Stone & Air - Ancient Peru

Inca Trail, or the National Archeological Park of Machu Picchu

This hike to Machu Picchu is perhaps too popular for its own good. Thousands do it every year, and ya' know, there's always one (or two) in every bunch. . . fires against ancient walls that crack the stones, piles of litter, damaged flora. But enough kvetching. This is a wonderful hike, justly renowned, taking the adventurer though peerless cloud forest and mountain scenery as well as to venerable Incan ruins. If you're seriously interested in Incan civilization and you're in good shape and have some experience backpacking, this is a must do. For all its popularity, this is not an easy hike. Hikers must contend with high altitudes, no place to buy food, and steep trails.

You have three route options. The most popular starts at the rail station at Km 88. The second alternative is to spend an extra half day hiking from the town of Chilca to meet the trail near the Llactapata ruin. This way you miss the tiny jewel-like ruin of Q'ente, which translates as"hummingbird. Finally, experienced hikers who have an extra three or four days to spend can begin at the village of Mollepata. You'll miss Llactapata and Q'ente, but you'll be able to explore the outskirts of Salcantay, a stunning snow-capped and glaciated mountain. And you'll have a little more solitude at the beginning of your adventure.

No matter how you begin, all three routes bring you through the highlights of the Inca Trail: After the outlook of Runturacay, and the ruined town Sayacmarca, the "secret city," you'll reach Phuyupatamarca, the "town above the clouds," which has been restored. There is some controversy about whether this restoration is a good thing. Especially noteworthy are the ceremonial baths here. Although it gives visitors a better idea of what the site was originally like, restoration can have the effect of halting scientific study. From Phuyupatamarca, a new section of the trail shoots you rapidly down through the cloud forest on old Inca steps. In a couple of hours you'll reach Huiñay; Huayna, which some say translates as "forever young," a reference to the cyclical rhythms of nature. Continuing on, in another couple of hours you'll reach Intipunku, "gate of the sun," last stop before Machu Picchu, which is now spread out before you -- a breathtaking sight. An hour from Intipunku, and you're in endlessly fascinating, exquisitely beautiful Machu Picchu.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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