So let’s look at the Inca Trail, being the better known of the two. Why do the Inca trail you may ask? Because it is the most famous hike in South America and a must-do experience. It combines the cultural highlights of the Sacred Valley with a stunning combination of ancient architecture, a cloud forest, plant life and Machu Picchu.
It’s easy to get confused when you talk about the Inca Trail, as the Incas built an advanced network of nearly 40,000 thousand kilometers of trails to connect the distant corners of their vast empire from Ecuador to Santiago and Mendoza in Argentina. The classic Inca Trail starts at a place called Km82 (so called because it is located 82 kilometers along the railway line between Cusco and Machu Picchu).
The beautify of the hike is that it only takes 4 days and covers a distance of 54km, which does not sound much at all. However, given that the last day you only hike about 2 hours, you essentially cover the remaining distance of about 49km in 3 days.
The hike itself heads along ancient narrow paths deep into the Peruvian countryside and high into the Andean mountains. The terrain changes from lush green forests alive with birds and plant life to semi arid zones, sections with pampas and tussock grasses, small tarns and steep mountain passes. And to top it all there are ancient Inca ruins all along the way. However, the best part of this 4 day hike is reaching the iconic Sun Gate at sunrise for that first magical view of Machu Picchu below.
So let’s break it down into a few important points to focus on planning your trek
Day 1: Km 82 to Wayllabamba 3,000m/ 9,842 feet. Distance: 10.2 miles/ 16.4 km
Day 2: Wayllabamba to Pacaymayo 3,500m/ 11,483ft. Distance: 8.9 miles/ 14.3km
Day 3: Pacaymayo to Phuyupatamarka or WinayWayna 3670m/ 12040 Distance 11 miles/ 17.7km
Plan in advance
To access the trail you have to have a permit and permit numbers are restricted to 500 per day. That may sound a lot but bear in mind that the permits includes guides and porters so in all, it is around 200 tourists/hikers. Permits become available every year 1 March for the year and quickly sell out a good three months in advance, sometimes more, so advance planning is essential. In addition, the trail closes for maintenance every year in February.
The hike itself is not hard going but bear in mind that you are at high altitude and on day 2, you climb a total of 1000m up to the 4000m point on Warmiwanuska (also known as Dead Woman’s Pass) – a rather bizarre name for what I prefer to think looks more like a sleeping woman lying on her side from above than anything deceased.
In addition to the altitude, it is famous for what I call, the “Inca flats’, steep ascents and descents and endless rock and stone stairs.
On the Inca Trail unless you plan to carry a hefty backpack yourself, your gear weight is limited to 6kg including our sleeping bag. Yes, 6kg. Weather can be variable so you need warm and cold weather gear along with good gloves for early mornings and night fall. For a sleeping bag a -10C is sufficient which you can bring along or hire in Cusco. An essential item is a rain mac.
It s a good idea to bring along a sturdy pair of hiking boots that you have worn in with good ankle support and with good vibram or grip soles. Rocks and wet conditions can wreak havoc on slippery soles, and loose pebbles and stone can quickly results in an unwelcome ankle sprain.
This is an essential, not options consideration. Although accidents on Machu Picchu trek are rare they do occur. However the bigger consideration is altitude sickness. If you are one of the unfortunate ones to land up with bad altitude sickness or an injury from a fall then you will need good evacuation and medical treatment cover. Most insurance policies only cover to 3500m so it is vitally important to go fore one that offers high altitude cover. We recommend World Nomads
Take it all in
On the final morning, the hike brings you out to Inti Punku, better known as the Sun Gate and the official entrance to Machu Picchu. Here you get to watch as a blanket of morning mist clears to reveal the breathtaking views of Machu Picchu, none of which can be truly captured from behind a camera lens. Remember to take it all in; it is not an event you can quickly replicate.
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Post by Debra Bouwer