There were over 50,000 km of Inca Trails, but when people talk of ‘The Classic Inca trail to Machu Picchu’, this is it. Justifiably the most famous trail in South America, this is the opportunity to follow in the steps of the Incas and discover the spectacular city of Machu Picchu. Along the way you will enjoy a variety of scenery including high grasslands, snow-capped mountains, and lush cloud-forest full of unique plants and animals, as well as visit Inca ruins only seen on the Inca trail Trek. At first light on the morning of the final day – and after a challenging 3 day hike – looking down on the Machu Picchu while the sun rises provides for a dramatic conclusion to a journey of a lifetime.
Day 1: Cusco – Start of Inca Trail, Kilometer 82
We will pick you up from your hotel in Cusco. We drive for 2 hours to Piskacuchu (2,700 m / 8,856 ft), a community located at ‘Kilometer 82’ which is the starting point of the Classic Inca trail to Machu Picchu. We begin our hike by crossing the bridge over the Urubamba River and walking along its left shore as to then ascend and finally see, from the tallest part of an overlook, the impressive Inca city of Llactapata (2,650 m / 8,692 ft). We continue trekking along the valley created by the Kusichaca river, gradually climbing for about five hours until we reach the community of Wayllabamba (3,000 m / 9,840 ft), where we set our first camp.
All along the way we enjoy spectacular views of the Vilcanota Ridge on the opposite side of the Urubamba river, where the impressive Veronica peak reigns at 5,832 meters above sea level. A wide variety of wild flora and fauna will be found all along the valley.
Day 2: Wayllabamba to Pacaymayo
We wake up at around 6:00 am and after breakfast we begin the most difficult part of the trek, which consists of an abrupt and steep ascent that stretches for 9 km. Along this climb, the landscape changes from sierra to puna (a dry and high area with little vegetation).
On the way to the first mountain pass, the Abra Warmiwañusca (Dead Woman´s Pass – 4,200 m / 13,776 ft), we may see domesticated llamas and alpacas grazing on ichu, one of the few plants that grow at high altitude. We also cross an area of the so called cloud forest, which is the habitat for many different kinds of birds like hummingbirds and sparrows, and the andean bear, which is also called the Spectacled Bear (Tremarctus Ornatus). We advise that on this day specially, your daypack is well stocked with candies, chocolates and coca leaves that will keep your sugar level high, and help with altitude.
Immediately after the pass, we descend into the Pacaymayo valley (3,600 m / 11,808 ft), where we camp after approximately 7h of hiking.
Day 3: Pacaymayo to Wiñaywayna
This day is the longest but also the most impressive and the most interesting, due the number of archaeological sites and the lush cloud forest area that we cross, rich in Andean flora and fauna.
From Pacaymayo we climb to the second pass, the Abra Runkurakay (3,970 m / 13,022 ft). Halfway up, we stop to visit the archaeological complex with the same name. This site, located at 3,800 m / 12,464 ft, consists of a small oval structure that is believed to have served the purpose of a watchtower.
After going over the pass, we descend towards Yanacocha (Black Lagoon) and enter the cloud forest to finally arrive at Sayacmarca (3,624 m / 11,887 ft). This is a beautiful complex made up of a semicircular construction, enclosures at different levels, narrow streets, liturgical fountains, patios and irrigation canals. Continuing up an easy climb, we arrive at the third pass, the Abra Phuyupatamarca (3,700 m / 12,136 ft). Along this climb we can appreciate the magnitude of the Incas´ ancient craft, by walking along paths semi-detached from the mountain, and seeing rocks that fill up ravines in perfect order, saving the trail from the multileveled Andean geography.
We go through an Inca tunnel to later arrive at the aforementioned pass and down to the complex of the same name. This is one of the most complete and best-preserved archaeological complexes along the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and is located on the highest point of a mountain. Curiously, Phuyupatamarca means ¨town over the clouds¨. From above, one can observe a sophisticated sacred complex made up of water fountains with solid foundations, and also impressive views of the Urubamba River valley.
We continue our Inca Trail Trek down the long descending stone steps that lead us to Wiñaywayna (2,650 m / 8,692 ft), an impressive Inca complex made up of an agricultural center with numerous terraces, a religious sector and an urban sector, close to which our camp is located.
After visiting the impressive archaeological site, we enjoy our farewell dinner at our camp.
Day 4: Wiñaywayna to Machupicchu
On this fourth and final day we get up at 3:30 am to leave Wiñaywayna an hour later and climb to the Intipunku, or The Sun Gate. This will take an hour of hiking along a trail of flat stones on the edges of cliffs in highland jungle. From this fabulous spot, we may see the sunrise over the sacred citadel of Machu Picchu. From Intipunku we descend into Machu Picchu, and 40 minutes later we enter the citadel from the highest point through the ¨House of the Guardians¨. We then descend to the control point where we register ourselves and leave our backpacks. We immediately begin a complete guided tour of the Inca citadel that will take approximately two hours. You will then have free time to walk around the city and visit the impressive Inca Bridge on your own.
In the afternoon, we meet in the town of Aguas Calientes where, if you like, you can visit and relax in its hot springs. From here we take the train back to the city of Cusco, where we arrive after nightfall.
* Departure and arrival times are approximate
** Campsites are subject to change according to the designation of the governmental institution regulating.
*Single travelers joining group trips are paired in twin shared accommodation with someone of the same sex for the duration of the trip.
*Sleeping bags, blow-up mattresses and hiking poles can be rented in Cusco.
Degree of Difficulty: The entire 4 day trail Trek to Machu Picchu is 28 miles (45 km) so the distances travelled each day are not terribly long. It is generally accepted that anyone who is accustomed to hiking and camping (i.e. walking for several hours and sleeping in tents) can hike the Inca Trail, however, the altitude can make hiking these distances feel about twice as difficult as hiking the same distance at sea level.
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