Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

8:08 p.m. on June 11, 2013 (EDT)
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I need a big trip to train for to get me out on trail again! So fall 2014 I will do a trek on the Inca Trail to the ruins of Machu Picchu. It isn't a long hike like the Everest trek, but there is a GRUELING day of 4K asscent to just over 13,000 feet and then drop a thousand for sleeping. The day after that is not nearly as bad but no picnic either. So, the hikes will resume, the training get under way and the gear assembly and purchases will begin!

10:19 p.m. on June 11, 2013 (EDT)
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We did this trip last year.  Stunning adventure.  And I think you'll be amazed at what you see---including cloud forest jungles at 12,000 feet.

 

We have a trip report on our website:  backpackthesierra.com

10:15 a.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks! I will go read it balzaccom.

10:22 a.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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There she goes again! Nice to see you back, GoG, and looking forward to your newest adventure.

10:53 a.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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The elevation en Los Andes is extreme and very hard on people that don't have time to acclimate.  Most people bring too much stuff on the Inca Trail.  The climate is moderate.  The like the Peruvians and the Bolivians even more.  If I go back to that country I would rent a guy and a boat at Cocacabana, Bolivia and explore Lago Titicaca for a week.

11:38 a.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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That was WONDERFUL. Gotta go...I hear a year of vertical hiking calling me to prep!

11:41 a.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine: Thanks. I ahave been at altitude...Everest Base Camp near 18k...and did well. I live at a couple thousand and regular get up in the 8's to 10's here around vegas. I am slow and I think that actually helps me. My bigger concern is getting more weight off than I did for Everest and getting better power quads and mountain legs for the big altitude gain day.

11:44 a.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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Just to put your mind at ease---there are a LOT of people who hike this trail, and you won't be the slowest.  Everybody takes it at their own pace, and you do have just about all day to hike the five miles. 

 

And yes, it really is about 5000 feet of climbing in that distance.  Followed by dropping another 2000 in the following two miles. 

12:19 p.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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Yes, I knew of the climbing /drop day from the trekking company I intend to go with. Same one I went to everest with. The second day of Everest is GRUELING but not near what the second day of Inca is. So I have my work cut out for me but what better challenge to improve my health and enjoy the outdoors?

12:26 p.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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Looking forward to your trip Karen. You did well on Everest and were ready.Iam sure you'll be ready for this..

1:25 p.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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denis daly said:

Looking forward to your trip Karen. You did well on Everest and were ready.Iam sure you'll be ready for this..

 Well going up I suppose... Sure lived it and miss it! But I really want to be ready for the grueling day two of this! I will do the spot connect again as well!

6:46 p.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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The approach to Macchu Pichu might be 5 miles, but the Inca Trail goes for a very long distance, as in hundreds of miles.

8:17 p.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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Yes, I know...I am doing the trail head to machu picchu.. traditional trek. short hike. Only a few days with difficult ascents as far as gain. I am not worried about the altitude. Been much higher than that. 27 miles on trail for the ruins. thats all.

9:55 p.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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So you wish to go to Machu Picchu!

My wife is Peruvian.  Needless to say we have visited there several times.  I have also done some trekking in various other areas throughout Peru.  If doing the Inca Trail is a bucket list must-do for you, then my advice has no bearing.  But otherwise you may want to consider my own experiences.

As for the whole Machu Picchu thing, it is a memorable experience for several reasons.

  1. Cusco
    Virtually all things related to Machu Picchu tourism originate out of Cusco.  Cusco was the capital city for the late empire era Inca, and still considered the cultural center of these people.  As such there are lots of historical sites in vicinity, more than can be seen in a single trip.  The local people are primarily the Quechua.  You can get by on English in Cusco, since multiple languages are taught at the secondary school level, and English is one of the choices.  And of course Spanish is in wide use.  But the locals speak their aboriginal dialect, Quechua, among themselves.  Quechua folk music is a lovely art form you must make acquaintance with on your trip!
  2. The Sacred Valley
    Those traveling to Machu Picchu by motor coach typically pass through the Sacred Valley often staying near Ollantaytambo.  The bucolic setting of this valley, along with the rustic, yet scrumptious, accommodations of the region’s hospitality businesses make a stop over here well worth the time.  The very name of this location should also serve to indicate this area is also a significant Inca district, and includes some fairly impressive Inca era installations.
  3. Aguas Calientes
    This is a small town located on the banks Urubamba River.  Machu Picchu is located on the ridgeline, thousands of feet above Aguas Calientes.  As such it is the perfect location as a base for visiting activities to Machu Picchu.  Its deep and remote forest location also lends itself to exotic sight seeing opportunities unique to this ecologic zone.  The vicinity has several historical sites along the river.  This is the preferred starting point for tourists visiting Machu Picchu, as it places you at the end of the requisite train ride, hours closer than trips starting from the Sacred Valley.  Alas the limited facilities of this location are frequently booked solid.

