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Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

For Thanksgiving last year I decided what better way to spend the holiday than hiking one of the most challenging treks in South America, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. After a 12 hour flight to Lima Peru, another flight to Cusco, followed by a 3 hour mini bus ride to the start, our group finally made it. And it was so worth it, this was one of the most amazing and scenic places I have ever seen.

History and Location

Machu Picchu is 15th century Inca site located in the Cusco Region of Peru, South America (7,970 feet above sea level). Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built around 1450 for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). It was abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers about a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. From this time till up until 1911 very little was known outside Peru of this site until it was discovered by Hiram Bingham.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu consists of three overlapping trails: Mollepata, Classic, and One Day. Our group took the Classic route which is 28 Miles long, 4 days and crossed over the brutal Warmiwañusca ("Dead Woman's Pass") at a height of 13,773 feet.

Located in the Andes mountain range, the trail passes through several types of environments including cloud forest, alpine tundra, Inca settlements, and many Incan ruins. The trail ultimately ends at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain with amazing views into the Urubamba Valley in Peru and Machu Picchu.

Preparing for Trek, Ollantaytambo Preparing for Trek, Ollantaytambo

Bridge crossing, Wayllabamba Bridge crossing, Wayllabamba

Our Trek Itinerary

Day 1 - Ollantaytambo – Piskacucho – Wayllambamba

Our trek started 55 miles from the city of Cuzco on the Urubamba River at 9,200 ft. By Mini Bus we travel from the city of Cuzco to Kilometre 82 road marker and the start of the Inca Trail. After a short stop in the city Ollantaytambo we meet our guides, porters, inspect camping gear, pack up and head out. For our first day we start with a 7 1/2 mile walk to Wayllabamba (9,850 feet).

Warmiwañusca, Dead Womans Pass (background) Warmiwañusca, Dead Womans Pass (background)

Day 2 Warmiwañusca – Pacamayo

Rising early (around 5am), today begins with a ascent of 6 miles all uphill on stone steps to reach the highest pass at Warmiwañusca or ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’. The views of the mountains and valleys are spectacular as you make your way slowly towards the pass.

This section is the most demanding and the pass offers fantastic views of the surrounding snow capped peaks. After the high pass it is 2 miles downhill, winding along old Inca stairs to the campsite (11,800 feet).

Top of Dead Womans Pass (13,773 feet) Top of Dead Womans Pass (13,773 feet)

Day 3 Runkurakay – Winay Wayna

This day begins with another early start (6am) and a gradual 1 1/2 mile hike uphill to the second high pass, Runkurakay (12,950 feet). This pass has amazing views of the Andes.

Most of the next 4 miles is downhill on our way to the ruins of Sayacmarca.

The scenery becomes more lush as we continue towards the third high pass at Phuyupatamarca (11,750 feet).

From here we have a further 5 miles downhill to reach the final campsite at Winay Wayna (8,700 feet).

Phuyupatamarca Phuyupatamarca

Day 4 Intipunku – Machu Picchu

On the last morning we rise before dawn (4am) to begin the final section of the trail to the famous ‘Sun Gate’ (Intipunku) and on to Machu Picchu.

It is 2 1/2 miles from Winay Wayna to the Sun Gate and the final segment includes a set of steep Inca stairs.

Arriving at the Sun Gate which is 1130 feet higher than Machu Picchu it has majestic views down over Machu Picchu and the surrounding valleys. From the Sun Gate, there is our final 1 1/2 miles downhill walk to the entrance of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu (early morning) Machu Picchu (early morning)

Reptiles Seen in Machu Picchu

And what trip would be complete without doing some herping along the way? The Andes Mountains are an amazing place and home to many types of reptiles, amphibians, insects and much more. Peru has around 300 species of reptiles, of which around 100 are endemic. Peru's reptile fauna includes spectacular species like giant anacondas and caimans, as well as many other snakes, lizards and turtles.

Machu Picchu Machu Picchu

The dry season on the Inca Trail and in Machu Picchu, is the best time of year to go, lasts from May to November and the rainy season is from December to April. The Inca trail is closed in February due to heavy rains. Day time temperatures can range anywhere from 50-82ºF, with night time temperatures around 32ºF. With such low temperatures there were not many herps to find but we did find a few along the trail.

Scorpion, Machu Picchu, Peru -  Tityus sp. Scorpion, Machu Picchu, Peru - Tityus sp.

Millipede, Machu Picchu, Peru Millipede, Machu Picchu, Peru

Fer-de-Lance, Winay Wayna, Peru Fer-de-Lance, Winay Wayna, Peru

The Inca Trail as one of the most hyped treks in the world, I would recommend it to anyone as a trail worth doing. It's tough but extremely rewarding.

It is breathtaking.