Inca Trail To Machu Picchu

Trip Start Mar 18, 2008
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Trip End Ongoing


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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The last four days have been amazing. The 42km Inca Trail is an incredible trek in its own right, regardless of the final destination. Arriving at the Sun Gate just before sunrise on the fourth morning of the trek and gazing down at Machu Picchu ruins, the majestic backdrop of Wayna Picchu mountain and the Urubamba River far below is the most beautiful scene imaginable.

250 people are allowed to hike the Inca Trail each day, so it would be easy to feel swamped by gringos but luckily we had a small group of four and a guide who liked to vary our schedule, so that we could spend time away from the crowds. The first day of the trek followed the Urubamba River past some small Inca ruins before heading up the valley to our campsite. 10km of fairly level walking helped us to get the legs back in action.

The next morning we woke up at 5am and started the long hike to Dead Womans Pass, 1,200 vertical metres above our campsite at an altitude of 4,200m. A week in Cusco had us well acclimatised and with the aid of coca lollies, we powered up the hill without too much puffing and panting. Who knows, maybe we are getting fitter over here. Before we knew it, there were vistas of the mountain ranges on both sides and our next campsite lay only a few hours hike in the valley below.

Camping at 3,500m the second night was chilly and we woke at 5am again to head to the second pass at 3,800m, passing more Inca ruins along the way. The third day of hiking was the longest (14km) but the most spectacular. From the second pass, there were views over snow-capped mountains covered by cloud and valleys of dense cloud forest. The trail narrowed and followed the contours of several ridges covered in lush green vegetation. We passed through tunnels carved into huge rocks by the Incas hundreds of years ago and after reaching the third pass, where the views were amazing, we began the steep 1,000m descent along the original Inca staircases to our final campsite. We visited a number of small Inca sites during the day, which popped up more frequently the closer we came to Machu Picchu. As we headed down into the forest, the weather became very hot and we all hiked in shorts and t-shirts. At the final campsite, we enjoyed a beer and a hot shower before exploring an impressive Inca ruin nearby called Winna Waynu.

Throughout the trek, the porters are eternal reminders of who really rules the high country. With 25kg each on their backs, they quickly pack up after each meal, race past you with a quick wave and a smile and have your tents set up and a coffee ready when you arrive at the campsite. They get paid around $5 per day and never complain. In fact, they seem to love it. One of our porters holds the record for the annual Inca Trail marathon, run over the same 42km trail that we hike in just over three days. His time of 3 hours and 45 minutes was set when he was 43 years old and he still refuses to run in anything but his old leather sandals. Unbelievable. The food prepared by the chef on the trek was absolutely five star. He even made us a Happy Honeymoon cake for breakfast which was a nice sugar hit before continuing on with our trek.

The final morning of the Inca Trail is a little crazy, with all 250 people rising around 4am and then waiting in a queue at the check point for the gates to open at 5:30am. The trail is narrow and everyone is hiking in the dark, but some people push past in their haste to get to the Sun Gate before sunrise and one lady lay on the side of the trail with a twisted ankle, unable to go any further. We hiked the 6km stretch in 45 minutes, without getting wrapped up in the mayhem.

With the sun still not quite over the mountains, we passed through the ancient Sun Gate and caught our first glimpse of the famous Machu Picchu. Regardless of how many times we had seen pictures of Machu Picchu, nothing could prepare us, or compare, to the magnificant scene before us. The hike from the Sun Gate to the ruins is around 3km and from there you get the ´picture postcard´ view, which was nothing short of incredible. Most of the way down the final stretch of the trail we were pinching ourselves.

The ruins at Machu Picchu are so extensive that after our guide gave a two hour tour, we spent a few more hours exploring the different areas of the lost city. Plus another hour just sitting on one of the terraces and taking in the view. The cliffs drop away for hundreds of metres on three sides of Machu Picchu into the Urubamba River and with forested mountains all around, we couldn´t help but think that the Incas really knew how to pick prime real estate. The craftmanship of the stone walls would be hard to match with today´s modern equipment and the ability to build such a huge site during the reign of the Inca Empire which spanned less than 150 years, is hard to comprehend.

In the afternoon we headed down to the small town of Aguas Calientes and then caught the train back through the Sacred Valley to Cusco. Without a doubt, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu goes straight into our highlights package!
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