Inca Trail - Machu Pichu

Hiking the Inca Trail through the Andes takes you along ancient ruins on the most popular hiking trail in South America. Crossing the 125-square mile Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary showcases mountains, exotic animals and vegetation. Make this journey in four days through three mountain passes and get up close and personal with the peaks, cloud forest, rivers and dozens of Inca ruins on the 26-mile trek reaching 13,800 feet.

Most hikers arrive from Cusco by train to reach Ollantaytambo, or Km 88. If arriving by bus, stop at Km 82. The hike starts by crossing the RÌo Urubamba, which leads to the first gentle ascent to the ruins at Llaqtapata. The path then travels over the RÌo Cusicacha, beginning to climb to the only inhabited village along the way, Huayllabamba. Most groups camp here on the first night.

Day two greets you with the most arduous portion of the journey. First reach the ruins at Llullucharoc at 12,460 feet about an hour from Huayllabamba. Next climb to Abra de HuarmihuaÒusqa, or Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point on the trail at 13,780 feet. The hike can take 2 1/2 hours in the blazing sun, followed by cold winds at the top, and even freezing rain or snow based on the time of year. Following, descend down stone steps to Pacamayo at 11,810 feet to camp for the evening.

On the third day, you’re walking on the original footpath built by the Incas. Pass by the ruins of Runcuracay, a circular structure. Then climb on to the second pass on the hike, Abra de Runcuracay, at 12,790 feet. Here you can find views of the Vilcabamba mountain range. Pass through a naturally formed tunnel to a lake and a staircase-like ascent to Sayacmarca at 11,480 feet. Here you can find ritual baths and views overlooking the Aobamba Valley among the high cliffs. Next travel to Conchamarca that leads into a jungle with lichens, hanging moss, bromeliads and orchids along with stunning birds. The path goes through an Inca tunnel and then climbs along a stone road to the trail’s third major pass, Phuyupatamarca, at 12,460 feet. Here you can see the Urubamba Valley and some of the highest snowcapped peaks in the region at 18,040 feet, such as Salcantay. Below sits the tourist town of Aguas Calientes and ahead, the backside of Machu Picchu. Discover the restored Inca ruins of Phuyupatamarca, an ancient village where you can see the remains of six ceremonial baths. A stone staircase seemingly disappears into a cloud forest. Descending the 2,250 steps takes about 90 minutes. A quick 10-minute trek off the main trail brings you to the ruins of Huinay Huayna. Spend the night here before waking early to start day four and Machu Picchu.

From Huinay Huayna on the final day, reach Intipunku (the Sun Gate) and descend to Machu Picchu early to see the dramatic sunrise over the ruins. The final ascent is a 50-step, nearly vertical climb from Intipunku to Machu Picchu, takes about 45 minutes. Once you reach the ruins, you must deposit your backpacks at the hotel to receive a one-day entrance passes to Machu Picchu.

Getting There

Fly in to Lima, Peru, at sea level, and then take a one-hour flight to Cusco, the cultural hub of the Peruvian Andes at 10,800 feet. Most hikers spend a couple days in Cusco or a spot in the Sacred Valley to become acclimated with the high elevation.

Preparation

In order to hike the Inca Trail, you must be a part of an organized group that has been arranged by an officially sanctioned tour agency. Almost 140 agencies in Cusco and the surrounding area can sell these packages. The Peruvian government limits the number of trekkers on the Inca Trail to 200 trekkers or 500 people total, including staff and guides per day. Every hiker must have a trek permit, obtainable from your tour company.

You may want to plan your trip to coincide with the full moon. That’s when locals say the region experiences the best weather, and arriving at Machu Picchu during the full moon offers a surreal experience.

Trail Options

If you’re less physically fit, a shortened version of the hike is offered in a two-day version. The trail only reaches 9,020 feet and is a relatively easy climb to Huinay Huayna and then down to Machu Picchu. Start at Km 104, but know that you avoid some of the mountain scenary and ruins along the way. Spend the night near the ruins of Huinay Huayna before trekking to Machu Picchu for sunrise on the second day.

Where to Stay

In Lima, most travelers stay in the Miraflores or San Isidro areas of the city. Cusco offers a variety of hotels from simple to luxurious. Cusco was the cultural hub of and the capital of the Inca Empire, and serves as the historic and cultural center of the Peruvian Andes.

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