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July 2011 will mark a significant milestone for Machu Picchu, the mystical Incan village high in the Andes Mountains of Peru: the 100th anniversary of its discovery by North American explorer Hiram Bingham, a Yale lecturer.
To commemorate the event, several adventure travel companies have planned July itineraries to the site, which is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and our pick for one of the globe's Top 10 Sacred Places. One to consider: Adventure Life's eight-day Machu Picchu 100th Anniversary Celebration, which starts on July 20. (And, exclusive for our readers, you'll get 10 percent off the $2,045 price tag when you mention Sherman's Travel when making the reservation.)
Adventure Life's itinerary aims to offer an up-close and personalized experience in and around Peru's most popular tourist attraction. The trip is capped at 12 attendees, employs local expert Marcos Palamino, and also includes a special ceremony conducted in the indigenous Quechua language by a local shaman. The ceremony takes place in Moray, where there's a fascinating group of circular terraces the Incas used for agriculture.
In addition, you'll get the chance to experience Machu Picchu on two separate days. On the first (which is day five of the trip, in order to allow your body to acclimatize to the 8,000-foot-plus altitude), you'll take the window-filled Vistadome train into Ollantaytambo, a town in the Sacred Valley, on a scenic, approximately two-hour trip to the ancient ruins.
Once there, you'll have the chance to explore the mysterious, serene site and even dip your hands into the ancient canals that still bring water from the high mountains to the baths once used by Inca priests. The guide will also describe what it was like a century ago, when Bingham arrived at this vine-tangled hillside in search of the Lost City of the Incas. You'll also have the option of returning to Machu Picchu again the following day.
A few tips, whether you travel to Machu Picchu with Adventure Life (www.adventure-life.com), another outfitter, or on your own:
1. Don't overexert yourself. Altitudes around 8,000 feet are unkind to newbies, and altitude sickness – which can cause vomiting, headaches and lethargy – is common, especially if you're coming from sea level. Skip out on an activity if you need to, avoid alcohol (which exacerbates the condition), stay hydrated and maybe even chew on a coca leaf (yes, it's from the plant that makes cocaine, but its leaves are safe to chew and believed to help alleviate altitude sickness).
2. If you're traveling solo instead of with an outfitter, plan far ahead. Permits are required to hike the Inca Trail (getting there via train, as with Adventure Life, is the other option) and are often reserved far in advance; train reservations go quickly too.
3. If you're a Yalie, you might want to refrain from wearing any school insignia. Over the last several years, the university has been enmeshed in a bitter dispute with Peru over artifacts that Bingham gathered from Machu Picchu and brought back to Yale. After a lawsuit, Yale's administration is in the process of returning them to Peru, but it will likely be a while before good will is completely restored.