The above listed points aside, electing to accomplish your visit via the Inca Trail has several trade offs. 

  1. You will be consuming considerable time walking from Point A to Point B.  This means you will see less of the region, and forsake time that could be spent touring additional cultural and scenic attractions.
  2. The actual Inca Trails experience falls short of the mark, as trekking adventures go.  The Inca Trail adventure has undergone much transformation since it first gained popularity in the 1970s.  It is now a heavily regulated operation; they tell you where to hike (and where not), where to camp, and regulate other aspects of your trip.  It is also a crowded venue, more reminiscent of camping in a KOA camp ground than exploring a cloud forest.
  3. The weather may not be smiling a good portion of time on your trip.  You can spend a fair amount of time getting rained on while on the trail; if you visit during the rainy season you will be water logged.  When it isn’t raining it can be quite hot and very humid.
  4. Why walk, when you can use mechanized transport to arrive at the door step of Machu Picchu.  I love hiking, but it seems illogical to me to walk when I can ride, leaving one more fresh and attentive to the condensed and intensive narration a motivated tour guide will provide during your visit.  JMO.

Regardless if you eventually travel to Machu Picchu by foot on the Inca Trail, or arrive via motor coach and rail, I highly recommend some pre-trip preparation.  Your visit will be much more rewarding if you have a better understanding of what you are visiting.  Additionally you will be able to ask your tour guide much more insightful and concise questions, and get much more from your visit.  I recommend boning up on three areas of study, specific to Machu Picchu:

  1. A brief history of the Inca civilization.  This will provide the contextual basis for understanding the significance of this historical site and the installations present, as well as its context in the region and Inca empire.
  2. The background, circumstantial to the re-discovery of Machu Picchu, and the ongoing efforts to preserve this site.  This story is quite interesting, as it is poignant.
  3. The civil engineering approaches and concepts the Inca employed when building Machu Picchu.  This is a more fascinating read than one would assume, providing many insights and provoking many questions you otherwise may not consider, as well as make you aware of the many details that otherwise would go unnoticed.

While there are general information books on the Incas and Machu Picchu, I recommend obtaining texts that specialize in each of these three topics mentioned above.


Rock-with-22-angles.jpg

This large rock is known as The Stone with  22 Angles, so called because of the 22 corners chiseled into its interfacing surfaces to interlock with adjacent stones.  You will need to school up on Machu Picchu to even know such points of interest exist, let alone know of their where abouts or even ask of such.


roof-details.jpg
What purpose did those round knobs projecting from this building's roof peak serve?  There are many other facinating details to their civil engineering you will better appreciate by reading up on these details before your visit. 


DSCN0532.jpg
Standing at the the upper end of the Central Plaza of Machu Picchu, with the Temple of the Three doors, behind, in the backgound.  Note: I am wearing soaking wet rain gear.


Do not, however, construe my opinion as an argument not to trek around in the Andean highlands.  There are some amazing guided trekking venues one can enjoy; your tour company also offers many of these venues.  If it were my trip to schedule I would do Machu Picchu, arriving by modern transportation, and arrange a two day tour of the site; one day for the main city, and one for touring Huayna Picchu, the peak opposite the entrance of the citadel, or the nearby Wayna Picchu Mountain, location for the Temple of the Moon.  I would use the balance of my trip to spend a few days in Cusco or the Sacred Valley, and book a trek to a less crowded trekking venue in the cloud forest, or other regions of the high Andes such as the Cordillera Blanca.  Perhaps an ideal compromise is taking the Salkanty Trail to Machu Picchu.  It is lower in elevation than most of the Inca Trail, less crowded, and permits one a civil overnight accommodation at Aguas Calientes, to wash off the trail dirt before joining the masses up on Machu Picchu.  This tour company  offers this trip and other alternative trekking options to Machu Picchu as well.  Mountain Maddness also offers several alternatives I would strongly recommend over the Inca Trail. You may also consider researching the National Geogrphic web site's Machu Picchu page.  Nat Geo has a trove of information, including alternative trips to Machu Picchu and quality books related to Machu Picchu.

