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Inca Trail Trek Overview

Machu Picchu Trek in Peru

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Inca Trail Overview

Overview When the Spaniards arrived in Peru, their inavasion was facilitated by the great net of roads that were found distributed along this land. These paths were very wide, firm and their distribution linked the entire Inca state, from Quito to Cusco and from there to Tucuman in Argentina and to the Atacama region in Chile. These roads joined the coast with the Andes congregating the small villages to the main roads, which lead to the most important places of Tahuantinsuyu - The Inca State.
Spanish chroniclers of the conquest, whtn narrating this enterprise, showed an element of surprise regarding the roads' magnitude, especially those that ran over the steep hills of the Andes, which are also very difficult to access. In fact its construction appears to have demanded the sacrifice of many lives and much effort, especially since at the time they owned very limited and simple tools.Inca Trail Trek Road

A shelter is found every so many kilometres down the road. These shelters were built to protect messengers, soldiers and travelers from the cold, the rain and the night. They were called tambos and many can still be found in relatively good shape. The Incas also built bridges to cross the streams and rivers, most of which have desappeared and only few still stand, or at least their bases do (such as that in Ollantaytambo which is made of stone and stands over the Urubamba river).

The capital of the Inca State was Cusco; it is from there that the main roads uniting the country ramified. The Tahuantinsuyu was divided into four parts: Chinchaysuyu, Contisuyu, Antisuyu and Colllasuyu. These four 'suyu' were connected with Cusco via two main roads that ran parallel to each other from the South of the country to its North. One ran across the coastal border whilst the other ran amongst the Andes. Both roads, named Capac Nan or Royal Roads, were composed of smaller tracks, mainly those in the mountains, since that is where most towns were located.

There is no consensus as tho the actual length of these roads, the main an minor ones together. This is because there are sections of them that have disappeared. However, many historical documents do account for their existence. Some of these sections are lost, covered by vegetation of the Amazonian Andes, others have been replaced by modern roads and pavement. Despite these obstacles in accuracy, the estimated length of the roads has been calculated to range from 16000 to 30000 kilometres.

If it was the case that the Incas built these roads as they spread over the land, then it must also be acknowledged that many kilometres of those roads had already been built either by local dominions or by a great previous civilisation - that of the Wari culture (500 - 900 AD).
The Inca Road to Machu Picchu was used by the local peasants who knew about the abandoned Inca complexes and paths, as they were using the terraces of those places to pasture their animals or fro agricultural purposes. However, the Inca road became notorious when it was traveled by Hiram Bingham's expedition, the one that suposedly discovered Machu Picchu in 1911. The news about the discovery of Machu Picchu that year surpassed all other discoveries of the expedition. Bingham himself had a major influence on this as he concentrated on finding the last capital of the Incas - Vilcabamba.

Consequently, it was not until 1915 that Bingham made the existence of these Inca roads, which lay scattered throughout numerous urban Incan complexes, public. Some of those complexes were explored that year but not with the rigidity and intensity imposed later by the Wenner-Gren Fundation expedition, led by the Hungarian Paul Fejos in 1941.

The Inca Trail Trek - First Day

The common spots to start the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu are kilometre 78 of the rail track at Chilca station, kilometre 82 nearby the Piscacucho village, kilometre 88, at the ruins of Qoriwayrachina, and kilometre 104, Chachabamba, from where one walks approximately a day and a half to reach Machu Picchu. From the other spots walking to Machu picchu would take three days, arriving during dawn of the fourth day.

The furthest spot where the journey along the Inca Trail can be initiated from is Chilca (2680 masl). One needs to cross the Urubamba river and the first checkpoint of the trail, then follow the paths that softly ascend and descend for about four kilometres (2 hours) until one reaches the Chilca - Piscacucho conjunction (2600 masl) at kilometre 82 of the rail track.

There is an aunpaved road that goes straight from Ollantaytambo, past the town of Piscacucho, to kilometre 82 of the rail track. This is why many groups begin the Inca Trail Trek here.

