The beginning of the Inca Trail

Machu Picchu Travel Blog

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Out train to Machu Picchu

At around 06:20 we were transferred from our Hotel in Cusco to the San Pedro Train Station. We were given backpacker return Tourist train tickets to kilometer 104 where we would begin our One Day Inca Trail hike. The elevation at kilometer 104 is 2100m and we had to walk 14km over 7 hours with some rest and stops until Machu Picchu. After paying entrance fees and signing some paperwork we walked to Chachabamba and Choquesuysuy where our tour guide made a short introduction to our trek.

 

Among the many roads and trails constructed in pre-Columbian South America, the Inca road system (El Camino Inca) of Peru was the most extensive. Traversing the Andes mountains and reaching heights of over 5,000 m above sea level, the trails connected the regions of the Inca empire from the northern provincial capital in Quito, Ecuador past the modern city of Santiago, Chile in the south. The Inca road system covered approximately 22,500 km and provided access to over three million km² of territory.

 

Because the Incas did not make use of the wheel for transportation, and did not have horses until the arrival of the Spanish in Peru in the 16th century, the trails were used almost exclusively by people walking, sometimes accompanied by pack animals, usually the llama.

We begin our 2 Day Inca Trail Trek

 

The trails were post roads used by the Inca people as a means of relaying messages, carried via knotted-cord quipu and by memory; and for transporting goods. Messages could be carried by chasqui runners covering as much as 240 km per day, working in relay fashion much like the Pony Express of the 1860s in North America.

 

There were approximately 2,000 inns, or tambos, placed at even intervals along the trails. The inns provided food, shelter and military supplies to the tens of thousands who traveled the roads. There were corrals for llamas and stored provisions such as corn, lima beans, dried potatoes, and llama jerky. Along the roads, local villagers would plant fruit trees that were watered by irrigation ditches. This enabled chasqui runners and other travelers to be refreshed while on their journeys. Inca rope bridges provided access across valleys. Many of the trails converge on the center of the empire, the Inca capital city of Cuzco. Therefore, it was easy for the Spanish conquistadors to locate the city. Traversing the trails on horseback proved to be difficult and treacherous for the Spanish in their attempts to conquer the Inca Empire.

 

The most important Inca road was the Camino Real, as it is known in Spanish, with a length of 5,200 km.

Along we go...
It began in Quito, Ecuador, passed through Cusco, and ended in what is now Tucumán, Argentina. The Camino Real traversed the mountain ranges of the Andes, with peak altitudes of more than 5,000 m. El Camino de la Costa, the coastal trail, with a length of 4,000 km (2,420 mi), ran parallel to the sea and was linked with the Camino Real by many smaller routes.

By far the most popular of the Inca trails for trekking is the Capaq Ñan trail, which leads from the village of Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, the so-called "Lost City of the Incas". There are many well-preserved ruins along the way, and hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world make the three- or four-day trek each year, accompanied by guides.

 

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is actually three routes, which all meet up near Inti-Pata, the 'Sun Gate' and entrance to Machu Picchu. The three trails are known as the Mollepata, Classic and One Day trails, with Mollepata being the longest of the three. Passing through the Andes mountain range and sections of the Amazon rainforest, the Trail passes several well-preserved Inca ruins and settlements before ending at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain. The two longer routes require an ascent to beyond 12,000 ft above sea level, which can result in altitude sickness.

 

Concern about overuse leading to erosion has led the Peruvian government to place a limit on the number of people who may hike this trail per season, and to sharply limit the companies that can provide guides.

A view of Winay Wayna
As a result, advance booking is mandatory. A maximum of 500 people, including guides and porters, are permitted to begin the trail every day. As a result, the high season books out very quickly.

The trek was very hard, but not as hard as our trek in Isla do Sol had been. For lunch we finally stopped at Winay Wayna, an impressive and well-preserved Inca site, where the one-day trail meets up with the main route. We departed full of energy after a wholesome lunch and finally arrived at the sacred Sun Gate, marking the entrance to the complex of Machu Picchu. What a mystical and inspiring moment… to finally see our final great objective… Machu Picchu… the lost city of the Incas.

