Peru Sustainable Travel Guide
Peru is the third largest country in South America, with a land mass of approximately 1.3 million sq km. However, the country attracts a whopping 3 million tourists on average every year. The capital of Lima is an amazing cultural hotspot, offering great restaurants, a vibrant night life, interesting museums and much more to see and do for the intrepid traveler. The town of Cusco is great for adventure seekers looking to trek one of Peru’s many trails, and is the starting off point should you wish to hike the infamous Inca Trail en route to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu is the historic Inca ruins found in the middle of Andean mountain range, at an elevation of 2,430 meters above sea level. It was built in the 15th century, but only became known to the outside world in 1911 when American historian Hiram Bingham came across the site with the guidance of local farmers. In order to reach Machu Picchu today, you have two options: take a train from Cusco, or complete a 4-day, 44 km hike on the Inca Trail.
Of the numerous trails found around Cusco, the Inca Trail is the only one that gets you past what’s known as the Sun Gate - a stunning viewpoint that looks down on Machu Picchu. Because of the popularity of the Inca Trail, the Peruvian government has set limits on how many people can hike the Inca Trail per day. Currently 500 trekkers are allowed to hike the Inca Trail on a daily basis. Half of that number are reserved for guides and porters, allowing the other half to be hikers hoping to catch a glimpse of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate during sunrise.
You also must obtain a permit from the Peruvian government to hike the Inca Trail, and your hike must be guided. Trekkers are not allowed to hike the Inca Trail on their own. Demand for Inca Trail permits are very high and can sell out months in advance. It’s recommended that you book your permit through a reputable company with at least 6 months in advance. The high season for hiking the Inca Trail is anywhere between May through to the end of September. Therefore, you should reserve your Inca Trail permits by November or December. Please note that the Inca Trail is actually closed in February for trail maintenance.
The highest point on the Inca Trail sits at 4,215 metres above sea level at a point known as Dead Woman’s Pass. Because the entire hike takes place at high altitude, one should prepare accordingly. This means bringing any medication that could help suppress high altitude sickness, or taking the time to properly acclimatize before trekking. Cusco’s elevation is 3,400 metres above sea level. It’s a good idea to arrive into Cusco a few days prior to your hike to acclimatize. One should also properly prepare for varying weather conditions on the hike itself. Due to the altitude, it can get quite chilly at night or during extended breaks. It’s recommended that during the high season, hikers wear light clothing during the hike itself, but pack a sweater and other warm layers (such as gloves and a hat) for extended breaks and camp. Even during the high season, rain is a possibility, so always bring proper rain gear as well. Finally, wear proper hiking boots or shoes. The Inca Trail is not the place for running shoes or sneakers.
As mentioned earlier, it is not possible to hike the Inca Trail on your own. This means you have to be part of a guided tour. These tours will often provide porters who can carry a portion of your personal gear for you. In order to hike the Inca Trail in a responsible manner, ensure your tour company hires local guides over foreigners, pays them a fair wage, and that they have a policy in place to protect their porters from carrying an excessive amount of weight for their guests. The standard guideline for the weight limit a porter should carry for their guests is approximately 13 lbs (or 6 kg) per guest. Going above this limit puts huge strains on the porters, which can cause health problems, preventing them from being able to work. Tipping guides and porters is also expected. These individuals work tirelessly to ensure a safe and rewarding experience, and as such, a modest tip is a great way to show your appreciation.
I also recommend a day hike to Rainbow Mountains. These multi-coloured mountains are a marvel to look at and shows us just how weird nature can be. This trek also starts from Cusco, and takes most travellers about 8 hours to complete roundtrip.
Other things to consider for your trip to Peru includes a flight over the Nazca Lines, a trip to Huacachina, Colca Canyon, and Lake Titicaca.
An overnight stay at an Amazon jungle lodge should also be on one’s bucket list. It’s a great way to get out of the cities and stay in locally-owned eco-lodges in the heart of the Amazon. Doing a quick search online yields a good number of choices at your fingertips. You’ll meet many locals including some indigenous peoples, catch a glimpse of amazing wildlife like caimans and river dolphins, and your environmental footprint will be greatly reduced in comparison to city hotels. Not to mention it’s just an amazing and unique experience. How many people can say that they’ve spent a night in the Amazon jungle?
Peru is by far one of the world’s most popular destinations to visit. And it’s no secret why that is. It offers so much, from a step backwards in time to the ancient Inca Empire, to wonderful urban experiences, to unique natural environments like Rainbow Mountain and the Amazon jungle. Peru is definitely an adventure seekers dream come true.