Long march to Machu Picchu
The astounding ruins of Machu Picchu remain one of the world’s most remarkable archaeological discoveries and as Intrepid Express reader Henrietta Grant experienced, retracing the steps of the Inca to reach this ancient site is a wonderful way to explore Peru…
“Whilst I on holiday in Tanzania, one of my travelling companions spoke so enthusiastically on numerous occasions about her experiences of walking along the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, that I decided what better way to visit the South American continent for the first time but to do this trek. So six months later, I found myself on day two of a three day trek at the highest point of the Inca Trail, Dead Woman’s Pass. The views from both sides of the Pass were staggering and I found it an awe-inspiring holiday experience to look down to the valley far below where we had started our journey the previous day.
Our trek along the Inca Trail started with the obligatory group photo at the rather innocuously named ‘Kilometre 82′ (or Piskacucho as the locals prefer to call it). The first day of the holiday was a meander along the valley gradually climbing up the mountain side at a peaceful pace. We had regular stops for snacks and lunch at a picturesque Inca village. Cottages and animals dotted the landscape along this gentle part of the route and we even passed a shop that had a handwritten sign saying that it accepted credit cards. We stopped for the first night at the Ayapata campsite, which was on a plateau and had stunning views of the mountains surrounding it. We were fortunate to have a clear night so the full moon shone down on the campsite bathing it in a silvery glow.
While pausing on the steep path as we made our way up to Dead Woman’s Pass, we soaked in the views of the Andes which were breath-taking, with wisps of cloud at times momentarily veiling the Pass from everyone’s eyes. As we walked up the path towards the top, the Pass looked as though it was no more than a short distance away, but the final ascent proved to be deceptive and steep and it was fifteen minutes later when we finally reached the top.
Despite doing some fitness training before I left London, my legs felt heavier with every step as we approached the Pass and I was glad I had heeded the advice in Cuzco to take a walking stick with me. My walking buddy, Bill, and I were greeted at Dead Woman’s Pass by our team of porters who whistled, clapped and played the pipes as we arrived at the top to catch our breath and this scene is now one of my abiding memories of the Inca trail and, indeed, Peru.
Mercifully, the next part of the trail was downhill with the reward of lunch in the next valley. Our team of porters had gone on ahead and cooked a delicious lunch of vegetable soup and chicken escalopes. After lunch, the trail wound steeply up the hill past the Inca ruins at Pacamayu to the second highest Runcuracy Pass, where the custom was for Peruvians to leave offerings for the gods. Then, mercifully, it was a gentle stroll downhill to our campsite for the night.
While day two was definitely the most challenging day of the holiday in terms of physical exertion, what really struck me was the diversity of the people I met from different walks of life, nationalities and ages; the eldest being in his mid-70’s who somehow made the trekking look easy. Everyone encouraged everyone else, so the trek was a lot less daunting than it had first appeared.
Trekking on day three in comparison to the previous two days, was shorter and thankfully, not as arduous. We stopped at the third highest pass which was swathed in cloud; then walked the short distance to the Inca ruin at Phuyupatamarca, which was still in good condition. The Inca ruins are one of the highlights of doing the Inca trail and gave us a glimpse of what life must have been like for the Inca people.
A short distance further on, we stopped at Winay Huayna campsite for the third and final night of the trek and visited the ruin which rather reminded me of a Greek amphitheatre. The more hardy and energetic souls visited a waterfall a short distance from the ruins for a swim; however, the downside was the very steep climb back up the slope to the campsite. The campsite offered a bar which was situated a short distance down the hill, but that did not deter those determined to enjoy a beer which, after all the walking, was most refreshing and was complemented by the awesome views from the bar’s balcony.
On the last morning of our holiday, we were woken up at 4.00 am, and an hour and a half later we were standing at the gate to the final part of the Inca Trail. Our early start was well worth it as we reached the Sun Gate at sunrise and relished seeing Machu Picchu bathed in the early light. Gradually, with numerous stops for photos, we made our way down to Machu Picchu itself and then wandered around the ruins taking photos. At that hour of the day, it was deserted apart from fellow trekkers and seeing the first of the visitors arriving from the local town made us feel like we belonged to an exclusive club.
We were given a detailed tour of the ruins, which are still in remarkable condition considering when they were first discovered by archaeologists and then it was time to return to reality and the luxury of a warm shower and clean clothes.
I took away many memories of trekking along the Inca Trail. For me, it was definitely one of the must-see highlights of a holiday in Peru and surpassed even my friend’s high recommendations.”
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* photo by Carol McGrath – Intrepid Photography Competition