Machu Picchu, Inca Trail
Inca Trail or Camino Inca is a hiking trail in Peru that ends at Machu Picchu. Walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, makes you think of its vastness and how the Incas must have built this, in ancient times.
Machu Picchu, also known as “The Lost City of the Incas”dates from 1450.
The Incas built the city for the great Inca Emperor, Pachacuti.
American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered the archaeological site in 1911. The site remained untouched for hundred of years, since the Spanish Invasion in 16th century. The Spanish Invasion marked the end of the Incan Empire.
Description of the Inca trail
The Classic Inca trail to Machu Picchu is 45 km long. The trail begins at Kilometre 82- Piscacucho.
At 82 kilometre from Cusco was the first checkpoint, where our passes and passports were checked.
After crossing Vilcanota River, we followed the trail at the right.
The first day took in 12 km mix of flat, wide track interspersed with a few steep inclines and descents, following the river Urubamba.
We first passed Willcarakay, a rundown ruin site. After 5 kms we reached the first major Incan ruin site at Llactapata, with its iconic terraces, built into steep hillsides for better farming.
After 6 hours we reached the first camp at Wayllabamba.
The second day was the most challenging.
We climbed to the highest pass of the trail “Dead Woman’s Pass” ( Abra de Huarmihuanusca) at 4200 m.
According to the legend. a young Inca Princess was sacrificed and buried here.
According to our guide Huan, the name was given as the pass shape resembles a woman lying down.
The trail starts at 2650 m and climbs to 4200 m, the highest point on the trail. It took seven hours and was mostly uphill on narrow rocky path.
From Dead Woman’s Pass, a steep descent followed to the second campsite Pacaymayo at 3600 m.
The total distance trekked is 16 kms.
From Pacaymayo camp, the trail climbs to Inca ruins, Runcu Raccay. From the second pass Abru de Runkurakay, the trail descends Inca paving steps.
The path was a little more winding with the majority downhill. We passed significant Inca ruins, Sayacmarca (“Inaccessible town”) and Phuyupatamarca (“Town in the Clouds”).
The walk passes through Inca Tunnel and magnificent cloud forests full of flowers, hanging moss, ferns and orchids.
After 6 hours, we reached the last camp at Winay Wayna (“Forever Young”).
At 5:30 we started walking, reaching the Sun Gate (Intipunku) after a steep flight of 50 steps.
Around 7:00 o’clock we watched the first rays of sun shining over Machu Picchu.
The end of the trek was magical.
Machu Picchu proved to be a perfect symbiosis between ancient ruins and stunning landscape.
CAMINO INCA (as narrated by my daughter)
Day 1- the beginning…
After six months of anticipation, the first day of the Inca Trail had arrived.
The walk started at Ollantaytambo, the hub that everyone travels through to get to Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world.
There we caught a glimpse of the luxurious way to travel, the train. We however. were taking the other way, a way that involved walking all day, sleeping in tents and no hot showers.
The landscape was new and exciting. We followed a path along the river for a little while, and parts of the trail had stunning views of the Cordillera Urubamba and the snow capped peak of Veronica.
The weather was unpredictable to say the least. As we began our journey it started to rain. We all stopped to put our rain ponchos on, ensuring they covered our bags so that our clothes would remain dry for the cold night ahead.
However, ten minutes later the sun came out and all of a sudden we were hot, wearing way too many layers. We had to stop to shed all the clothes that we frantically had just put on.
This continued throughout most of the first day and I was hoping this routine was not a preview of what the weather had in store for the next few days.
However, thankfully Pachamama (the Andean goddess known as mother earth) smiled down on us and the weather for the remaining days was superb, apparently a rare event.
Before half way through the first day was even through, we had managed to spot some goats on rocks just meters from where we were walking. We also had four seasons in one day and saw our first Inca archaeological site.
Halfway through the day we stopped for lunch.
We got to the site for lunch and were treated with a feast. Throughout the three days my admiration for the crew, the cook and porters, would continue to grow.
The food was amazing, some of the best cuisine I had eaten in all of Peru and cooked with camp fire equipment, plus there was always an abundance, which is rare in Peru where they often eat and serve small portions.