The one thing that stands out each time I visit Peru is how fantastic the good tour companies are at lining up quality activities, and being available to support your ongoing needs while you are in-country.  Another thing that stands out is how well versed the guides are on their respective subjects.  In fact the Dept of Tourism requires professional guides in locations like Cusco, Machu Picchu, and the Sacred Valley, to be certified on the facts and trivia related to the tours they are permitted to conduct.  If you come prepared you will get far more value from your guides than the typical passive tourist, and they will be gratified by the respect and interest you show in their cultural history, and make the extra effort to make yours a memorable experience.

Three last suggestions:

  1. The alcoholic cocktail Pisco Sour is delicious.  This alone will give you a reason to return to Peru. 
  2. Also try the roasted alpaca; it can be very tender and is reminiscent of venison, but be sure to order it rare, as they tend to over cook it until it is brown and tough. 
  3. Lastly try to spend as little time as possible in Lima.  I find the city rampant with issues problematic of large cities as well as social issues plaguing many third world cities, meanwhile lacking sufficient reasons to captivate the would be tourist.

Ed

10:55 p.m. on June 12, 2013 (EDT)
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I'll echo some of whoemworry's points. We loved Cusco, and spent a few days, there visiting many of the sites in the region.  That was not only great fun, but a good way to get acclimated to the altitude.  And we enjoyed riding the buses around the area to Pisac, etc.

There is so much to do in Peru that the mind boggles.  And if you like archeology (or just adeventure stories) read Hugh thomspon's two wonderful books:  The White Rock and A Sacred Landscape.   The first is his first adventure in Peru as an archeologist.  The second is a masterful trip through all of Peru's great historical sites.

On the other hand...we also really liked the hike to Machu Picchu. Admitedly, there were special circumstances.  We were hiking with our daughter and her boyfriend (now our son-in-law) and that gave us a wonderful experience all of its own.  And we were the only four people in our group, with a single guide and our porters. (porters are required for this trip.)   So that was also pretty nice.  Some of the larger groups were a bit too big for our taste.

And we went in April.  The weather was wonderful (one night of rain, no rain during any of the days) but that isn't the high season, so there weren't quite so many people.

 

We're really glad that we did it just the way we did it!

12:31 p.m. on June 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Staying at Aguas Calientes is a great idea to avoid the tourist traffic that comes on the train from Cusco. You can have the ruinas to yourselves in the morning.  I have fond memories of soaking in the hot springs with some Peruvian soldiers.

Once you are more used to the altitude, hiking or biking around Cusco is a great chance to meet some local Campisanos.  It is a grea tourist town but over-run with Europeans.  I really liked the people in the Urobamba Valley.  I talked with a kid about 10 years old about renting some donkeys from his uncle and treking into the jungle.  Cusco is a great place to start from and come back to for amenities.

My brother went to Cusco in the 1960s with some Peruvian friends.  They hitch-hiked from Lima in the back of a dumptruck.  He spent his 16th birthday in a brothel.

1:26 p.m. on June 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks you guys. My biggest objective is Machu Piccu itself as a bucket list item and love for all things Inca. I consider this a first trip to Peru. I wm walking in because I still can! HA! As I approach my mid 50's (early now at 52) I realize the occasions for doing things on shanks mare will decrease with time. I have hip and knee pain now and it makes me wonder about the replcement mill I might be facing! HA!

 

ppine: I would love to bike around. Perhaps another trip is needed so I can then sorta wander and do taht sort of thing!

5:59 p.m. on June 25, 2013 (EDT)
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SectionalIncaTrail.jpg

Day two....Oh JOY!

October 1, 2014
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