The ancient city Inca city of Machu Picchu is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. Thousands of people visit this ancient city every day. There are two ways to get to Machu Picchu, one is by train and bus, and the other is to hike there. Before choosing which method to use, many visitors might ask whether hiking to Machu Picchu is dangerous or not.
Overall, hiking Machu Picchu is not considered dangerous. The dangers involved with hiking Machu Picchu include altitude sickness, falling off one of the narrower trails, and rock slides and landslides in the wet season. There are also wild animals to contend with if you leave the trail.
As with any hike, there are some dangers involved and specific safety mechanisms you can implement to protect yourself. There are four popular hikes associated with hiking Machu Picchu. These include the Inca Trail, Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu Mountain, and the Vilcabamba Traverse. Each of these hikes comes with its dangers and ways to mitigate them.
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How Dangerous Is Hiking To Machu Picchu?
As with all hikes and outdoor activities, there are always dangers involved. When it comes to hiking Machu Picchu, the overall consensus is that none of the hiking trails associated with this ancient city are too dangerous. There were a few recorded deaths related to the hiking trails, but considering how many people hike Machu Picchu daily, these deaths should not put you off. Things to keep in mind when hiking Machu Picchu include:
Most people will start their journey to Machu Picchu from the city of Cusco, which sits at 10 800 feet above sea level, and Machu Picchu itself sits at 7 920 feet elevation. Altitude sickness can result in dizzy spells, lack of appetite, headaches, flu-like symptoms, and feeling like you are ‘hung-over.’ If left for prolonged periods, altitude sickness can result in fluid in the lungs and potentially be dangerous.
Luckily there are ways to combat the symptoms of altitude sickness. These include spending a few days in Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude before hiking to Mach Picchu. This acclimatization period is essential if you reside in an area closer to sea level.
You can also chew coca leaves while hiking or drink coca tea which is an excellent way to combat altitude sickness. Diamox tablets will also help with the symptoms of altitude sickness. However, you should always discuss this method with your doctor before purchasing them from the pharmacy.
Every hike associated with hiking Machu Picchu has sections of the trail that become narrow. Keeping away from the ledge in these sections is advisable. Try not to jump or stand close to the edge for photos. Standing against the wall or away from the edge is advisable if a faster hiker or trail guide wishes to pass you.
Wet Paths And Landslides In The Wet Season
The best times to hike around Machu Picchu are during the dry season, from May to October. If you choose to walk Machu Picchu during the wet season, November to April, you will need to take extra precautions while hiking. Falling rocks, mudslides, and slippery pathways are just some of the issues you can encounter. Wearing the correct gear is essential during these periods, and listening to your guide on the guided trails is also vital.
There are a few dangerous animals you could encounter while hiking Machu Picchu. These animals include dogs, snakes, bears, and pumas. The first of these animals, dogs, can be a problem when starting on the Inca trail. These dogs are often stray or wild, and although they may look cute, you should avoid trying to touch them as they might become scared and attack you.
The other three snakes, bears, and pumas should not be a real problem. Typically these animals will avoid the trails as they know that people frequent these areas. If you encounter one of these animals along the path, keep walking past them and don’t engage or go near them to take a photo. The best thing to do is remain on the pathway.
Other Safety Concerns
One of the main ways to mitigate any dangers from hiking Machu Picchu is to wear the correct hiking gear and be prepared. Wear proper hiking shoes and using a trekking pole will significantly help. Ensure that you have packed all-weather gear in your bag so that you do not get too hot or too cold. Sunhat, sunblock, water, water purification tablets, and snacks are essential things you need in your backpack.
Although hiking Machu Picchu is considered safe for personal safety, implementing specific safety mechanisms is always good. These include keeping your essential personal belongings in a safe place on you. Try not to wave around money or your important documents. Overall, be aware, like you would in any other area.
How Dangerous Are The Different Machu Picchu Hikes?
A few hikes are associated with Machu Picchu, and they all have their dangers. However, there is no need to consider any of them dangerous. Let’s take a look at four of the most popular trails.
The Classic Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is a 2 – 5 day hike that takes you from Cusco straight to the Sun Gate, the entrance to Machu Picchu. The standard journey takes hikers four days of solid hiking to get to the Sun Gate on the morning of the 4th day. This journey is considered an intermediate hike, with the second day being the most grueling.
The second day takes you along the Dead Woman’s Pass, the Inca Trail’s highest point, standing at 13 838 feet. The steps up are knee-busting, and the steps going down can be relatively dangerous if you do not concentrate on where you are putting your feet, a tumble could be life-threatening. This part of the hike is also where you will probably feel the effects of altitude sickness. Listening to the advice of your guide and drinking enough water will make the journey easier.
The Vilcabamba Trek
This hiking trail is the less popular and, therefore, less populated trail to Machu Picchu. Just because it is not as popular does not mean it is any less beautiful. It is considered the more strenuous hike, and it will provide you with a more remote and rugged experience. Be aware of symptoms that could indicate altitude sickness and rather walk this trail with an experienced guide for safety. The hike will typically take an average hiker five days to complete.
The trail that leads up to the peak of Huayna Picchu is not for the faint-hearted. It is exceptionally steep, going up 1000 feet of steps made by the ancient Incas. Getting to the top will afford you spectacular views of Machu Picchu, but if you are not a relatively fit person or are afraid of heights, you should skip this hike.
This route is probably the most dangerous of all the trails near Machu Picchu. If you lose your footing, there is a steep downward fall with nothing to stop you.
Machu Picchu Mountain
Opposite Huayna Picchu you will find the Machu Picchu Mountain trail. This route is highly strenuous and goes up to 10 112 feet above sea level. This trail is not dangerous per se, but you will need to be extra cautious if it has recently rained as the course goes through clusters of ruins that become tricky to walk through after rainfall.
Overall, it is not dangerous to hike Machu Picchu. There are hazardous aspects to any hikes, and the ones associated with Machu Picchu are not immune to these dangers. However, as long as you plan, listen to your guides, and take the necessary precautions while hiking, your overall hiking experience should be safe enough.