Located 120 km northwest of Cusco, the Inca city of Machu Picchu lay hidden from the world in dense jungle covered mountains until 1911. This 'Lost City' is one of the world's archaeological jewels and is one of South America's major travel destinations.

  

The well preserved ruins of Machu Picchu seem to almost cling to the steep hillside, surrounded by towering green mountains overlooking the Vilcanota River Valley. Even after having seen the classic photos of Machu Picchu in guide books, web sites, travel brochures and postcards you still cannot fail but to be impressed by the awe-inspiring location of the ruins. When you read about its discovery and the unsolved mystery of its purpose and how it came to become a 'lost to the world' you will realize why so many people make the pilgrimage to visit this fascinating and spiritual site.

A stop for a group photo

 

Machu Picchu (Quechua: Machu Picchu, "Old Peak") is a pre-Columbian Inca site located 2,400 meters above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 km (50 mi) northwest of Cuzco. Often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", Machu Picchu is probably the most familiar symbol of the Inca Empire. It was built around the year 1450, but abandoned a hundred years later, at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Forgotten for centuries, the site was brought to worldwide attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian. Since then, Machu Picchu has become an important tourist attraction. It was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

 

Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These are located in what is known by archaeologists as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. In September of 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of artifacts which Hiram Bingham had removed from Machu Picchu in the early 20th century. Currently, there are concerns about the impact of tourism on the site as it reached 400,000 visitors in 2003.

 

Machu Picchu was constructed around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire.

Waterfall
It was abandoned less than 100 years later. Most of its inhabitants died because of small pox before the Spanish conquerors arrived. Hiram Bingham, the credited discoverer of the site, along with several others originally hypothesized that the citadel was the traditional birthplace of the Inca people or the spiritual center of the "Virgins of the Suns". Another theory maintains that Machu Picchu was an Inca "llacta": a settlement built to control the economy of the conquered regions. It may also have been built as a prison for the selective few who had commited such henous crimes against the Inca society. Research conducted by scholars, such as John Rowe and Richard Burger, has convinced most archaeologists that rather than a defensive retreat, Machu Picchu was an estate of the Inca emperor, Pachacuti. In addition, Johan Reinhard presented evidence that the site was selected based on its position relative to sacred landscape features. One such example is its mountains, which are purported to be in alignment with key astronomical events.

 

Although the citadel is located only about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Cusco, the Inca capital, it was never found and consequently not destroyed by the Spanish, as was the case with many other Inca sites. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew to enshroud the site, and few knew of its existence. On July 24, 1911, Machu Picchu was brought to the attention of the West by Hiram Bingham, an American historian then employed as a lecturer at Yale University. He was led there by locals who frequented the site. Bingham undertook archaeological studies and completed a survey of the area. Bingham coined the name "The Lost City of the Incas", which was the title of his first book.

Winay Wayna
He never gave any credit to those who led him to Machu Picchu, mentioning only "local rumor" as his guide. Bingham had been searching for the city of Vitcos, the last Inca refuge and spot of resistance during the Spanish conquest of Peru. In 1911, after years of previous trips and explorations around the zone, he was led to the citadel by Quechuans. These people were living in Machu Picchu, in the original Inca infrastructure. Even though most of the original inhabitants had died within a century of the city's construction, a small number of families survived so by the time the site was 'discovered' in 1911, there were still mummies (mostly women) in Machu Picchu and some families still living on the site. Bingham made several more trips and conducted excavations on the site through 1915. He wrote a number of books and articles about the discovery of Machu Picchu in his lifetime.

