Many travellers can opt to jump on a quick train ride up the Sacred Valley from Cusco, arriving at the ancient city in less than a day’s time. Slow, multi-day trek along the Inca Trail is incomparable for its landscapes, plus the wealth of Inca history you’ll encounter along the way.
Before you head out on your journey, there are a few steps you can take to make your trek as enjoyable as possible.
First, get in shape! You don’t have to be an endurance athlete and, thankfully, porters will carry your overnight gear for you. High altitude and elevation gains put most travellers to the test. Being in shape will help you enjoy your time rather than feeling like you just want to finish.
Next, make sure to pack well — but not too well. You don’t need specialised gear that runs hundreds of dollars.
Once you get going, you’ll soon find that the joy of trekking the Inca Trail is not only in the physical strength. You’ll develop along the way also in the history you’ll learn.
Ruins all the way
The first major ruins to be spotted along the classic Inca Trail trek — which starts 82km (51 mi) from Cusco — are at Patallaqta. This is in an area of the Urubamba Valley with a wide turn in the river, and plentiful ancient agricultural terraces.
Some places are so small they have no formal name. You’ll start to get used to there being an abundance of history below (and around) each step you take. You can imagine that the small, unnamed dwellings you encounter along the way were simple grain storage units. Maybe small huts for messengers who ran the trail, shuttling news to and from the far reaches of the Inca Empire.
On the second day of trekking the Inca Trail, you will see steps. And more steps until you reach the summit of Warmi Wañusqa. Place is also known as Dead Woman’s Pass, at 4,200m (13,779 ft). This is the highest point along this section of the trail. You’ll need to cross one more pass before the beautiful and isolated ruins of Sayaqmarka come into view. Sayaqmarka is perched along a defensive ridge with a small, treacherous trail leading to its labyrinth of ancient streets and dwellings.
These ruins were built directly along the slope of the hills. The Incas were a top-down society and this is most notable in Wiñay Wayna. The upper section of the ruins is on a broad shelf built out of the hill behind it. Natural springs in the area feed a waterfall just out of sight, which eventually flows down to feed more than a dozen pools and man-made waterfalls that run through the centre of the village.
The Inca Trail builds anticipation with every step.
Your guides will relate story after story about how the Inca used the land. Their words will deepen your understanding of what you see at each stop along the way.
Hiking the Inca Trail in Peru for days on end with a knowledgeable guide will give you insight into thousands of years of history.
by Peter West Carey / GAdventures