Classic Treks: The Inca Trail, Peru

Peru is, beyond a doubt, one of the top adventure travel destinations in the entire world. It offers an amazing array of things to see and do, perfectly blending culture with both mountain and jungle settings, along with ancient artifacts and ruins that rival those found in Egypt. Of course, the most spectacular and famous of those ruins is the lost city of Machu Picchu, located at 8000 feet above sea level, in the Andes Mountains, near the town of Cusco.

Machu Picchu is the number one tourist attraction in a country full of tourist attractions, and there are multiple ways of getting there. Most take a train to the site, preferring to enjoy a scenic ride through the mountains. But one of the other ways of reaching the “Lost City of the Incas” is hiking the Inca Trail, an option that has grown in popularity over the past few years.

The Inca Trail traditionally consists of four days of trekking through the Andes, culminating with hikers catching their first glimpse of the fabled city while passing through the Sun Gate, another small ruin not far from Machu Picchu itself. Along the trail, travelers will experience tropical jungles, cloud forests, and high alpine passes. They’ll also have the opportunity to visit several other ruins as they travel the ancient Incan highway.This option for reaching Machu Picchu is obviously more demanding than taking the train, but more rewarding as well. At least three of the days on the trail are fairly rigourous hiking, and altitude comes into play, with the trail reaching as high as 13,800 feet in a place called Dead Woman’s Pass. Nights are spent camping in tents, and the weather can vary greatly depending on the time of year. But the hikers taking the Inca Trail are there to soak in the scenery and rough it a bit anyway.

In recent years, the trail has become extremely popular, forcing the Peruvian government to put a cap on the number of hikers who can set out each day. During the peak season of June through September, the permits for the trail can sell out weeks in advance, so if you’re planning to hike the trail, get your reservations in early. During the high season, you can expect larger number of hikers, up to 500 per day, and crowded campsites, which can ruin the experience for some. Off peak season means a bit more solitude and open trails, but less predictible weather, usually resulting in more rain or snow.

The payoff for the days on the trail is at the end, when the hikers emerge from the mountains and descend the Incan Staricase from the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu, much the same way that ancient travelrs did hundreds of years ago. Completing the hike is a reward in and of itself, but finding the lost city at the end, and exploring it for several hours, just caps the whole experience.

The Inca Trail is considered by many to be one of the great treks of the world and still holds a high place on many hiker’s “life lists”, despite the fact that it has now become so popular and crowded. For many adventure travelers, it’s still worth the hike, and will always beat taking the train.

If you are interested in trekking the Inca Trail, there are dozens of guide services to choose from. A guide is required by all trekkers, and you are also required to book at least a month in advance, although that too can be flexible when you’re in Cusco. Expect to pay between $300-$500 for the trek, depending on the guides and services they offer.

Argentine Doctors Study the Effects of Altitude While on the Mountain

Two Argentine doctors have conducted a unique medical study to examine the effects of altitude on the human body by taking their test subjects to a unique laboratory, the 6739 meter (22,109 feet) tall volcano named Mount Llullaillaco located in the Atacama Desert along the border of Argentina and Chile.

Dr. Leandro Seoane and Dr. Rolando Nervi took a team of climbers to Llullaillaco on January 18th of this year and began their ascent of the mountain, conducting various tests at predetermined spots along the route to the summit. Over the next nine days, they took blood pressure, heart and respitory readings, as well as blood oxygen saturation measurements. They also examined the climbers vision, took blood tests, and assessed the team for Acute Mountain Sickness. The baseline tests were conducted at Tolar Grande town, a village located at 3500 meters on the mountain, and then again at Base Camp (4900 meters), Camp 1 (5500 meters), Camp 2 (6000 meters), and then one final time at 6400 meters.

The results showed the body’s remarkable ability to adapt to the changing conditions on the mountain as climbers acclimatized and adapted to the lower levels of oxygen as they moved higher on the mountain. As they became accustomed to the environment, the lack of oxygen became less of an issue, and the climbers worked more efficiently at higher alittudes.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is also known as altitude sickness, and it can effect just about anyone that climbs above 2400 meters (7875 feet). The exact causes are as of yet unknown, which is why tests like this one are so important. We do know that it does relate to exposure to low air pressure at altitude. Symptoms include loss of appetite, light-headedness, insomnia, headaches and more. In its most extreme forms it can result in pulmonary edema that can, at high altitudes, result in death. Generally the only way to treat the condition is to move back down the mountain to lower altitudes and richer oxygen levels.

