the original expedition route to Machu Picchu. While thoroughly entertaining, the book also serves as a quick primer on Inca history and Peruvian customs.
Practical Tip: Cusco, gateway city to Machu Picchu, sits at more than 11,000 feet above sea level. To avoid altitude sickness, drink lots of water and, if possible, relax (and let your body adjust) for a day or two in town before making a trek to Machu Picchu.
Helpful Links: Peru Tourism
Fun Fact: The Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu is part of the World Heritage site of Qhapaq Ñan, or the Andean Road System. Covering about 18,600 miles from modern-day Colombia in the north to Argentina and Chile in the south, the engineering marvel once linked the Inca capital, Cusco, to the farthest reaches of the empire.
Staff Tip: Don't leave for Machu Picchu without visiting Cusco's Mercado Central de San Pedro. The open-air market shows off the country's incredible biodiversity with a wild assortment of tropical fruits, vegetables, and meats. It's very impressive, and the chicken soup at the lunch counter helped cure my altitude sickness almost overnight. —Kevin Kunitake, assistant to editor in chief, National Geographic Traveler