Considered one of the most spectacular trekking routes in the world, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was discovered by Hiram Bingham for the western world in 1911, while he worked on the discovery of a different formidable citadel. Almost three decades later, in 1942, the route was traced and studied in detail by the Viking expedition of the Werner Gren Foundation.
The 48 km (about three days of travel) of the Inca Trail attract tens of thousands of adventurers each year in search of a special contact with history and nature. Going along the same paths where the Incas themselves once traveled and enjoying a natural setting of incomparable beauty, it is possible to find oneself transported to the past.
Few pathways in the world so harmoniously combine geographic diversity (from the high Andes to the Amazon forests) with the vestiges of a monumental culture and sensitivity to the natural environment.
To take this trek you need to take the train that connects Cusco and Machu Picchu and get off at the place called Qorihuayrachina (km 88), where the train stops for a few minutes, or arrive by bus to km 82. The Inca Trail begins with the crossing of the suspension bridge over the Urubamba River. In the hills that extend to the right hand side, the traveler will see a set of buildings. There are of the archaeological site of Q`ente (Quechua for hummingbird). The route ascends towards the valley of Cusichaca between platforms planted with corn and quinoa, passes through the ruins of Llaqtapata (2300 MAMSL) and, after crossing the Cusichaca River twice, heads to the South to reach Huayllabamba (2850 MAMSL), the last town along the road, located at the junction of the Cusichaca and Llullucha Rivers. This is the last place where you can find food and hire porters.
From this point, nature becomes the traveler’s only companion. The road continues to ascend towards the Warmiwañuska, the highest open point of the route, at 4200 MAMSL. The Quechua name means where the woman died, possibly evoking some local legend. This section was intensively used as a way of commerce and smuggling by merchants of the 18th and 19th centuries. From there it is possible to see the ruins of Runcuracay (3800 MAMSL) and the Pacasmayo River.
The road descends dizzyingly from out in the open, which is always cold and with strong winds, to the sheltered valley of the Pacamayo River, with abundant bushy vegetation and cacti. Upon continuing the ascent, the route allows travelers to appreciate the magnificence of the Incan engineering, as the path becomes a perfect stone pavement of white granite built following the zigzag contour of cliffs and slopes. For some hours the trail is lost in a labyrinth of mountains until reaching the second pass (Runcuracay, 3950 MAMSL), finally descending a steep slope of 1600 m to the ruins of Sayacmarca (3700 MAMSL), the valley of the River Aobamba and into cloud forest. On less crowded days it is possible to enjoy the imposing view of the snowy Pumasillo (5361 MAMSL).
From Sayacmarca the route ascends again, this time in a gradual way, passing through the dry lake of Chakicocha and a 20 m long tunnel carved in the rock, towards the third and last open area (about 3900 MAMSL). Upon passing through, the traveler will be rewarded with the extraordinary view of the Urubamba valley and the ruins of Phuyupatamarca a few hundred meters to the left. From here it is possible to observe a bouquet of snowy peaks of great beauty: the Palcay (5600 m), the Pumasillo, the Veronica (5350 m) and the great Salkantay, the most famous mountain of the region, standing at 6264 MAMSL.
The dense vegetation in this place hides exquisite examples of Inca architecture: Phuyupatamarca (3650 MAMSL), Wiñay Wayna (3 hours below, through an extensive and spectacular system of stone carvings) and its magnificent system of agricultural terraces. Tambos (storehouses) and observation platforms stand out among the giant ferns and dozens of orchids grow among the polished rocks. From Wiñay Wayna (2700 MAMSL), part of a downhill path leads to the Urubamba River and the archaeological site of Choquesuysuy.
The main Inca Trail to Machu Picchu leaves the ruins of Wiñay Wayna (which in Quechua means always young, and is another name of the Epidendrum secundum orchid, which is very common in the zone) and undertakes a gradual ascent that intensifies in the final part to arrive at a small opening populated with tropical vegetation, It is the inti punko or Sun Gate. From there the final descent is fast (30 min) and leads us, after passing by a small tambo of rock, towards the citadel of Machu Picchu.