The beginning of the Inca Trail
Machu Picchu Travel Blog› entry 20 of 25 › view all entries
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.