Peru part II - The Inca Trail


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South America » Peru » Cusco » Inca Trail
July 24th 2008
Published: August 11th 2008
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Machu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu Picchu

The sacred city of the Incas is the end of the Inca Trail

46 km gives you sore legs



We have many reasons for choosing Peru as our main destination for our vacation this year, walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was one of them.

If you who read this are thinking about walking the trail you might want to have a look at the end of this blog entry. There we have written down some important advice to anyone who wish to walk the Inca Trail.

The trek known as the Inca Trail is probably the most famous trek in the World. Originally there was no such thing as the Inca Trail. It was more of a network of trails covering the entire Inca Empire. These trails were first of all roads to make it possible to travel from one place to another. But this road network was also an important part of the Inca Postal System. In regular intervals along every road in the Inca Empire there were runner stations. If a message had to be sent from one place to another the message was brought to the nearest runner station. A runner took the message and ran the fastest he could to the next runner station. There he handed
All 17 hikersAll 17 hikersAll 17 hikers

Here is a photo of all the 17 hikers in our group. Here before we started walking everybody was cheery and happy
the message over to the next runner who then brought the message to the next runner station and so on. You might say it was just like a big relay race. In this way a letter could be sent from one end of the Inca Empire to the other in only a few days. A faster postal service that that could not be found until the 20th century.

Today is more common to think of the pilgrimage route to the sacred city Machu Picchu when talking about the Inca Trail. Strictly there wasn't just one route leading to Machu Picchu but several. Today there are at least two different being used for hikes and there is at least one other trail that has been found but is for practical and safety reasons not used for trekking. It is not unlikely that there is one or more old trails yet to be discovered leading to Machu Picchu. Of the trails we decided to take the most popular one, the four day trek starting near the village Ollantaytambo 46 km from Machu Picchu.

Much of the Inca Trail is at high altitudes. In the Andes it is common practice to fight
The start of the Inca TrailThe start of the Inca TrailThe start of the Inca Trail

45 km to go before we reach Machu Picchu
the effects of the altitude and the thin air by chewing coca leaves. This is a tradition that strikes us as strange since coca leaves at home is an illegal drug. But it is perfectly legal in Peru to chew coca leaves or drink coca tea and it is just as common as drinking coffee in Sweden. There is even coca candy actually. Since everybody does it we thought it can't be dangerous. We tried tea and didn't notice any effect from it. We chewed some leaves and that gave us green teeth but we didn't get high from it. Finally the coca candy got stuck in the teeth but other than that it was just like any other candy really. We still think coca leaves should be banned at home but to be honest we find coffee to be a much stronger drug. Cocaine is another story though. We would never try that even if we end up in a place where it is legal and accepted!

The Inca Trail has been popular among trekkers at least since the 70-ies. For many years the Inca Trail was overused eventually leading to the trail looking like a 46 km
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Trees with some kind of moss or lichen hanging from them
long toilet/garbage pit. To avoid further destruction of the trail local authorities today only allow a limited number of trekkers to enter the trail each day and every trekker has to go with a registered tour company. The standard trek following the route we took is four days long. Various tour companies have slightly different hike is but the schedule is very similar.

The trek started early, 4 o'clock in the morning actually, on the first day by us being picked up by bus at our hotel in Cusco. The bus took us to the starting point of the trek, a place known under the somewhat odd name km 82. We passed the checkpoint and started the actual trek.

On the first day we hiked totally 14 kilometres. More than half of this was flat ground and the trail was easy to walk on. So we thought the first day of the trek was easy.

The second day was a lot harder. We hiked 16 kilometres and all of this was steep mountain trail. It started with a 900 meters ascent. That was when we reached the highest spot on the entire trail, the Dead Woman's Pass,
Emma with a coca leafEmma with a coca leafEmma with a coca leaf

Possession of a coca leaf is illegal at home. In Peru chewing coca leaves is legal and more acceptable than drinking coffee
where the altitude is 4200 meters. After Dead Woman's Pass we descended 600 meters into the bottom of a valley, and that was followed by another ascent of 400 meters to another pass at the altitude 4000 meters. Finally we made a descent on 400 meters. This was a long and hard day of hiking but we still have to say that it was easier than we expected. We guess our experience from long distance running helped us a bit there. Hiking and long distance running are more similar than you think.

The Dead Woman's Pass is named so after a rock formation resembling a reclining nude woman. Maybe it is indecent to call it Naked Woman's Pass so Dead Woman's Pass is the name. By the way, to actually make out the shape of a naked woman from that rock you have to be a very desperate man. Well, I (Ake) could make out one tit but that was about it. And with a bit of imagination you can make out the shape of a tit from almost any rock you see.

When we reached Dead Woman's Pass one the other hikers brought out a bottle of
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Scenery along the Inca Trail
Irish whisky from his backpack to celebrate reaching the highest point on the trek. The bottle was big enough to let all of us have a sip or two. Thanks a lot for that Oscar and Darach!