Mount Llullaillaco is the fourth tallest volcano in the world, and a challenging climb, but it doesn’t compare to the larger peaks such as Everest. A similar study to the ones performed by the Argentines has been conducted on the worlds tallest mountain over the past couple of years, recording similar results at even higher altitudes. That research study is known as the Caudwell Xtreme Everest project.

AMS continues to be a great concern for all climbers at altitude, and even for travelers who visit remote locations that also happen to be thousands of feet above sea level. But with continued studies like these two, we can hope to understand the causes and develop more effective treatments.

History’s Most Famous Travel Adventures

There is no doubt that history has a level of influence on the places that many of us visit. We read about far off places and exotic adventures, and it fires our own imaginations, sometimes compelling us to take a journey of our own, and experience the things that we’ve dreamed about.

Forbes Traveler has put together an excellent list of the greatest travel adventures from history, not only putting them in historical context, but also explaining why they remain a great travel experience even to this day. Each of the journeys on this list include a link to a travel service than can help organize your own adventure, following in the footsteps of explorers and adventurers from the past.

Some of the famous journeys that make the list include the Lewis and Clarke Expedition’s exploration of the American West, which modern day travelers can experiencing for themselves by spending five days paddling more than 60 miles of the Missouri River. Prefer something a bit more exotic? Then how about a 34-day, 4850+ mile journey through South America, by motorcycle no less, that retraces the travels of Che Guevara. Want to go even further back in time? Then head to the Far East to travel the Silk Road, much the same way that Marco Polo did in the 13th century.

There is a little something for everyone on this list, from the physically demanding to the luxurious. But they all share one thing in common, they are some of the greatest journeys in history, and they are still inspiring travel years, and sometimes centuries, later.

Peru To Sue Yale University?

According to a story posted on, a website dedicated to adventure travel, the country of Peru is suing Yale University, for the return of a number of artifacts taken from the country nearly a century ago when legendary explorer Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Picchu in 1911.

At that time, Bingham’s discovery captured the imagination of the world, as photos of the Lost City of the Incas gave an eager audience a glimpse of another time and place. But Bingham didn’t just send photographs back to civilization. He also reportedly brought back more than 40,000 artifacts from the site, most of which made their way back to Yale, where they still reside today.

Now, Peru would like these relics returned, and has entered into litigation to get them back. Thousands of visitors flock to the country each year, in no small part thanks to its rich history, and these artifacts are a direct link to that history and a valuable commodity for the tourist economy there. The items also happen to belong to the Peruvian people, and are symbols of their culture and ancient Inca traditions, which still play a role in modern Peru today.

This isn’t just an issue for Peru either. Other countries, most notably Egypt, have worked hard to recover treasures that were taken from them by imperialist powers in centuries past. Fortunately, many nations are now returning these artifacts to their rightful owners. It remains to be seen if Yale will follow suit.

Tourists will have to tango with inflation or worse in Argentina

It is starting to look like deja vu for Argentina. The country came out of a terrible financial crisis only a few years ago. The 2001 slide seems like a distant memory for residents of Buenos Aires, who crowd into restaurants and spend their money freely. The government has been busy spending too. They are in debt after revamping the country with new schools and other civic projects.

And, unlike neighboring countries, Argentina did not build up its financial reserves for a rainy day. Now, with inflation at nearly 25% according to economists (the government says its only 10%), there are storm clouds on the country’s horizon. Could there be a repeat of 2001, when the economy came crashing down and tourists became targets of kidnappers seeking ransoms? It’s possible. The US and the IMF, who basically bailed out Argentina in ’01 might hesitate before doing it again. But the chaos of ’01 has not yet hit again. But, with uncertainty in the air, travelers might want to opt for a bit of Southern Hemisphere sun in Brazil, rather than B.A.

[Via Wash. Post]