The Inca Trail – Arrival at Machu Picchu

The Cordillera Vilcabamba Mountains

Dawn arrived all too early after a very fitful nights sleep at 3600m! We all arose well before dawn to scramble up to a small rocky promontory just behind the tents to all watch the sun rise slowly from behind the snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Vilcabamba Mountains surrounding us. It was a sublime moment to bare witness to!

Expedition Photograph

Dawn at Phuyupatamarca campsite looking all intrepid before setting off for Machu Picchu

Some strong coffee was justifiably consumed and our porters and chef were then duly paid their well deserved tips and bonuses in the always looked forward to thank you ceremony that happens on the last day of any expedition.

The Whole Expedition Team

Our fantastic team of porters and chefs without whom we could not have survived the rigours of the trail

After decamping for the last time on the trail we broke camp and headed down the steep and damp steps leading out of the terraces of Phuyupatamarca and down into the misty steaming jungle.

The trail from Phuyupatamarca onwards is the best preserved section of the route and stone step after stone step provide a very clear path through some thick jungle undergrowth. It is here that you can truly see how masterful the Incas were at engineering with embankments, tunnels, graded steps and retaining walls all built to exacting standards in very tough conditions.

We were headed for the ruins of Intipata at 2850m as we dropped steadily from the high mountains and down through the jungle canopy.

Jungle Steps

Treading carefully down steps while dropping down into the humid jungle below

Intipata Ruins, ‘the place of the Sun’. These ruins are one of the lesser known on the whole of the Inca Trail but are still magnificent. The site consists of countless terraces banked steeply above one another in an amazing mountainous setting.  It’s said that these constructions were connected with the Machu Picchu Sanctuary in some way, possibly it was where the Inca elite grew their own crops for the sanctuary but nobody really knows for sure.

Intipata

Negotiating the many terraces of Intipata

We wandered around the ruins, the only people there. The unexpected joy of this trip was coming across so many temples, settlements and sites and having them all practically to ourselves. Here we were in the middle of The Andes clambering around lost cities high up in the clouds just like explorers of old with no other tourists or travellers to spoil the spell we were under. It almost felt almost as though we could have been Hiram Bingham himself discovering these places for the very first time a century ago.

Looking out!

Looking out from Intipata across the Urubamba valley towards Wiñay Wayna

Rio Urubamba

The first glimpse of the Rio Urubamba since day 1 on the trek

From the terraces of Intipata and across the valley a little below us we could see the ruins of Wiñay Wayna. Wiñay Wayna sits at 2700m above sea-level and the next stop along the trail.

The name Wiñay Wayna (forever young) (win-yay-way-na) is used to refer to both a hostel–restaurant–camp site and a set of Inca ruins. Two groups of major architectural structures, a lower and upper, are set among multiple agricultural terraces at this concave mountainside site. A long flight of fountains or ritual baths utilising as many as 19 springs runs between the two groups of buildings.

Wiñay Wayna

The impressive ruins of Wiñay Wayna

This city was the most impressive yet along the whole trail an absolute incredible place to have the privilege of seeing. Set in an almost perfect setting it was the quintessential lost city from fables and film. Complete with Llama’s relaxing on it’s terraces and a waterfall behind as a backdrop I could not imagine a more impressive setting that the Inca’s could have picked to build one of their cities.

Wiñay Wayna Temple

Looking out through the uniquely shaped windows at a Wiñay Wayna temple

Taking it easy

Taking it easy under the scorching midday sun

The midday heat burnt down upon us and I dipped my head (as many before me must have done) in the tumbling waters of the fountains – still running strong after many centuries – in the main plaza. We briefly ate some lunch as the high heat passed dipping under some shade before turning our attentions to the path once more and the final slap to our grand prize – Machu Picchu.

From Wiñay Wayna the trail undulates below the crest of the east slope of the mountain named Machu Picchu. We reached the steep steps leading up to Inti Punku (“sun gate”) after approximately another 3 km of hard slog. The steps are a real killer after so many days of continuous walking and were a real obstacle to have to ascend to reach the gate.

