Inca Trail
Peru • South America

From: Peru Travel Guide

See also: Machu PicchuSacred ValleyCuzco

The Inca Trail, Peru, South America
The well known Inca Trail that leads to the great City of Machu Picchu forms part of what was once a great Inca Road System that had two main roads, one of the roads ran along the coast while the other travelled through the mountain ranges covering some 1,200,000 square miles of territory. The Inca Road System went as far as Chile to the south and Quito to the north, with smaller roads branching off to various other important areas.

These Inca roads were of great use to the Inca messengers called Chasquis who travelled along the vast network of roads to deliver messages and goods, stopping off at Incan structures called Tambo's along the way that were both used for storage and lodging.

The Inca Trail is located high up in the Peruvian Andes not far from the City of Cusco, which is the main starting point for Inca Trail tours which are all guided. Trekking any one of the Inca Trails will give you a real sense of adventure as you discover the many archaeological sites from the Inca empire as well as truly magnificent scenery. There are three main trails that lead to Machu Picchu the Mollepat Trail, Classic Trail and the One Day Trail.

The Mollepata Trail
The Mollepata Trail is the longest of the three trails and takes around 7 days to complete, during the trail you will stay at permitted camping areas and visit some of the most varied terrain and environments in the area, where you will find yourself skirting past snow topped mountains, travelling through cloud forests and open valley's and taking in all beautiful species of flora and fauna along the way. The trail begins by following an ancient trail up to the Mollepata Mountain which sits far above the Urubamba River and heading in the direction of Choquekiclla where you will view the sacred mountain of Salkantay Humantay upon which you will steadily climb gently skirting around its stunning snow topped peak before continuing on through to the mountain pass of Salkantay and on to a plateau called La Pampa Japonesa allowing you to take in some magnificent glaciers and scenery along the way.

The trail then follows the Cusichaca River and takes you out of the mountains and into wonderful valley vegetation that is filled with many rare plants such as orchids and bromelias as it leads on to the Cusichaca Valley which contains a Tambo ruin called Incaraqay that would have been used by the Chasquis, from here the valley continues on up to the Wayllabamba valley where you reach Llulluchapampa and steadily climb up ancient Inca steps to around 3000m before arriving at Dead woman's Pass and the highest point of the trail at around 4200m, from here you will find yourself surrounded by magnificent snow topped peaks and valleys sweeping down below giving you a truly memorable view.

The trail then rapidly descends down to the Pacamayo valley where an old Inca lookout called Runkuraqay can be seen, before leading you upwards once more into subtropical forest where you will pass the Chaquacha Lake before reaching the small fortress ruins of Sayacmarca. From here you will cross over the Aobamba River and continue on through the cloud forest to the ruin of Phuyupatamarca which follows the natural contours of the valley and contains five unique fountains and what is thought to be a sacrificial alter. The trail then continues on to the ruins of the agricultural terraces of Intipata followed by the Inca ruin of Winay Wayna which is built into the hillside and surround by forest and consists of a complex of buildings surrounded by agricultural terraces. After a further climb you reach the welcome site of Intipunku also known as the Sun Gate which in Inca times would have been Machu Picchu's official entrance gateway or checkpoint, one of the best times to arrive at the Sun Gate is at sunrise when the magnificent sacred city of Machu Picchu slowly reveals itself.

The One Day Trail
The One Day Trail allows to hike the last portion of the Inca Trail that allows you to enter Machu Picchu entering through the Intipunku or Suns Gate. The trail starts from Km104 and first passes the Chachabamba ruins which are on the bank of the Urubamba river. Just before you reach the ruins of Winay Wayna you'll pass a beautiful waterfall set in amongst the woodland. After you pass the amazing agricultural terraces which dominate a good section of the mountainside and pass through the cloud forest you will come across a set of steps that leads you directly to Inipunku and your first glimpse of the sacred city of Machu Picchu.

The Classic Trail
The Classic Inca Trail usually takes around 4 days to complete and covers around 45 kilometers and begins from Cusco at either Km 88 or Km 82 with both trails visiting the archaeological ruins of Llactapata which is situated on a high ridge around 1.5 kilometers away from the start of Km 88 and leads on up to the village of Wayllabamba which is 3000m above sea level where you will follow the river of Llulluchayoc on through the valley to Llullchapampa.

The trail then climbs up to Dead Woman's Pass and the highest point of the trail at 4200 m allowing you to to take in the spectacular view of the surrounding snow capped mountains and valley's. The trail then descends to the Runkuraqay Pass at 3800 m to visit Sayac Marca an Inca Town nestled in the side of the valley before descending into the cloud forest to visit Phuyupatamarca at 3600m. Phuyupatamarca is also known as the cloud town and features several agricultural terraces, ceremonial baths and fountains and is beautifully positioned on the contours of the valley ridge. Following the trail you then come across an agricultural site called Intipata or Sun Terraces which is made up of several terraces that are thought to have supplied Machu Picchu.

The trail then leads you to the large agricultural terraces at buildings at the Inca site of Winay Waya which is around 2700m and offers beautiful views of the Urubamba river down in the valley. The trail then leads you to the Sun Gate or Intipunku where you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu. There is a peak behind Machu Picchu called Huayna Picchu which has a path leading up to the summit and offers fantastic views over the great City of Machu Picchu.

Travel Guide To And From Machu Picchu
There is a train service that runs from Cusco to the town of Aguas Calientes which is just below Machu Picchu where if you are limited on time you can take a bus to and from the ruins. The train service from Cuzco stops at Km 82, Km 88 and Km 104, the numbering of stations describes the amount of miles that have been travelled from Cusco. After you have completed your Inca Trail and visit to Machu Picchu you can then catch a train from Aguas Callientes back to Cusco.

Due to the extreme popularity and concerns over erosion to the Inca Trail the amount of people allowed to leave on the trail each day is 500 which includes all porters and guides which must be fully licensed, so advance booking's are necessary due to these limitations.

Camping is only permitted in certain locations to help preserve the natural habitat and no metal tipped walking poles are permitted on the trail due to the problem of erosion to the paths and smoking is only allowed at the designated camping locations.

One of the best times to journey along the Inca Trail is between May to September where the weather is dry and warm. The Inca Trail is also closed during February. One last consideration is after your epic journey on one of the most spectacular trails in the world don't forget to thank and tip your porters who made your trek considerably easier and who will definitely be grateful.

You will need a comfortable backpack , sleeping bag, toiletries, rain coat and warm clothing along with a sun hat, sun cream and fly repellent and a supply of light munchies. Sensible hiking footwear is a must along with a suitable water bottle with sterilizing tablets for the trail, also don't forget your passport and camera with spare batteries.

A moderate level of fitness is required and you are advised to spend at least 2 days in Cusco, especially if you are coming straight from the coastal regions, to allow your body to acclimatize to the high altitude before setting off on the Inca Trail which will help reduce the risk of altitude sickness which can occur at heights over 2000 meters above sea level. Whilst on the trail ensure that you remain well hydrated during your trail will help prevent altitude sickness, where symptoms can include feeling sick, headaches, pins and needles, nosebleeds and dizzy spells, if you experience any of these symptoms then tell your guide immediately as you may need immediate medical treatment.

If you are after proof that you have accomplished the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu you can have your passport stamped at the main Machu Picchu office, which is a great souvenir to take home with you especially after completing your epic trail of discovery.