One then ascends from Piscacucho to the Inca complex of Llactapata (2650 masl) also known as Patallacta. However many groups will view this complex only from a bend of the road, stopped by the Cusichaca river and will not detour towards the Inca complex. If you are passionate about Inca constructions, a visit to this complex would be impressive, specially the Pupitujuy tower, which served as a jail or for religious rites.

This fortified complex has plazas, streets and buildings, which differ in size and function, but share a very similar finish, which is not as detailed as that of Cusco and Machu Picchu. This probably served as a place for administrating their agriculture and for military control with many peasants residing in the surroundings.

On kilometre 88 of the rail track, stands Qoriwayrachina (2500 masl). After crossing the Urubamba river, ascending left will take you to the Llactapata complex. Ascending to the right leads to the ruins of Machu Qente (2550 masl).

Following on a south-western direction, one goes past the ruins of Qente and Llactapata until reaching the Cusichaca river, where one detours west to continue the climb. One passes a small village called Hatunchaca which will lead to the first camp site, known as Huayllabamba - meaning meadow. This is the largest community along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It is also the last. It is situated 3060 masl.

In the way one can enjoy the view of the snowy mountain peak called Veronica; in Quechua it is called Huacayhuilca (5750 masl). It is highly recommended that travelers rest and eat well on this night given that the next day (the second) will be the most challenging of the entire trip.

Machu Picchu Trek - Second Day

The Machu Picchu Trek gets more difficult at this point given that we need to ascend 1155 metres above sea level in what will take approximately four hours before reaching the mountain pass of Warmiwanusca (4215 masl), which translates to "dead woman's pass".

Along this section of the road one comes across various stinning sights and one may also experience quite a fluctuating climate. Starting at approximately 3000 metres above sea level, the approximate temperature on a sunny day can exceed 20 degrees Celsius with the large endemic vegetation creating an even hotter atmosphere (Yuncachimpa camp at 3300 masl and Llulluchapampa camp at 3850 masl). However once the mountain pass is reached, the temperature decreases to about 10 degrees Celsius, the mountain's summit will be covered in forg and the view will be hazy.

Long stays at the mountain pass are not recommended due to the lack of oxygen in the air and because staying there for long periods of time will accentuate any effects of altitude sickness. Having said this, experiencing the apacheta from here is wrth doing. Andean travellers usually perform rituals such as providing offerings to the earth and hills (Apu) by piling up small stones creating a small tower, this is called apacheta. This is a custom that has been around since the first civilisations in the Andes and if observed must be done so with respect.

Some groups stop for lunch in a camp situated 500 metres below the mountain pass, mainly because they reach this area at around midday. Eating well is critical for sustaining the cold, the effects of altitude disease and also to keep up one's efforts. This place also contains adequate sanitary installations.

Descending until reaching the Pacaymayu valley (hidden river) will lead to where one camps for the night. Situated 3500 masl, this is the largest camping area along the entire trip. Both dusk and dawn uphold beautiful views of the chain of mountains that sit facing the camp - Cordillera Vilcabamba.

Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu - Third Day

Runcuracay complex - ovoid fortification - (3760 masl) stands close to the camp. Clearly this complex's function was for military purposes. In comparison to the other constructions of the trail, it is quite small but its structure is very interesting and it offers astonishing views overlooking the valley.

The road continues to ascend towards the mountain pass of Runcuracay situated at 3998 masl, it sits just below the mountain pass of Wamiwanusca and it is much easier to reach. After crossing the mountain pass, the road begins to descend and it is here that the travelers are exposed to the most beautiful and easiest part of the Inca Trail.

The summit of the mountain pass encloses a series of small lagoon called Qochapata. meaning place of lagoons. As one descend, the vegetation becomes more abundant giving the view a greener outlook much like Qomercocha - rightly so its name means green lagoon.

