In March, Peruvian authorities began cracking down on visitors who felt the liberty to disrobe and streak the sacred grounds of Machu Picchu.
“I almost killed them,” a frustrated tour guide who caught a couple running naked at Machu Picchu told me during a recent visit. “This is like my office. You wouldn’t want someone running naked in your office.” The guide, a Peruvian who has visited Machu Picchu hundreds of times, looked at me. “Well, I don’t know, maybe you would.”
The pasty white streakers aren’t the only scourge facing the holy site. Government officials are looking to cut down on erosion and degradation of the monuments by limiting foot traffic.
Visiting Machu Picchu today, you are free to wander in on your own at daybreak, explore the Incan streets in solitude for hours, and lounge with a llama on the cool stone steps until sunset. Those days could soon be over. Peru is considering a new set of restrictions that would only allow visitors to enter accompanied by a tour guide on pre-approved routes.
Here are five ways to experience the ancient abandoned Incan city before it’s too late. We just ask that you keep your clothes on.
(Photo: Magnus von Koeller)
1. Take the Inca Trail
This popular four-day hike through Peru’s Sacred Valley will appeal to the more intrepid breed of visitors. The 26-mile trail, which still has stones built by the Incas, passes dozens of ruins along the raging Urubamba River and follows a route walked for centuries.
The trail is a combination of gently sloping dirt paths, rapidly ascending and descending hills of stone steps, and one punishing 13,800-foot summit called Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point on the trail. Most trips will arrive at Machu Picchu at sunrise on the final day—an unmatched reward for your troubles. Although you may see trainloads of tourists swooshing ahead of you on PeruRail while you gasp for oxygen in the thin Andean air, there are few things sweeter than basking in that first sight of Machu Picchu’s walls after three nights in the wild.
All hikers are required to make the trip with a licensed operator, and the Peruvian government only allows 500 people on the trail per day, including porters and guides. It is difficult to obtain a permit if you don’t plan ahead. Travel companies recommend reserving your spot on the trail at least six to nine months in advance if you’re traveling during busy periods. You can find a calendar of available travel dates at IncaTrailReservations.com.
(Photo: Michael McDonough)
(Photo: Nimmi Solomon)
2. Ride the PeruRail line
For those with money to burn but little time to spare, PeruRail offers a first-class experience that carries visitors in luxurious comfort and style directly from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the small gateway city to Machu Picchu. Alas, this quick round-trip journey can set you back around $800. It’s expensive, but it gets the job done if you’re on a time crunch.
Warning: Inca Trail hikers may laugh at you for your indulgence, but you can sit comfortably knowing that you smell better.
Budget travelers unable to make the hike also have options. Starting in May, PeruRail is offering a seasonal, $150 round-trip train journey from Poroy to Aguas Calientes. Those traveling between January and April must use a bimodial service offered by PeruRail in which a private bus in downtown Cusco carries you to a train station in the town of Urubamba.
(Photo: Madeleine Holland)
3. Follow the Inca Jungle route
Adrenaline junkies who need more than a four-day jaunt on the Inca Trail (and wouldn’t be caught dead on a cushy train) should consider taking this road less traveled.
In addition to hiking the Inca Trail, this rigorous option offers gutsy travelers a chance to sample the surrounding terrain on foot, boat and bike before stepping foot in Machu Picchu.
One such trip, organized by the Cusco-based Amazonas Explorer, offers an itinerary that begins on a white water rafting trip deep within Peru’s 9,800-foot Granite Canyon. Winding through Class III and IV rapids, your small inflatable boat will scream down the Apurmac River for three days. At night, expect to sleep on the beach as the sound of the water gushes just feet from your sleeping bag.
On the second leg, you’ll be strapped to a mountain bike for a ride past lesser-known Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley. Some operators offer an exhilarating 46-mile downhill excursion that ends at the valley surrounding Machu Picchu.
Finally, after several days on the water and on two wheels, the four-day walk along the Inca Trail begins. While everyone else on the trail is just warming up, you’ll have been on the huff for a week.
Climbing in the clouds. (Photo: Fabrice Bertholino)
4. See Machu Picchu from a different angle by climbing Putucusi
Once you arrive at the town of Aguas Calientes—either via the Inca Trail, the rail line or the back routes—follow the train tracks to the edge of town. Just beyond the tracks, you’ll find a trail up the mountain that will take you to the summit of Putucusi, which offers magnificent views of Machu Picchu from the east. It’s one of the few ways you can catch a glimpse of the city for free.
Queasy travelers beware: the journey to the top is a treacherous one.
Ascending Putucusi takes a grueling hour and half, but it offers stunning views of the Sacred Valley and the Urubamba River below along the way. Putucusi is one of the few vantages where you can see both Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu, the mountains that bookend the city from the north and south.
(Photo: Tamar Levine)
5. Ascend Machu Picchu Mountain
Once inside the gates of Machu Picchu, there are two great climbs to choose from: Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu.
When considering which to ascend, consider this: Everyone and their grandmother climbs Huayna Picchu. (No, literally, grandmothers hike this thing all the time.) Because of its popularity, the path to the summit is a jumbling traffic jam of heaving human bodies. On crowded days, park employees only allow a few minutes for pictures at the top before ordering climbers back to the bottom.
Thankfully, there’s an alternative. If you walk to the south side of the city, you’ll find the trail to Machu Picchu Mountain, a less-traveled hike that offers even more exhilarating views without the hassle. With Machu Picchu to the north, the south end of the summit has some of the best views of the surrounding snow-peaked Andes.
(Photo: Pedro Szekely)
It comes at a price. Machu Picchu is about twice as high as Huayna Picchu, and the climb up a series of steps will leave your calves and thighs burning. Of course, by the time you return to the bottom, you’ll be much too tired for streaking.
Chris Moody is a reporter for Yahoo News. He has traveled to more than 20 countries and lives in Washington, D.C.