The Inca Trail

I saw Machu Picchu the ancient way: by walking :-). The Inca Trail is said to be the most famous trek in South America, walked by thousands of travelers every year. I was fortunate enough to embark on the adventure last year in May. The trail wound its way up and down and around the mountains, snaked over the Andean passes, and provided magnificent views of the snow-capped peaks and distant rivers. It was a 4D3N adventure; however, a landslide occurred one week prior to the start of my trip. Due to this, the last night was spent in Aguas Calientes (the getaway town to Machu Picchu) instead of the last camping site. I actually thought this arrangement was better as we got to dedicate the entire fourth day to explore Machu Picchu, before the crowds arrived. The pictures included in this post are not enough to represent the depth of my experience. It was truly an adventure of a lifetime! You really have to do it yourself to capture the wonder of the trail. Trust me, you won’t ever regret it!

PS> Do make your arrangement way in advance. I made mine about 6 months in advance with Peru Treks, one of the most trusted operators for Inca Trail.
Starting point KM82

The starting point of the trail at KM 82. 
The Trail

Edwin, our tour guide, explained the condition of the trail and the ruins that we would discover along the way.

 

INCA1

The trail gradually wound its way up the surrounding highlands . Let’s take it easy. No rush. Take in the magnificent views. According to Edwin, 90% of the trail is original.

Look back

Remember to look back every now and then. If I had not done so, I would have missed this wonderful sight! The clouds hid the peak within seconds.

 

INCA3

Last chance to get water and junk food. I bought a lot of candies to help me through the tough climb. I wasn’t sure they helped that much though haha! But look at the view! How can you describe its beauty in words?

To the dead woman pass

The trail involved lots of going up. In certain parts, the climb was very steep. For me, the toughest way up was to the Dead Woman’s Pass at 4215 meters (the highest point of the trail). There was no other way to get through it but up, up, and up. I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finally got to the top.

GOING DOWN

The trail also involved lots of going down. It would be a mistake to think it would be easy because it was not. A hiking pole would help, especially if you have weak knees.

Trails

Left: relatively easy trek on the 3rd day…till later…when Peruvians say ‘flat’, it’s really not flat haha! Right: be very careful as you walk. A misstep can be fatal.

INCA4

Views that you do not get to enjoy on a daily basis. What a wonderful world! Left: snow-capped Victoria Peak, the highest peak of the Andean mountains at 5750 meters.

Cocoa leaves

Coca leaves- Edwin said ‘take these; they will make you fly’. I did that, didn’t work for me. Well, I spat them out before their magical effect could take control of me. If your tongue gets numb from chewing the leaves, that means you do it right!

Ruins 1

Some of the ruins along the trek. Left: Llaqtapata; Right Top: Runkuraqay (an Inca post house); Right Bottom: Phuyupatamarka.

Phuyupatamarka

Ruins 2

More ruins along the trek: Left Bottom: Intipara; Right: Winawayna.

 

edwin ruin interpretation

Edwin making his impressive interpretation of one of the ruins. I learned quite a lot from this guy. It showed me that good interpretation did contribute to the depth of one’s experience.

intipuku

The last section of the trail to Intipunku, the Sun Gate, from which trekkers will get their very first glimpse of Machu Picchu. I was very close…after 3 days of trekking through the mountains, passes, and forests. From Intipunku to Machu Picchu, it was another 1 hour hike.

MACHU PICCHU AFTER INTIPUKU

Machu Picchu, finally!!! It was more beautiful than imagined…the sun was about to set…the crowds had disappeared…just me (and my fellow trekkers), the magnificent ruin and the deafening silence :-).

Crowds

Left: waiting to get on the first bus to Machu Picchue from Aguas Calientes…we waited since as early as 4.30am. The first bus left at 5.30am. Our group was the first! Hoooray to our guides, Edwin and Jimmy. Right: Long lines to enter Machu Picchu.

MP1

Left Top: the residential sector; Left Bottom: Temple of the Sun, believed to be used for astronomical purposes; Right Top: Royal Tomb, speculated to have special ceremonial significance; the three steps represent the three worlds in the Inca beliefs: heaven, earth, and underworld; Right Bottom: Garden of Machu Picchu.

mp2

Left: The three sacred steps and their reflection, making a symbol that you’ll see all over the nation; Right Top: Temple of the Three Windows; Right Bottom: Sacrificial Altar, you have to get first hand information about the human sacrifice performed hehe!

MP6 (2)

Edwin was showing us the difference in the construction of the stonework. Can you spot the difference? One side is flat, the other is not.

MP3

Left: Intihuatana- ‘Hitching Post of the Sun’- used by Inca astronomers to predict solstices; Right Top: the quarry, where the stones used to build Machu Picchue came from; Right Bottom: Temple of the Condor; there are three sacred animals in the Peruvian beliefs: condor (heaven), puma (earth) and snake (underworld). Very interesting!

MP4

Left: the central plaza, a sprawling green area seperating the ceremonial sector from the more mundane residential and industrial sectors; Right: agricultural terraces.

MP12

Do not cross the line. That’s one way used to protect the ruins.

Do not cross the line. That’s one way used to protect the ruins.

Passport stamps

Stamps collected from the various checkpoints along the trail :-). I was happy!

CAMP N STUFF

Camping was the only choice of accommodation for the trail. So, if you can’t handle that, you may want to think long and hard whether to embark on this adventure or not. Temperature was very low as night fell. It was made worse by the howling wind. Kill your expectation to have a bath (I didn’t take one during the entire adventure). Look at the amount of stuff we had, to be carried by both our porters and ourselves.

Porters

Porters! I have always admired their physical fitness! Some of them had a rather small frame, but don’t judge a book by its over :-P. Strong legs! I remember thinking ‘fuyooooo! ada fight sama kaki porters Gunung Kinabalu o’ haha!

 

Inca Trail plants

Some of the plants along the trek.

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