Steps to Inti Punku

Ascending the steep steep steps to Inti Punku

However, when you reach the top you find to your dismay that you still have a way to go until you get to the actual gate proper and your mind takes a bit of a beating at this point. Eventually though you are duly rewarded with the view from the Inti Punku, the view you have trekked four days to see, the vista at the end of the journey, the grand reveal of none other than Machu Picchu in all it’s grandeur!

Arrival at Machu Picchu

With Machu Picchu in the background we have arrived at our final destination on The Inca Trail

Well that’s how you are supposed to feel but in reality we all felt a sudden sadness. Sadness that the journey had come to an end, sadness that we were no longer alone but once again back on the tourist trail and surrounded by hundreds of day-trippers, sadness that the natural beauty of the place was somehow tarnished by so many people jostling and shoving to get their one photo of the place come hell or high water. Sadness that a switchback road had been carved into the hillside to ferry fat tourists up to the sanctuary unable to get their under their own steam.

But these are mere quibbles really and a result of our isolation on the trail for five days. We felt we had earnt the right to stand a stare at the fabled citadel but alas modern travel and tourism have put paid to such elitist ambitions and so we became submerged in the flood of other tourists as we all made our way through the gates and flowed on towards the centre of the sanctuary.

Mr Fisher Chavez

Our ever wonderful guide Mr Fisher Chavez having led us the length of the trail

Machu Picchu is magnificent and well worth the trek, it is the zenith of Inca construction and something to be marvelled at. It’s position hidden high up in the clouds meant that it was never discovered by the Conquistadors and consequently was never ransacked or pillaged. Today it sits resplendent as a symbol of a lost civilisation.

The classic view of Machu Picchu

The classic view of Machu Picchu as typical clouds descend behind Huayna Picchu

Gardens of Machu Picchu

Dwellings amid beautiful gardens used for growing herbs & medicinal plants – centre of Machu Picchu

Our time however on this day was short as we had trekked into the sanctuary purposefully late in the afternoon. Avoiding the crowds who flock to the Sun Gate at dawn we had opted for a later arrival and an extra day to visit the ruins giving us more time to enjoy them without all the rush and by being there first thing next morning we would also avoid the worst of the crowds.

We passed through Machu Picchu and descended slowly to Aquas Calientes in the valley below to spend the night in the relative luxury of a budget hotel. However, our adventure was not over just yet and we would visit the ruins again the very next morning for a much better in depth look.

Next in this series of travel dispatches – The Inca Trail – The Return Journey

The Inca Trail Route Map

The Inca Trail – Dead Woman’s Pass

Dead Woman's Pass

Looking back down from Warmiwañusqa ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ into the clouds

‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ hardly an appealing name is it! Not the kind of name that lends itself to a good nights sleep prior to tackling it either. But here we were after a very disturbed night ready to attempt the highest pass on The Inca Trail. The nagging twin thoughts of would we be able to make it over the pass without succumbing to altitude sickness and why the hell was it called ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ in the first place were probably foremost in most people’s minds as we trudged out of camp that morning. Continue reading

The Inca Trail – Ascent to Llulluchapampa

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Climbing away from Llaqtapata and starting the trek to Camp 2 at Llulluchapampa 3840m

The next morning we awoke to some truly dazzling mountain scenery as the clear summits revealed themselves to us one by one in the early morning sunshine.

Llactapata was quiet and very still this morning, we could hear birdsong and the soft wind rustling the leaves in the trees along the valley floor. The hordes that trek The Inca Trail rarely stop here in their haste to reach ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ a day earlier than our little team were prepared to do and that decision by us was already beginning to look like it was paying dividends. Continue reading

The Inca Trail – Km82

KM82

The famous start of The Inca Trail with our team all gathered beneath the Km82 sign

Piscaycucho also known as Km82 is the start of the Classic Inca Trail and it is where we met our porters and treking crew for the start of the trail. We’d arrived here earlier via a short, dusty and very bumpy drive along a potholed and lumpy track.

This little expedition however had almost not got off the ground at all as we had waited for almost three hours that morning at our hotel in Ollantayambo waiting to meet our guide and driver who had inexplicably managed to get lost on the way to pick us up! Not a very audacious start to a five day trek in the high mountains being guided one might think. Continue reading