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The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

by Miles Hecker

Km 104

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The Inca trail system was the most extensive and advanced transportation system in pre-Columbian South America. The network or El Camino Inca as it was called by the Spanish was based on two north-south roads with numerous branches. In it's prime, it stretched from Quito, Ecuador to Santiago, Chile.

The eastern route ran through the and mountain valleys of the Andes. The western route followed the coastal plain. Some of these roads reach heights of over 16,000 ft (5000 meters) above sea level. El Camino Inca linked together about 25,000 mi (40,000 kilometers) of roadway and provided access to over 1,200,000 sq mi (3,000,000 square kilo metres) of territory. This road system provided reliable and quick routes for the Inca Empire's civilian and military communications, personnel movement, and logistical support.

Today the best known portion of the road system is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu consists of two overlapping trails, the Classic, and One Day. Hikers normally take four days to complete the 25 mile long "Classic Inca Trail". It requires three nights of camping in tents. For most photographers the one day Inca Trail hike is the way to go. 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. 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. For more information on Inca Trail permits, go to Inca Trail Reservations. All non Peruvian hikers must be accompanied by a guide.

The one day Inca Trail hike begins at KM104 on the train right of way that runs to Aguas Calientes. This spot can only be reached by rail. The train ride may be booked either from Cusco or Ollantaytambo.

The trek is approximately 6 miles in length, and can take anything between 5 to 8 hours depending on your walking pace and the length of time you spend at the sites en-route. The main obstacles are the 2000 foot elevation gain and the altitude of the Sacred Valley. If you don't come from a high altitude region, two to three days of acclimation in Cusco or the Sacred Valley before hiking the trail will prevent altitude sickness from creeping up on you and will make the trek a good deal easier.

About 2-3 hours and 2000 feet of elevation gain after you begin your trek at Km104 you turn a corner and Wiñay Wayna comes into view. This Inca site was discovered by the Wenner Gren Scientific Expedition to Hispanic America, which investigated both archaeological sites and native Andean peoples in 1940-42

 

Inca trail 1

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In the Maze

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The name Wiñay Wayna was subsequently given to the ruin by the eminent Peruvian archaeologist, Dr. Julio C. Tello. Winay Wayna translates form Quechua as "Forever Young." Often overlooked by travelers in the valley floor more keen on reaching Machu Picchu, the ruins of Winay Wayna, when seen from below, appear like an ancient stone castle atop a huge terraced garden. Low stone walls surround triangular inner walls, all of which create a maze of intriguing structures atop an ancient, tiered mountainside.

The ruins consist of upper and lower house clusters, interconnected by a long, precipitous staircase with accompanying fountain structures, often referred to as "baths. A large area of presumably agricultural terraces lies just north of the house-staircase complex.

You continue a bit further on the trail passing under a lovely waterfall. You then begin the magnificent climb up through the ruins. The view here is stunning. I feel it is only surpassed on the trail by the citadel of Machu Picchu itself.

After you leave Wiñay Wayna the trail undulates along below the crest of the east slope of the mountain named Machu Picchu. It is relatively flat until you approach the Sun Gate. The steep stairs leading to Intipunku (sun gate) are reached after approximately 1.8 miles (3km). After somewhat of a grunt ascending these steps, you pass through the Sun Gate at the crest of the ridge. Here the citadel of Machu Picchu and the towering pinnacle Huanyna Picchu which sits behind it finally appear below you.

If you were an Inca coming from Cusco in the 16th century, this would be the end of a 5 day trek. For the day hiker it signals the end of an amazing day. From the the Intipunku it's a short easy hike along the trail to the ruins. If you are lucky, you can photograph the citadel from the west side of the terraces in the golden rays of the late afternoon sun. If it's overcast you can wander about and plan your next day's shoot before descending to Aquas Calientes for a well earned dinner.

If you spend the night in Aquas Calientes and wake up early, you can take the first bus up to Machu Picchu before sunrise. If the clouds part, and the gods smile upon you, the magic spectacle of Machu Picchu touched by the clouds and lit by the early morning rays will present itself before you. Photographically speaking, life doesn't get much better than this.

If you would like to find out more about photography in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu area, check out our new Sacred Valley Photoguide.

Machu Picchu

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Photoguide

 

 

About Miles Hecker

Miles has been involved with photography for over forty years. He teaches digital photography at Casper College in Casper,Wyoming. His photos have won awards from Natures Best magazine, Photo.net, The Luminous Landscape and Wyoming WIldlife . Miles' photos have been published in American Vignette, Backpacker Magazine, Natures Best Images, Popular Photography, Wyoming Audubon, and Wyoming Wildlife. He is co-founder of WyoFOTO LLC.

 

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August 2013
 
 
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Concepts: Cusco, Inca Empire, Peru, Inca road system, Machu Picchu, Inca, Andes, Hiking

Entities: Inca Trail Reservations, Cusco, Quito, Santiago, Intipunku, Wyoming Audubon, 1940-42, Casper,Wyoming, WyoFOTO LLC, Ecuador, Chile, El Camino Inca, Sun Gate, Sacred Valley Photoguide, digital photography, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Huanyna Picchu, Aquas Calientes, Andes, Wiñay Wayna, Aguas Calientes, co-founder, Forever Young, Peruvian government, Wyoming Wildlife, Wenner Gren Scientific Expedition, Casper College, Miles Hecker, Wiñay Wayna, Winay Wayna, Dr. Julio C. Tello, Natures Best magazine, Backpacker Magazine, American Vignette, South America

Tags: Machu Picchu, inca trail, El Camino Inca, Inca Trail hike, Sacred Valley