Inca trail to Machu Picchu Travel Guide

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Machupicchu - Inka Ruins Cusco

Machupicchu - Inka Ruins Cusco

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Machu Picchu ….The very name evokes images of a fabulous lost city, hidden deep in the jungles of Peru. Most people who visit Peru take a trip to this site, and they usually travel there by train from Cuzco , a wonderful journey by the banks of the Urubamba River, a tributary of the Amazon, passing beneath towering mountains and through misty cloud forest. However, there is another way of reaching the site, and that is by hiking the Inca Trail over the mountains for four days, finally descending into the lost city from the Sun Gate at the end of the fourth day.

To make a four-day trek, begin at the village of Chilca, 45 kms from Machu Picchu.   You’ll have to pay a fee to join a group, which will consist of up to about 16 people, plus tour leader and trek guide and a 30-strong team of porters and cooks. Your guide will have completed the trek many times before and will most likely be a competent authority on the plants, animals, Inca ruins and other items of interest which you will be seeing for the first time.

The route follows the Vilcanota River, another name for the Urubamba, sometimes by its banks and sometimes on precipitous paths high above its course. Your guide will allow you frequent stops to acclimatize to the altitude and catch your breaths, and will point out to you the various cactuses, bromelia, fuschia, broom and other plants that you would not otherwise have noticed. You’ll be captivated by the magnificent scenery all around you. Far below in the valley, the river courses its way over white-water rapids, while opposite, you can clearly see the terraced mountain sides, and will no doubt marvel at how the ancient farmers could manage to cultivate what seems to be no more than narrow strips of land on sheer mountain faces. Most of the trekking on this first day will be on undulating ground with a few very steep ascents.

You’ll arrive at a high ridge late that afternoon and catch your first glimpse of an Inca ruin, Llactapata, far below you at this point, though still at a respectful altitude of 2,700m, catching the rays of the afternoon sun. This site, like most others, is situated on a steep slope, and makes extensive use of terracing, both to prevent erosion and for cultivation. All around you, the mountains rise to staggering heights, sometimes shrouded in cloud, other times, clear and starkly outlined against a deep blue sky.   The snow-capped Nevado Veronica will be in your view for the first two days. At over 5,000m, it is one of the highest mountains in the region. Your first campsite is nearby, and you’ll arrive there, exhausted from the effects of the altitude. However, the magnificent team of porters will have arrived ahead of you and set everything up: your sleeping tents, the dining tent and toilet tent, and will have prepared a snack for you. They also hand out basins of hot water to wash with, for which you’ll be extremely grateful! They’ll then set out to cook your first evening meal, which you’ll be almost too tired to eat. You may even catch a glimpse of a condor that evening, gliding silently overhead.

The porters are fantastic. They carry absolutely everything in 25kg packs on their backs! After you set out each day, they’ll soon catch up and pass you out, even with their much heavier loads. On the downhill stretches, they’ll pass you running, in flimsy flip-flops made from old car tyres, finding no difficulty whatsoever on the narrow, uneven, steep steps, which will have no mercy on your knees, even in your trekking boots!

As there are only about 12 daylight hours in the Tropics, lasting from about 5.30 am to 5.30 pm, everyone gets up early to take advantage of the light, so still sleepy and not fully rested, you’ll be up at sunrise each morning to start the day’s trek.

The second day is mostly uphill, as you’ll be heading towards the highest pass, which you’ll reach the following day. You’ll stop for a break at Huayllabamba, the last village on the trail, while you gaze with trepidation at the track winding steeply uphill ahead of you. At your lunch break, you may be lucky to meet a herd of llamas passing by, carrying packs on their backs. These proud-looking animals, with colourful ribbons in their ears, are quite curious, and will stop to stare at you, and obligingly pose for your cameras.

From here, there’s a 400m climb to your next campsite at Llulluchapampa at 3,760m. The going is steep and you’ll be glad to arrive. Far above you lies the pass you have to tackle the next morning, the “Dead Woman’s Pass”, which at 4,200m, is the highest point of the trek. This pass is named for the shape of the mountain to one side, which looks like the silhouette of a reclining woman. The temperature falls swiftly once night has fallen, and you’ll be just about warm enough in your sleeping bags.

