The Inca Trail, Peru
Commonly regarded as being amongst the most remarkable treks in the world, The Inca Trail begins at a site known as km82, a point lying 82 kilometers along the railway line from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Typically a four day venture, the trail covers just 26 miles(45km), managing to cram in outstanding mountain scenery, sub-tropical jungles, and impressive Inca ruins and tunnels, before culminating at the glorious Machu Picchu, dubbed the ‘Lost City of the Incas’.
A typical itinerary comprises of an approximately 12km trek on day one, crossing the Vilcanota river and passing Huillca Raccay–an Inca hill fort–before a gentle descent to and along the banks of the Cusichaca river, leading you to the village of Wayllabamba, where most tour groups spend their first night.
Day two is the most arduous portion of the trek, ascending more than 1000 meters to an altitude of 4200m. This takes you above the treeline near a site known as Llulluchapampa and on to the highest point of the trail, dubbed Abra de Huarmihuanusca (Dead Woman’s Pass). A steep descent brings you to the valley basin campsite at Pacamayo. Total distance, 11km.
The third day (total 16km) again starts with an ascent, this time to the ruins at Runkuraqay, which provide stunning views over the valley below. Further along the path and you’ll experience the true footsteps of the Incas as most of the paving and steps are original. The descent highlights some of the more spectacular scenery of the trail, before you arrive via a stone stairway at Sayacmarca, the ‘Inaccessible Town’ (so called because it has three surrounding sheer cliff faces).
The descent from Sayamarca leads you through fields of orchids and passes through an Inca tunnel carved into the rock before you find yourself climbing once more, with spectacular views of the snow-capped mountain peaks of Salcantay and Veronica, to the impressive Inca ruins at Phuyupatamarka, or ‘Town in the Clouds’. A 1000 step Inca stairway takes you away from the ruins and a further two-hour hike along a forested path leads you down to the campsite at Winay Wayna.
Winay Wayna is home to some of the most impressive Inca ruins, believed to possibly be a religious site for ritual cleansing before making the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu.
An early start is usually on the cards for day four as most trekkers like to arrive at Machu Picchu in time for sunrise. First light occurs at around 7am. The trek (6km) is comprised of a mountain trail and forested walk before a sheer flight of steps takes you up to Intipunku, or ‘Sun Gate’ which leads to the awe-inspiring sight that is Machu Picchu.
When to go:
The best weather normally occurs between May and September and is mostly dry and sunny. Be aware that between June and August, the nights can be particularly cold.
Things to note:
Bear in mind that although most of the trek is not considered arduous, altitudes of up to 4200m above sea level make things a little more taxing and altitude sickness is commonplace. It is recommended to take a couple of easy days to acclimatize prior to the trek. Pack conservatively but take a variety of clothing to allow for both hot days under the equatorial sun and cold mountain nights.
Photo credits: WikiCommons