 

Simone Waisbard, a long-time researcher of Cusco, claims that Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez, and Agustín Lizárraga left their names engraved on one of the rocks at Machu Picchu on July 14, 1901. This would mean that they 'discovered' it long before Bingham did in 1911. Likewise, in 1904, an engineer named Franklin supposedly spotted the ruins from a distant mountain. He told Thomas Paine, an English Plymouth Brethren Christian missionary living in the region, about the site, Paine's family members claim.

El Porta do Sol.... the entrance to Machu Picchu
In 1906, Paine and another fellow missionary named Stuart E McNairn (1867–1956) supposedly climbed up to the ruins. In 1913, the site received significant publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April issue to Machu Picchu. In 1981 an area of 325.92 square kilometers surrounding Machu Picchu was declared a "Historical Sanctuary" of Peru. In addition to the ruins, this area includes a large portion of the regional landscape, rich with flora and fauna.

 

Machu Picchu was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1983 when it was described as "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization". On July 7, 2007, Machu Picchu was voted as one of New Open World Corporation's New Seven Wonders of the World. As a result of environmental degradation resulting from the impacts of tourism, uncontrolled development in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes (including a poorly-sited tram to ease visitor access), and the construction of a bridge across the Vilcanota River in defiance of a court order and government protests (which would most likely bring even more tourists to the site), the World Monuments Fund placed Machu Picchu on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world.

We had to walk another 30 minutes to actually get to Machu Picchu. It was around 17:00 and the sun was almost setting. We still had time for some beautiful photos before our 30 minute bus drive down to Aguas Calientes where we checked in to Hostal Viajeros.

Aguas Calientes is the colloquial name for Machu Picchu pueblo, a town on the Urubamba River in Peru.

Mystical Machu Picchu
It is best known as the closest town to the tourist attraction Machu Picchu, which is 6km away, about 1.5 hours walk. It has many hotels and restaurants for tourists, as well as natural hot baths, which give the town its name ("hot waters" in Spanish). The baths were destroyed by floods several years ago, but have been rebuilt.

bSchu says:
Very informative and fantastic blog!
Posted on: Apr 26, 2011
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Out train to Machu Picchu
Out train to Machu Picchu
Our first Inca ruins
Our first Inca ruins
We begin our 2 Day Inca Trail Trek
We begin our 2 Day Inca Trail Trek
Along we go...
Along we go...
A view of Winay Wayna
A view of Winay Wayna
A stop for a group photo
A stop for a group photo
Waterfall
Waterfall
Winay Wayna
Winay Wayna
El Porta do Sol.... the entrance t…
El Porta do Sol.... the entrance …
Mystical Machu Picchu
Mystical Machu Picchu
Winay Wayna
Winay Wayna
It looks like the head of an old m…
It looks like the head of an old …
Intipunku
Intipunku
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Our first Inca ruins on the trail
Our first Inca ruins on the trail
Our first Inca ruins on the trail
Our first Inca ruins on the trail
Our first Inca ruins on the trail
Our first Inca ruins on the trail
This way please
This way please
Winay Wayna
Winay Wayna
Winay Wayna
Winay Wayna
The Andes mountains
The Andes mountains
Winay Wayna
Winay Wayna
Winay Wayna
Winay Wayna
Were almost there!!!
We're almost there!!!
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
The Andes
The Andes
The Andes
The Andes
We begin our trek
We begin our trek
The crossing
The crossing
On a bridge
On a bridge
Our little train
Our little train
12 km of nonstop walking
12 km of nonstop walking
Trekking
Trekking
Trekking
Trekking
An Inca flower
An Inca flower
The Inca Trail
The Inca Trail
Winay Wayna
Winay Wayna
Zigzag road to Águas Calientes
Zigzag road to Águas Calientes
The train Station
The train Station
At the Sun Gate
At the Sun Gate
Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate
Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate
Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate
Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate
A little Lama
A little Lama
Machu Picchu at sunset
Machu Picchu at sunset
A Machu Picchu house
A Machu Picchu house
A Panoramic view of Machu Picchu
A Panoramic view of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
photo by: NazfromOz