THE INCA TRAIL
The network of roads of the Inca Empire, or Qhapaq Ñan in Quechua, was a system of pathways that covered enormous distances from the mountains to the coast and between all the important cities of the Inca civilization. It was designed using two longitudinal axes: the Andean mountain chain and the coastal plains. This system of roads was in fact a legacy of pre-Incan peoples, but reached its full potential during the Inca empire. Qhapaq Ñan means powerful road or road of the ruler; this name applies equally as much to the entire road system, in total more than 30,000 km (18,600 mi) as it applies to the principal highway, which was approximately 5200km (3200 mi)long. All of these roads connected to Cusco, capital of the empire, making them an effective tool for political, administrative, socioeconomic, and cultural integration. Since the Qhapac Ñan interconnected places as far apart as Quito (present day Ecuador) Cusco, and Tucuman (present day Argentina), the Spanish made good use of it in the 16th century in order to invade Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and the mountains of Argentina.
Starting out from Cusco, the Qhapac Ñan allowed for easy access to the four suyos, or territories, that made up the Inca Empire, known as the Tahuantinsuyo:
• To the north lay the Chinchasuyo, occupied by groups such as the Chinchas, Chimués or Yungas, and the Pastos.
• To the southeast was the Collasuyo, occupied by Aimaras, Collas, and Puquinas.
• To the southwest was the Cotisuyo, occupied by groups such as the Conti or Conde, Collaguas, and settlements of people originally Puquinas.
• To the east was the Antisuyo, occupied by the Antis (currently the native populations of the Amazon basin).
The Qhapac Ñan allowed the Incas to exercise political and economic control over these people, while also allowing for integration, state-mobilized trade of diverse products, transmission of cultural values, access to different Inca places of worship, and the development of common practices. The road system was also a symbol that represented imperial Inca power and its expansion across much of South America, which reached and profoundly influenced six of the current Andean nations: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
INCA TRAILS OF THE NORTH COAST:
Begin in Cusco, connect the cities of Palpa (Ica), Nazca (in the center of Peru), Lima, Huarmey, the Chimu kingdom, Los Tallanes (Piura), Ayabaca, Tumbes (on the Peru-Ecuador border) Quito (Ecuador), and all the way to the Ancasmayo river or Pasto (Colombia).
INCA TRAILS OF THE NORTHERN MOUNTAINS:
Begin in Cusco, connects the cities of Vilcas Huamán, Jauja, Tarma, Huánuco, Maray Calle, Tambo Real de Huancabanba, Cajamarca, Chachapoyas, Tumibamba, Loja (Ecuador), Quito (Ecuador), and to the Ancasmayo River or Pasto (Columbia).
INCA TRAILS OF THE SOUTHERN COAST:
Begin in Cusco, connect the cities of Pisco, Nazca, Palpa, Ica, Tambo Colorado, Catorpe, Arica (Chile), Copiapó (Chile), Pampas de Tucuman (Argentina) and the Maule river (Chile).
INCA TRAILS OF THE SOUTHERN MOUNTAINS
Begin in Cusco, connect the cities of Juliaca, Chucuito (Bolivia), Chuguiago (Bolivia) La Paz (Bolivia) and Pampas de Tucuman (Argentina).
ROUTE OF THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU
The total distance of the hike is 39.6 km (24.6 miles) and it begins at kilometer 82 in a place called Pisqacucho.
Almost immediately, you will come across the ruins of Q’ente, Pulpituyoc, Kusichaca and Patallaca. From this last point, you will follow the path along the left bank of the Kusichaca river, through an area that bears the same name, where you will see not just the famous bridge but also burial sites, aqueducts, and terraces. From there you continue on to the town of Wayllabamba.
On this hike you will need to climb up to 4,200 m (13,780 ft.) as you cross the Warmiwañusqa pass, the first and highest crossing. If you suffer from altitude sickness, called soroche, the best thing to do is not stop and descend swiftly to the Pakaymayu river valley.
