Located across two Peruvian mountain peaks, the UNESCO World Heritage site, Machu Picchu — a 600 year-old world wonder — has long been known as a must-see destination full of logistical hurdles. Endless terraces and over a hundred flights of stony stairs make the ancient site difficult to navigate. But thanks to a new tour company, Wheel the World, the Inca empire is now wheelchair friendly for the first time.
The travel company was founded by two Chileans friends, Alvaro Silberstein, who uses a wheelchair, and Camilo Navarro, who doesn’t use one. Together they saw the barriers faced by travelers, and envisioned a way for wheelchair users to access an experience previously unavailable to them. In fact, their company offers the first-ever wheelchair-accessible tour of the site.
Emocionadisimo ayer logramos algo épico. @wheeltheworld la primera vez que sube una silla de ruedas por el #incatrail llegando a #machupicchu, 12 horas de mucho esfuerzo… En la silla Isabel Aguirre. Minutos antes @alvasil #accesibilidad#explorarsinlimites pic.twitter.com/opu8i05Eoc
— Ale Silberstein (@alesilberstein) November 24, 2018
Reaching this major attraction involves difficulties such as traversing rough terrain that requires costly equipment and often hinders tourists from embarking on this adventure. In an interview with CNN Travel, Navarro explained that “Accessible does not mean inclusive. There are one billion people [in the world] with disabilities. But there’s not one main travel company dedicated to these users.”
Wheel the World sought to change all of this by providing travelers with one-wheeled all-terrain Joëlette trekking wheelchairs capable of navigating the trail’s narrower, more challenging sections. They are also accompanied by a travel companion, as the wheelchairs can’t be self-propelled. Made from lightweight aluminium and steel, the chairs are stored locally for tour members, which means travelers aren’t limited by having to supply their own or pay for shipping.
As Smithsonian Magazine reports, a four-day trip to the site (around $1,500 with hotel stays included, and excluding flights) is comparable to the cost of non-accessible tours.
Aside from Peru, the two friends, Navarro and Silberstein also have tours in Chile and Mexico, but according to Navarro, there’s still a long way to go in making the heritage site accessible. Travelers who are blind, deaf, or have other accessibility needs won’t require the same accommodations, but often face travel operators who lump all disabilities together.
One of his priorities is working toward a more inclusive experience. “Sometimes we get phone calls from national parks saying they want us to come explore the place,” Navarro told CNN. “But often, because of erosion concerns or restrictions about how ancient sites can be modified, it’s not always as simple as immediately building a wheelchair ramp. “Accessibility is a matter of being creative.”