The Travel Company Making Machu Picchu Wheelchair Accessible

Wheel the World offers travelers specialized wheelchairs that can traverse difficult terrain

machu picchu
Machu Picchu, aka the 'Old Mountain' Photo by Frédéric Soltan/Corbis via Getty Images

Machu Picchu, the dazzling Inca city built nearly 8,000 feet above sea-level atop Peru’s Andes mountains, is comprised of sprawling terraces, narrow lanes and more than 100 flights of stairs. More than 1 million tourists make the challenging trek through Machu Picchu each year; now, people in wheelchairs will also get a chance to experience this world wonder.

As Lilit Marcus reports for CNN, the travel company Wheel the World will soon offer the first-ever wheelchair-accessible tours of Machu Picchu.

The idea for Wheel of the World began in 2017, as co-founder Alvaro Silberstein began making meticulous plans to hike the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, a region known for its staggering mountains and brilliant blue icebergs. Alvaro, who uses a wheelchair, assembled a team that included mountaineers and disabilities experts, and raised $8,000 to buy a specialized trekking wheelchair for the hike, which he donated to the park after his trip so it could be used by other people with disabilities.

From there, Silberstein, then a Berkeley Haas School of Business student, teamed up with friend and classmate Camilo Navarro to launch a company that would make other similarly beautiful but rugged terrains wheelchair accessible.

Already, Wheel the World offers a number of tours in Mexico and Chile, where Silberstein and Navarro hail, according to Caroline Goldstein of artnet News; the new Machu Picchu experience marks the company’s first venture into Peru. A four-day trip costs around $1,500, including hotel stays and excluding airfare, on par with non-accessible tours, according to Marcus. There is also a single-day Machu Picchu tour, which costs $990.

Ancient sites like this one often can’t be modified with accessible infrastructure due to preservation concerns, so providing the proper equipment is key. Partners donate specialized chairs to Wheel the World; the company uses the Joëlette trekking wheelchair, which is “designed with only one wheel and two long sticks that make it look like a wheelbarrow,” Navarro tells Marcus. “It is a mix of steel and aluminum, like a bicycle, so it’s light.” The chairs can’t be self-propelled, but assistants and trained guides are on hand to help lone travelers.

As is true for any visitor looking to see Machu Picchu up close, trekking through the site may not be easy, but it is now possible for tourists in wheelchairs to do it, as Silberstein showed when he and a woman named Isabel Aguirre became the first quadriplegic and paraplegic travelers to make the ambitious 7-mile journey up the mountain last year.

“[A]t many exhausted moments we wondered if we would make it,” he said at the time, “but ... seeing Machu Picchu from on high was probably the most beautiful moment in my life”.

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