The inca trail to Machu Picchu is so special because of the stunning combination of the inca ruins, unforgettable views, magnificent mountains, exotic vegetation and extraordinary ecological variety. Machu Picchu cannot be understood fully without the inca trail.
We started out early in the morning and had breakfast on the way to KM82, the starting point. After we had purchased our coca leaves (for the altitude!) and trekking poles we checked in and started the trail.
A gentle introduction as we walked along side the river for about two hours. We saw two sets of impressive inca ruins across the river and down the valley. The guide was excellent at explaining about the different sites and the vegetation. The climb then begins and we made our way to the first campsite. SAS had a separate campsite which was nice. By the evening we had been fed five times, with damn good food. Hot popcorn was waiting for us at the campsite and the lunches and dinners were all amazing. We had a well deserved beer and wine with the meal.
This is a hard day climbing up steps for about 3 hours to the first pass, aptly named Warmiwanusqa (Dead woman) at 4200m. The feeling of reaching the top was immense and the view over the other side of the clouds filling the valley was also incredible. We had a break and then had a sharp descent down to the Pacamayo valley where our tents were awaiting, as was our late lunch ! This campsite was at 3600m and as the clouds were in the valley it was very very cold. Luckily Nick had a great sleeping bag so was quite warm..... Monica was not so lucky !!
The stars in the sky were amazing and we could see the southern cross, the milky way and the Llama !!!! We could also see Venus in the night sky.
This was also a very hard day and started with a long uphill climb to the second pass. We passed the ruins of Runkuracay which was an inca posthouse. The next pass was at 3850m and had spectacular views of Pumasillo (6246m) and the Vilcabamba range. We then descended to another set of ruins called Sayacmarca (inaccessible town). These were accessible by a steep staircase. The amazing thing about these ruins was how the incas were able to tell when summer solstace and winter solstace were. They had aligned one of the rooms with the top of a far away mountain. At the top of this mountain they had carved a small stone window. When the light from the sun passed through this window and hit the room at a precise angle the incas new it was winter solstace.
After lunch we had a gentle two hour climb on a stone highway which led to an inca tunnel and along the enchanted fringes of the cloudforest to the third pass. We had some amazing views from here, and just before the third pass we could see Aguas Caliente. We then descended to the ruins of Phuyupatamarca (cloud level town). This is where human offerings were found. We learnt the difference between a human offering and a human sacrifice....!!!
After another descent and some more inca terraces and ruins we arrived at the campsite where there was a hot shower awaiting (for 5 soles). We also had a building where we ate dinner, followed by a few drinks....
We awoke at 4am and had breakfast before setting off in the dark for Machu Picchu. We reached the sun gate (Intipunku) after a steep inca staircase and we could at last look down on Machu Picchu. We had a quick glimpse of it before the clouds surrounded the whole site !!!! However by the time we had walked down to the site the clouds had almost dissapeared. Our guide took us around the site, explaining the different buildings. We were then left on our own to explore. Nick, Celeste and Miki had a look at the temple of the moon while Monica, Jeff and Barbara headed up to Huayna Picchu which is an hour steep, unsafe, steep climb to an amazing viewpoint over Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains. We all met up at the cafe ! and took a bus down to Aguas Caliente for lunch. The afternoon was spent lazing around and it was an early night for everyone !
Our guides were excellent on the trip and we had a great time with our whole group. Monica also learnt the art of walking slowly, and although she had been dreading the trail in the end she enjoyed the whole experience (even the walking !!!).
We had booked an extra night to see Aguas Caliente, but in the end did not make it to the hot springs. Instead we looked around Jeff and Celeste`s lovely hotel and the markets. We took a nice Vistadrome train back to Cusco. However it was very slow and an hour from the end we transferred to bus which only took 15 mins !!!!
SAS travel - The office staff dont know their arse from their elbows, however..... when we got onto the trail everything was like a finely oiled machine. The guides were extremely knowledgeable and friendly (with free spanish lessons, solamente in espanol....) and the chef should get a job in the savoy he was so good !!! The equipment was great as well (tents big enough for Nick !!!). Can`t reccommend them enough, definately worth the extra cash.