The first day of the trek was relatively easy, with a few inclines. This became to be known to us as Inca flat. The first day eased us in and served as training for the days to follow.
After lunch we continued walking to our camping site, in a small village of Wayllabamba. The porters set up the tents neatly in front of a stunning view. It was time to crack a Cerveza, whilst we could still buy such necessary commodities, enjoy the view and set up the beds.
We were all prepared to hit the sack early in preparation for the most challenging day of the trek. However the day before had been Peru’s independence day, and the partying continued on in the Wayllabamba village.
All the books I had read before, had informed me that Peruvians enjoyed a good fiesta!
Day 2- the ascend….
We were awoken with refreshments brought to us ‘in bed.’
Nothing like starting a challenging climb with Coca leaf tea, the Peruvian’s trusted source to assist with altitude sickness.
After a delicious breakfast of crepes with Nutella, it was time to begin the hardest day of the trail.
It was three hours of walking, Inca flat, through steepening woods and spectacular terrain.
Then following was an hour and half steep climb to the highest pass of the trail- Dead Woman’s Pass.
Surprisingly, it was not as challenging as I had envisioned.
With so much spectacular scenery to distract me, I wasn’t thinking about how hard the climb was.
At the top, we were rewarded with magnificent panoramic views of mountains and snow capped peaks.
And so the saying goes…what goes up must go down.
We began the descend, which was referred to as the “gringo killer”.
This was harder than I had anticipated. The steps were large and it required an inordinate amount of concentration.
This also meant, I didn’t have the luxury to be distracted by the beauty that surrounded me. The downward path seemed to continue endlessly.
As I struggled and contemplated how long till I reached the end, the porters carrying 25 kg or more were running past me, down the steps in their sandals! We finally reached the end and arrived at our campsite.
The tents set up and the view even more superb than the last!
After some food and debriefing, the hardest day was completed.
Day 3 – jungle and rainbows…
As we began our trek on the third day, the trail continued to surpass expectations.
It was this day that it began to truly feel as if we were walking along the trail of the Incas. We walked on the paving being for the most part original. We were also lucky enough to visit a few more archaeological Inca sites along the path.
The terrain and scenery on this day was more jungle-like. The path began to descend into magnificent cloud-forest full of hanging mosses, tree ferns and flowers. We also passed through an Inca tunnel, carved into the rock. However, towards the end of the day we saw the return of the gringo killer, with thousands of steps.
On this day, we had the option to go a longer way. For me this was a no brainer, carpe diem…when else was I going to be in Peru. So I took the long way which involved trekking to some Inca terraces.
The terraces were impressive but the view was like nothing I had seen before. The terraces overlooked a large valley and we were lucky to capture a rainbow over it too.
This was our last night and we had to bid our farewells to the cook and the porters.
The cook made a delicious cake as a surprise. There were no ovens or any way of carrying or delivering a cake to the campsite.
The cake was made with patience and a true passion for cooking.
It took three hours to cook!
Day 4- the culmination…Machu Picchu
Today we woke up early with a 4:30 in the morning start, in order to get to Machu Picchu before the sunrise.
There was only another hour and a half to walk. Within an hour the first rays of sun were streaming through.
The trail contoured a mountainside, coming to cloud-forest before an almost vertical flight of 50 steps. Some trekkers almost literally had to get on their hands and knees and crawl.
We arrived at Intipunku, the Sun Gate.
Here we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu in all its glory.
Staring down at the site, really gave me an appreciation for what was truly a wonder.
We were lucky as other travellers reported that often, is very foggy at the Sun Gate and it can be hard to see Machu Picchu. We watched the sunrise over Machu Picchu before trekking towards it to explore.
When we got to Machu Picchu I was still in awe of it, amazing to think of its vastness and how the Incas must have built this, carrying the rocks through the mountainside, when I just managed to trek on a paved path with a measly 10 kg backpack.
Within an hour, the tourists arrived via the train and packed the site. It made me realise how glad I was that I visited Machu Picchu this way. Although the wonder was awe inspiring, I expected it to be the climax but it was the journey and the amazing sites I saw along the way that really had me flawed.