The most challenging day is the third, where you have to climb about 500m from your campsite to the pass, first thing in the morning. Due to the exertion of the previous day, and the increasing effects of altitude, this 500m will take a few hours to climb, at a very slow pace. Even the porters will slow down! The effort of putting one foot in front of the other really takes its toll and you’ll have to stop for frequent rests. It’s a tradition on the trek that those who arrive first will sit at the pass and shout encouragement to those approaching. Great cheering greets each person who eventually arrives and joins those already in place. Quite a few groups will have set out that morning, so the pass could be a fairly crowded place by the time you arrive there!

After a rest and a group photo, you’ll descend almost as far as you’ve risen, on a steep flight of steps, have a snack and then ascend to the next set of ruins, a small oval-shaped site called Runcuracay, used as a resting place by the Inca travelers.   Another ascent and descent will bring you to the Sayaqmarca ruins on a rocky promontory, which are accessed by a narrow stairway. At this height, the weather is constantly changing, and swirling mist fills the valley below and blots out the sight of the mountains for a while, only to lift again a few minutes later, and allow you a view back over the steep paths you have already taken. Altogether that day, there will be three steep ascents and two descents, before you arrive at your campsite, totally exhausted. You’ll be asleep early that evening!

The last day starts out with a traditional early morning wake-up call to watch the sunrise over Nevado Salcantay which, at over 6,700m, is the highest mountain in the region. Your path then plunges 900m on narrow, steep, slippery steps, into the dense humid forest.   Far below you, you can see one of the most well-preserved ruins, Wiñay Wayna, meaning “forever young”, named after a lovely orchid.

You are now on the far side of Machu Picchu mountain, in the realm of the rain forest, and the beginnings of the Amazon jungle. Huge, iridesdcent butterflies, tiny hummingbirds and furry caterpillars will be your companions on this stretch, as well as an array of beautiful orchids and other unusual plants. By lunchtime, you’ll have reached Wiñay Wayna and can spend some time exploring it. You’ll enter it at one of its highest points and won’t fail to be amazed at how the ancient builders had constructed the site on such a steep slope, incorporating a series of descending pools, where water would have cascaded from one to the other. They had also built terracing used for cultivation, and dwellings with gable ends, set out in neat rows.

Excitement mounts after lunch as you’ll know by then that you’re reaching the “Intipunku”, or Sun Gate, a notch in the mountain, where you arrive at mid-afternoon. This gives you your first view of Machu Picchu in the distance, not the classic postcard view unfortunately, but a much wider view taking in modern buildings and a winding road. However, as you descend, the modern intrusions disappear from sight, and the classic view spreads before your eyes. If the day is clear, the panorama will be fantastic. You’ll feel privileged to be there, to be actually viewing a place you’ve read about, and seen in pictures and on TV so many times. Walk down through the site, and leave the tour for the next day. That evening, in the town of Aguas Calientes or “Hot Waters”, you’ll want to celebrate reaching the end of your journey by taking advantage of the hot mineral baths to soak away the aches and pains of the trek in an open-air hot pool.

Next morning take your tour around the city of Machu Picchu , which is really quite a huge site. Your guide will point out to you the main buildings and temples, as well as the amazing stonework, consisting of megalithic blocks cut and shaped so precisely, and fitted together so tightly, that it would be impossible to insert even a knife blade between them in places. You’ll also have some free time to explore by yourselves, or to climb the peak in the background, Huayna Picchu, before heading back to Cuzco , or whatever your next destination will be.

Although this trail is extremely popular, and can at times be overcrowded, it is a most wonderful experience, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the ancient past and the challenge of the mountains, and who wouldn’t be intimidated by the effects of high altitude.

As the new permit system (just 500 persons are permitted to enter to the Inca trail per day and includes visitors, porters, cooks, and guides.) then reservations must be done in advance. Highly recommended companies are: Explorandes, InkaNatura Travel, Ecoinka and Trekperu.

Contributors

July 04, 2005 change by giorgio

May 06, 2005 new by carol

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