Continuing on, you visit archaeological sites such as Runkuraqay, at the second mountain pass, whose walls are covered in niches that may have been resting places, guardhouses, or altars for worship. Next is Sayaqmarka, ruins of an Inca town with narrow streets, buildings erected on different levels, sanctuaries, patios, canals, and an exterior wall for protection. Above the fortifications, you will observe constructions that suggest they may have been a temple and an astronomical observatory, which had a constant water supply and an ample food pantry. Sayaqmarka is a place full of mystery, just like Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna. The final entrance to Machu Picchu leads you along the splendid Inca path, giving closure to a beautiful hike along one of the legendary ancient roads constructed by Andean people.
CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT
The climate is relatively mild all year round, with heavy rains from November to March, and dry, hot weather from April through October, the best time to visit.
The annual minimum temperature varies from 8°C (46°F) to 11.2°C (52°F). During the months of June, July, and August, the temperature frequently drops below 0°C (32°F)
The annual maximum temperature varies from 20.4°C (69°F) to 26.6° (80°F). The terrain is fairly uneven, with many cliffs, ravines and gullies made by streams that carry glacial meltwater down to the Urubamba river. This powerful river crosses the countryside for more than 40km through a variety of ecosystems, forming a deep valley carved into the granite floor of the Vilcabamba mountain range
The views are breathtaking, and the balance achieved between nature and the architecture of the Inca is astonishing.
The mountains of the Vilcabamba range include vast and towering peaks that reach 6,000 m, like Salkantay and Humantay, to name a couple. The combination of mountains, jungle, and valleys creates a fantasy world where dawn and dusk are enveloped in mystery.
Animal life is abundant and varied, and includes several species in danger of extinction, such as the spectacled bear, Andean cock-of-the-rock, and dwarf deer. The park is also home to species such as pumas, Andean foxes, giant Amazonian otters, mountain wildcats, ferrets, and many more. You can also see an impressive variety of birds around Machu Picchu, including caracaras (a kind of falcon), hummingbirds, torrent ducks, parrots, wild turkeys, and many small birds with colorful plumage.
There are also many reptiles, including pit vipers, coral snakes (whose venom is lethal), lizards, toads, and numerous other animals from the jungle and Andean regions that live in the sanctuary. This abundant wildlife makes the sanctuary of Machu Picchu and ideal place for tourists and researchers who want to see or study creatures in the wild.
The large natural areas around Machu Picchu are full of a variety of forest plants that vary according to different biomes. The vegetation of the forest includes trees such as cedar, intimpa (a rare native conifer), bay, and others. Other notable plant species include ocotea, pedocarpus, guarea, weinmania, clusia, cedropia, cinchena, critrina or pisonay, and encina, among others. The sanctuary is also famous for its decorative plants; experts have identified more the 90 species of orchids and many species of begonia and puya cacti. Almost the entire park is vegetated with leafy ground cover, bushes, and trees. The variety of different conditions with the park, ranging from dense jungle to high mountain cloud forest, has created an environment ideal for diverse plants to thrive.
Apart from all the natural wonders mentioned, there is of course the amazing cultural patrimony left by the Incas. The well-built Inca trail traverses dense forests and deep canyons. There are 18 archaeological sites along the trail, which can be seen in all their splendor. Each is made up of houses, irrigation canals, agricultural terraces, walls, and temples, all irrefutable proof of the existence of important human settlements.
WAYS TO GET THERE
Train to Machu Picchu:
In order to get to kilometer 82, you can go by train from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. Another alternative is to go by bus, van, or car to kilometer 82.
The only way to return from Machu Picchu or Aguas Calientes to Cusco is by train. Check the train schedules to see when they leave.
TRANSPORT FROM AGUAS CALIENTES TO MACHU PICCHU
There is a fleet of mini-buses that links the station at Puente Ruinas to the top of the Machu Picchu archaeological site, via a narrow, winding road. The drive takes approximately 20 minutes to go up and 20 minutes to go back down. The service runs every day. There is also a footpath from Puente Ruinas to up to the ruins. The walk takes about one hour.
There are different signs marking the trail in different places, and they use a series of words and internationally recognizable symbols. The signs can be classified into information, prevention, and restriction. For the most part, the signs give you information you need about different places, climate, distance, and services available.