Exploring the Inca Trail
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/04/2018 (1639 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Machu Picchu, one of the greatest architectural mysteries of Incan civilization, is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. It’s a destination for adventurers of all ages, with three ways to get there depending on physical ability.
Tourists typically arrive on LATAM Airlines, from Lima, Peru, into Cusco. Once the capital of the Incan Empire, Cusco is nestled in the Peruvian Andes at the elevation of 3,399 metres. It’s actually higher up than Machu Picchu, making it a choice place to spend time acclimatizing. Thinner air can leave you feeling short of breath and headachy, but a few days of rest, lots of water and good nutrition helps you adjust.
Cusco has plenty of nice hotel options for the traveller. The Novotel near the city’s historic centre is both modern and colonial, with free (and decent) wi-fi, large rooms, lovely courtyard, cocoa tea in the lobby, and resident baby llama that you’ll want to take selfies with.
The journey to Machu Picchu begins far below Cusco, in the Sacred Valley of south Peru. The village of Ollantaytambo spans the Urubamba River and is surrounded by mountains. Its old-town is an Inca-era grid of cobblestoned streets and adobe buildings framed by the Ollantaytambo ruins, a massive Inca fortress with large stone terraces. It’s the village where you catch the train to Machu Picchu.
The train runs alongside the churning Urubamba to Aguas Calientes, the town directly below Machu Picchu. We got off at “Kilometre 104” for a one-day hike along the Inca Trail — a network of 20,000 kilometres of stone trails which once linked Incan towns and cultural sites. We hiked a mere 10 kilometres of it, ascending 900 metres as we wound our way along the sides of mountains, across waterfall-fed jungle streams, and through the ruins of Wiñay Wayna precariously perched high above the steep valley.
The pinnacle of our hike brought us to Inti Punku (the Sun Gate), situated 250 metres above Machu Picchu. It’s here you catch your first breathtaking glimpse and snap your first pictures of the archeological wonder, before descending to the site itself.
There was a time anyone could just up and hike the Inca Trail. Today, permits and passports are required, and you must be escorted by a local guide. We were in good hands with Santiago from Zephyr Adventures who set a comfortable but challenging pace, getting us to Machu Picchu in about seven hours. You don’t have to be a super-athlete to do the one-day hike. However, if you are one, there are lots of options for four or five-day trips, with porters setting up camp, cooking, and taking care of you.
If you don’t want to hike at all, take the train from Ollantaytambo all the way to Aguas Calientes, where a shuttle bus takes you 400 metres up to Machu Picchu. Private vehicles are not allowed on this road, only the buses — with horrendous lines going up, and coming down. But after travelling so long to get to that point, standing around for few more hours for your shot at the shuttle is well worth it.
RoseAnna Schick is an avid traveller who seeks inspiration wherever she goes. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
RoseAnna Schick is an avid traveller and music lover who seeks inspiration wherever she goes. Email her at email@example.com