The Inca Trail
The trek to Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas, is one of the world’s most famous. Even though the route to it is crowded, it’s only because of the imaginative appeal of its destination. Crowds don’t matter when you first arrive at the Trail’s end – the stone portal of Intipunku, the Gateway of the Sun, through which you first see the ruins of Machu Picchu.
The traditional route begins at Cuzco, once the imperial capital of the Incas’ Andean Empire. Most visitors choose to acclimatize to the altitude while browsing Cuzco’s Inca and Spanish colonial history, architecture and artefacts.The trek leads up the Urubamba River valley from Chilca to the Inca ruins at Llactapata; past the gentle farmland slopes and woods of Wayllabamba to a steep climb through cloud forest to the second campsite at Llulluchapampa. The plants, flowers and birds are completely different in the open terrain before Abra de Huarmihuanasca, the ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’, at 4,200m (13,776 ft) the highest point of the trek; but the hard work of climbing at altitude is worth it for the panorama of the Vilcanota and Vilcabamba mountain ranges. The Trail drops to cross the Pacaymayo River but at the next pass, Runku Raccay, you come to a series of ancient stone steps descending to the Inca town of Sayac Marca, from which a still superbly- paved Inca highway disappears through amazing cloud forest to Phuyupatamarca (‘Cloud-Level Town’). This campsite is close to the extensive Inca site of Huinay Huayna, from which the Trail drops through forest until it levels out and climbs to Intipunku itself. No photograph prepares you for the reality of Machu Picchu. The legendary magnificence of the panorama is magnified by the physical investment you make in Inca history and culture on the ascent.
WHEN TO GO:
June to August is the Andean dry season, and the busiest for visitors, but the Inca Trail is theoretically open year- round, except for February, when it is closed to allow natural regeneration.
TIME IT TAKES:
Four days for the 45 km (28 mi) classic Inca Trail, it’s a steady hike, made more difficult by the altitude. Most visitors do not give themselves time to acclimatize. Variations on the classic
route extend the trek to 6-8 days, making it easier and more comfortable.
Acclimatizing at the Inca fortress of Ollantaytambo, and the market and ruins of Pisac – among various Inca sites on the Urubamba River known collectively as the Sacred valley.
The pre-dawn cloud forest hike to reach intipunku as the sun rises.
The Inca paving stones, stairways, tunnel and multiple other ruins.
The unexpected orchids among the mosses of the mature cloud forest before Huinay Huayna.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Restrictions on the number of Trail permits