The Inca Trail is South America’s most famous walk and is popular with hikers. Though it is only 26 miles long, there are some beautiful views for hikers to enjoy along the way. The trail’s final destination is Machu Picchu, which in English translates to the Lost City of the Incas.
40,000 kilometres worth of trails were built by the Incas to connect the four corners of their empire. The vastness of the empire reaches from Quito to Argentina, passing through Ecuador, Santiago and Mendoza. The heart of the empire is the Cusco. The Incas took steps towards revamping the most significant trails surrounding their empire. One of these trails was of great importance because it served to connect several archaeological sites; Machu Picchu, Runcuracay, Winay Wayna, Phuyupatamarca and Sayacmarca. These sites make up the official Inca Trail.
The roads that make up the Inca Trail were man made to help transport heavy items. As a result, only humans could walk them as horses would trip and fall on the stairs. Coaches and trucks were not able to safely navigate the roads of the Inca Trail either. When Spanish conquistadors came to Cusco, they felt the roads had been finished. Many of them expressed their admiration for the high quality of the roads. The network of roads that helped residents travel around the country was converted into the Inca Trail. Sometime between 1913 and 1915, the Inca Trail was discovered by a man named Hiram Bingham tasked with cleaning the roads.
Interesting Facts About The Inca Trail
Hikers will find that they have several options when it comes to the route they take to explore the Inca Trail. The path they choose depends on how long they want to spend hiking. There are two, four, five and seven-day itineraries for hiking the Inca Trail. The four-day hike of the Inca Trail is the most popular choice.
Embarking On The Inca Trail Hike
The first step in embarking on the Inca Trail hike is to fly into Cuzco. Most hikers will have a one-night orientation when they arrive, and begin the actual hike the next day. Hiking the Inca Trail requires a guide to be present at all times.
The hike will likely begin at one of two places; a dirt road in the village of Chilca or a railroad that leads to Machu Picchu. Those starting at the railroad will ride a train to the Urubamba. Hikers must then walk across a foot bridge to get to the official entrance to the trail. The first site hikers come across is the ruins of Llactapata.
Approaching Llactapata Inca ruins by Phil Whitehouse
Hikers departing from Chilca will find an unpaved trail that takes them to the Urubamba gorge. From here they will be able to glimpse a glacial valley and snow topped mountains as well as terraced farmland. The distance between Chilca and Llactapata is 9 kilometres. Walking from Chilca to Llactapata often leads to hikers seeing the coaches of passing trains. Once hikers arrive at Llactapata, they have the option of stopping at the campsite.
The Inca Trail then leads hikers to the Rio Cusichacha, which is a small stream. They then come to a junction that includes the Rio Cusichacha River as well as the Rio Llullucha. Directly above the junction hikers will come across the Huayllabamba Village, beyond which lie a trio of campsites. This village is the only one along the Inca Trail where people live.
After coming to the campsites, hikers continue to cross the first mountain that passes through Llactapata to Machu Picchu. Beyond here lies the Rio Pacamayo; hikers will next come across the Runkurakay ruins, the hike’s smallest. Directly above the ruins the Inca Trail is stone paved, making the hike to Machu Picchu easier.
Shortly beyond the Runkurakay ruins hikers will come to the Runkurakay past. Approximately an hour later hikers will find themselves viewing the Sayacmarca ruins. The ruin resembles a fort and is located to the left of the Inca Trail. To reach it hikers must climb 98 stone steps, which are deep. The steps lead up to a mountain spur, where the fort sits.
Below the Sayacmarca ruins are a small ruin and a spot where some choose to set up camp. From Sayacmarca the next stop on the trail is the Phuyupatamarca ruins, which is one of the major ruins hikers will see during their experience. It contains engineering that people all over the world marvel at. Along this part of the trail, hikers may also see exotic local vegetation.
Beyond the Phuyupatamarca ruins lies an additional one that requires hikers to travel down a flight of stairs that is rather long. At the foot of the stairs lie six flowing fountains that show how much the people of Inca love sparkling water. Located close by is a campsite that many hikers stay at.
Phuyupatamarca by Dave Brown
From here Machu Picchu is roughly 10 kilometres away. On the way many hikers make a quick pit stop at the Winay Wayna ruins. From here they can head downhill towards Machu Picchu, where they will see a dramatic change in the density of the forests by the mountainside.
In the past hikers would then travel from Phuyupatamarca to Winay Wayna, but in 1985 a previously unknown section of the Inca Trail was discovered and now many hikers travel through this section instead.
Either way, hikers will come across the Trekker Hotel approximately 2 ½ hours after leaving Winay Wayna. From there hikers go another two hours to reach Machu Picchu, where they will come to the Sun Gate. A half hour’s walk later hikers arrive at the last part of the Inca Trail, where they will find the Watchman’s Hut. To the right of the trail lies studded cliffs and below it lays the Huayna Picchu Peak.
Discover more trails in Amazing Hikes To Do Before You Die