The next Inca complex is Sayacmarca (3600 masl), which is not too far from the mountain pass (2 hours). Its name means inaccessible town and it was named by the expedition led by Paul Fejos in 1941. Its ruggedness and the memesis of its construcion amongst the natural shapes of the mountains that surround it, leave a long lasting impression on all its visitors. From here the ampleness of the Valley of the Aobamba river takes dominance to the west.

As one returns to the main road and continues the descent, the Qonchamarca complex is reached. It stands over a trunk pyramid and is well known to have served for liturgical purposes. The vegetation in this zone is exuberant and the large influence of the humid Amazon forest, even the altitude of this place, is evident.

An additional camping area will be bypassed. This area is not used much by groups who usually go directly to Phuyupatamarca. This area is called Chaquiococha - meaning dry lake; this is a place that brings wonderful views of Sayacmarca.

The road continues almost flat and at times bordering the mountain. It crosses a tunnel of about 20 metres in length and which steps have been carefully carved out of rocks. This tunnel is known as the Inca Tunnel. Given the limited tools owned by the Incas at the time, its structure is quite impressive (it has carved floors and walls, as well as a polished roof).

The road will then go up slowly, to the third mountain pass: Phuyupatamarca (3680 masl). One may also opt to camp here, conveniently enough this area also holds sanitary units, however the temperature decreases greatly at night. For this reason many groups continue to the next camping site: Winay Wayna.

From this mountain pass, one can contemplate an Inca complex, which shares the same name (about 100 metres below), as well as the Intipata one, which stands quite far. These ruins were baptised by Paul Fejos and its name means place over the clouds'. This place is beautiful despite its simplistic architectural style, which is called pirca, and its central feature includes six liturgical fountains and a semi-circular military tower, that allows a perfect view of the surroundings.

At this point in the Inca Trail, one comes to a division on the road. The left path leads directly to the Intipata complex, while the right path descends down to Winay Wayna.
Intipata (2800 masl) is located in close proximity to Machu Picchu and was discovered by Fejos' expedition, whom also named the complex as the sun's place (the original Inca names are unknown). This places is gorgeous and worth visiting, yet many groups preclude it. It has 48 terraces and a series of semicircular rooms all with really good finishes. It is thought that this place was dedicated to the cultivation of sacred plants in homage to the sun, the greatest Inca deity.

One hundred and seventy metres below Intipata, halfway down the mountain, stands the Winay Wayna complex (2630 masl), also discovered by Fejos' expedition and studied by Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello in 1942 as well. The complex was baptised with the name of a very common orchid in that zone: Winay Wayna (Epidendrum secundum), meaning forever young, a plant that is abundant in the sanctuary.

These ruins are by far the largest to be seen throughout the trek. As does Machu Picchu, these ruins also have an agricultural and an urban zone. The agricultural zone is made up of many wide terraces, while the urban zone is composed of a group of buildings, streets, plazas, stairs and liturgical fountains. It was probably an important religious, administrative and military centre, perhaps even almost as prominent as Machu Picchu.

It is here that one camps, on narrow borders of the road, for the last night before arriving at Machu Picchu the next day. This place has a small museum with a variety of stuffed fauna and several species of flora, together with some archaeological pieces. It is definitely worth visiting.

There is a path that comes up from the rail track, Chachabamba (2250 masl), at kilometre 104, towards Winay Wayna (approximately a 5 hour walk). This is the starting point of the shortest route, along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which many groups decide on taking. The journey is easy to travel but a bit tiring. It does, however, include a few stunning views and a small waterfall, which groups will come across with before reaching the ruins.

The road to Machu Picchu is almost flat from Winay Wayna (3 hours) apart from a couple sections containing lofty ascends requiring considerable effort. Finally, one arrives at Inti Punku (2650 masl) or Sun Gate, the last checkpoint before entering the Inca City.
We invite you to experience our unique Inca Trail Tours as we explore ancient Inca ruins on our way to Machu Picchu...  
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