As tradition has it we also made some offerings to one of the Inca Gods, Pachamama or Mother Earth, at the Dead Woman's Pass. The traditional offering is a three leaves of Coca. The guide gave each one of us three Coca leaves each and we left them in a rock altar at the pass. After the traditional offering we also performed an Irish version of the offering ritual. A few drops of good Irish whiskey on the ground followed by a few more drops down the throat.

On the third day we hiked 10 kilometres and most of this was downhill. This was an easy day.

On the fourth day we hiked from the last camp to Machu Picchu. A distance of about 6 kilometres. The hike was short and we started early in the morning to get to Machu Picchu before sunrise. We went out of bed at half past three in the morning. So we were actually
Inca siteInca siteInca site

A farming village from the Inca period
finished and had reached our goal, the Sacred City of the Incas, in time for breakfast.

These early mornings and long hikes prompted one of the members to compare hiking along the Inca Trail with a boot camp. It was a good joke at the time, but unfortunately it doesn't quite work here on the blog. But we still throw it in as a reminder to anyone who is contemplating to walk the Inca Trail. You have to be both mentally and physically prepared for the challenge. If you are hiking the Inca Trail is a wonderful experience. We absolutely loved it. Even on the hard second day we were truly enjoying it.

Our reason for walking the Inca Trail is the nature experience. The Inca Trail goes through a series of valleys and the views along the way are simply stunning. If we had decided to hike in the rainy season the views would have been even better, with more leaves on the trees and more flowers. But then the trail would have been slippery and muddy and all our things, the tents and our clothes would have been damp and wet. So we think we were
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Scenery along the Inca Trail
better off going at the time of the year as we did. We are like cats, we don't like to get wet!

We hiked in a very large group. We were in total 17 people from 5 different countries. But that is only counting the tourists. To this there were also about 25 people from the tour company. They were porters, guides and a chef. Note that our tour was only a standard tour. It is not considered a luxury to have a chef following a tour!

By the way, the chef was a genius when it comes to making food. All he had was a field kitchen and whatever food the porters could carry. That heavily limits what kind of food you are able to prepare. Still he managed to make the most interesting and tasteful dishes for us. How do you make 20 pancakes on a field kitchen and still manage to serve them warm? It should not be possible but it is. How do you keep vegetables fresh for three days? Sure he had some help by the cold temperatures at the high altitudes but still can't understand how he managed to keep the food
Yeah, right...Yeah, right...Yeah, right...

In the last village on the trail the shop owner boasted that he takes Visa and MasterCard. Sure...
edible for such a long time without a fridge. If we by then had any doubts about the chef being a genius, on the last day he decorated the food plates with small animals created from food.

The end of the Inca Trail is Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was constructed in the 15th century. It is believed to have taken about 80 years to build the city with its temples and palaces and the trails leading to Machu Picchu. In the 16th century the Inca Empire was at the peak of its power. That was when the Spanish conquistadors appeared in South America. The conquistadores started to fight a war against the Incas to get their hands on the vast gold treasures the Incas had in their temples and palaces. The Incas initially put up a fight but eventually had to surrender. When the Incas realised that the empire was going to fall they decided to abandon the sacred city Machu Picchu and the high priests relocated themselves to more remote parts of the Andes in an attempt to get out of harms way. When Machu Picchu was abandoned so were the trails leading to Machu Picchu, since they
Emma at the trailEmma at the trailEmma at the trail

Even in the dry season it is possible to find flowers. But there are more in the wet season
were not needed anymore. The trails were quickly overgrown before the Spaniards ever entered the valley leading to Machu Picchu and they never knew of the existence of Machu Picchu. After Machu Picchu was abandoned it took about 300 years before anyone set food there again.

In the 19th century a few locals started to live in the Urubamba Valley and learned that there was an old Inca site there. But they didn't understand the importance of the site. It was not until 1911 when the American Historian Hiram Bingham came to Peru to investigate some legends about a lost Inca City that the existence of Machu Picchu was made known to the World.

Machu Picchu is for a good reason a symbol of Peru and by far the most well-known historical site in Peru. The importance of Machu Picchu in the Inca Empire was as a pilgrimage place. It was a place for nobles, priests and other important people. The common man was not welcome to visit Machu Picchu and in fact most common people didn't even know Machu Picchu existed. The most important city in the Inca Empire was instead Cusco, home of the living God the
FlowersFlowersFlowers

Even in the dry season it is possible to find flowers. But there are more in the wet season
Inca and also the capital in the Empire. But only very little remains of the Inca Capital of Cusco. Cusco was taken over by the Spanish and they remodelled the city after European thinking. While doing that they also tore down most of the previously existing buildings. There are still some walls left Cusco dating from the Inca time, see the next entry on the blog for more information on that, but that is only fragments of what used to be there. But since Machu Picchu was never visited by the Spanish invaders that site today is the best preserved Inca city.

But being the best preserved city from the Inca Empire is not the only reason for Machu Picchu's fame. The setting of the site, on a dramatic ridge spanning between two mountains makes Machu Picchu breathtakingly beautiful. Well, we guess it could be the high altitudes in the Andes that make you gasp for air too...

Machu Picchu is the most important Inca site along the Inca Trail but not the only one. All along the trail there are runner stations, fortresses, small villages, temples, shrines and there is even a site that used to be
The wall is supposed to be leaning, EmmaThe wall is supposed to be leaning, EmmaThe wall is supposed to be leaning, Emma

Many Inca walls are built so they lean to protect them from falling when there is an earthquake. Don't ask us how it works because we don't get it either
an agriculture research institute. Just like Machu Picchu these sites were never visited by the Spanish invaders. Many of them were discovered long after Machu Picchu was found.


Here at the end we would like to write advice to hikers who are planning on walking the Inca Trail. So if you are not, feel free to skip the rest of the text.


* Book your Inca trail tour as far in advance as possible - to preserve the trail only 500 people are allowed onto the trail each day. For safety reasons everybody who walks the trail has to do so on a tour arranged by a registered tour agency. Tour companies provide trekkers with guides and porters and these people are included in these 500 people. So effectively there are only about 200 tourists/pilgrims allowed onto the trail each day, a much lower number than the demand. So to be among the 200 you have to book very early. Half a year or more is a good idea.
* Book only with serious companies - there are many companies arranging treks but not all of them are serious. On the trek we noticed that some
Inca site Inca site Inca site

Probably a farming village but we are not sure
companies treat their porters like they are donkeys or dogs. The serious companies take well care of the porters. The porters are provided with hiking boots, professional backpacks and get plenty of good food on the trail. The not so good companies let the porters eat whatever the hikers leave behind when they have eaten, they let the porters carry heavy loads trapped on in a bundle over one shoulder and let the hikers walk in flip-flops. It hurts to see the porters from the shitty companies. Two companies we have seen in action and can recommend are SAS Travel and Llama Path.
* Bring warm clothes - at night the camps get very cold due to the 3000 meters+ altitudes. Temperatures below freezing point are not unheard of. If you want to leave something behind because you don't feel like carrying it for four days it is better to hire a porter to carry it for you.
* Make sure you are physically fit - You don't have to be super fit or anything. We walk a lot and we also do some long distance running. That makes us more fit than the average but we are not super
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Scenery along the Inca Trail
fit or anything. We hiked the Inca Trail and loved it. Hiking the Inca Trail is not for a couch potato. If you are out of shape hiking is not fun anywhere and certainly not in the thin air of the High Andes.




Additional photos below
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Scenery along the Inca Trail
At the topAt the top
At the top

Dead Woman's Pass. At the altitude 4215 meter this is the highest spot on the Inca Trail
Decimated group at the topDecimated group at the top
Decimated group at the top

Dead Woman's Pass. At the altitude 4215 meter this is the highest spot on the Inca Trail. Everybody made it here but we took this group photo before the last ones had arrived.
Offerings to Pachamama, Mother EarthOfferings to Pachamama, Mother Earth
Offerings to Pachamama, Mother Earth

Tradition has it that you should offer some coca leaves to Pachamama, Mother Earth, when you pass the dead Woman's Pass
Celebrating the conquest of the Dead Woman's PassCelebrating the conquest of the Dead Woman's Pass
Celebrating the conquest of the Dead Woman's Pass

Celebrating the conquest of the Dead Woman's Pass the Irish way. Heck, it works good for Swedes too
Emma on the trailEmma on the trail
Emma on the trail

Emma posing in front of a scenery along the Inca Trail
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Scenery along the Inca Trail


11th August 2008

Dopade?
.. det där kallas för höghöjdsträning! Är ni dopade nu? (Eller av vad??) ;-) (Jag hade länge "bra" kondis efter Mt Kenya..) / Maria
14th August 2008

Kan ligga något i det...
Kan ligga något i att vi är "bloddopade". När jag joggade idag, efter 6 veckors uppehåll i träningen, var det benmusklerna som gav upp först inte hjärta och lungor. Kan det stämma med effekten av att vi varit på hög höjd en längre tid i kombination med att inte löptränat på länge?
20th June 2009

OMG
Is that the real Inca trail in Peru?? holy moly thats amazing
24th June 2009

The Inca trail were many trains
The original Inca Trail was not one trail but a vast network of trails. It's like the road network of any country really. Most of these trails have either disappeared, been abandoned or have been turned into modern day roads. A few of the old roads in the Inca Trail road system have been restored to their original state, mostly for hiking purposes not so much for transport. The trail we took is the most popular one and is the one that most people refer to when they mention The Inca Trail. It is an old trail laid out as part of the Inca Trail System. When it was rediscovered it was cleared from debris and restored to its former state. So it is a real Inca Trail in the sense that it was used as a pilgrimage trail to reach Maccu Picchu. But it was not the only one. There were other trails leading to Maccu Picchu as well. Ake
18th April 2012

nice article
That's a nice article on Inca Trail. I have been wanting to go there for a while but haven't done it yet. Thanks for posting and good luck with future travels!

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