Inca Trail in Peru is one of the most popular hikes in the world. It brings thousands of tourists to Cusco each year to experience this unique four day hike in the Sacred Valley. Trekkers will pass many magnificent archeological ruins and native flora and fauna, while treading along a truly unique path, carved hundreds of years ago, on the way to the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu. Many hikers are especially intrigued to observe the sunrise from Inti Punku on the morning of the fourth day, as the Inca’s may have done in their time. From Inti Punku you will endure the last part of the trail and you will arrive to Machu Picchu the ancient city of the Inca’s. Upon arrival all of the sweat and tears of the previous three days dissolve away and you will be greeted with a huge sense of achievement.
The classic Inca Trail starts from Km 88, where the Qoriwayrachina ruins are located. The name Qoriwayrachina is Quechua for ‘Where the wind was used to refine gold’, and the site was recently discovered in 2001 by Englishman, Peter Frost. Most hikers do not enter to Qoriwayrachina to explore it. However, there are unique stone sculptures and altars to be found, it is highly recommended to make the most out of your Inca Trail trek in Peru and visit each of the ruins along the way. Remember to charge your camera batteries fully; there are many ruins that you will encounter along the way.
The next site that you will come upon is the ruins of Llactapata, located at 9,318 feet above sea level; it is thought to have been primarily used for crop plantations. Llactapata is a combination of two Quechua words, ‘llacta’ which means town and ‘pata’ which means at height. Thus, more than one site has been, and is, referred to by this name. Unfortunately, few trekkers take time to visit these ruins as they are situated far below the trail.
Although this is not an archeological site as such, it deserves a mention it this list. The name, ‘Dead woman’s Pass’ or ‘Warmiwañusca’ in Quechua, is derived from the arrangement of terrain which looks like a woman lying on her back. The pass is a breathtaking 13,650 feet above sea level and identified as the highest point on the trail. At the top, excellent views of nearby mountains such as the Salkantay and Veronika can be appreciated. Many groups will spend the second night 600m. below Dead Woman's Pass, on the other side of the pass named Pacaymayu.
After the third pass on the third day the ruins of Runkurakay will be met. The structure consists of two concentric walls that enclose chambers and a courtyard; the walls are inclined, which leads to the conclusion that they were designed to withstand earthquakes. Runkaurakay was thought by archaeologists to have been a ‘tambo’, which was a resting station, for couriers traveling to Machu Picchu due to the construction of many sleeping quarters and stabling for pack animals.
Sayacmarca is commonly referred to as the ‘Inaccessible Town’ due to the steep drops on three edges of the structure falling to the jungle below. To enter the ruins one needs to climb 98 vertical stone steps along the edge of a mountain at a height of 3,600 meters above sea level. An excursion not for the faint of heart! After Sayacmarca, the vegetation along the Inca Trail begins to change as it comes to the tropical cloud forest, part of the Amazon jungle in Peru, filled with exotic flowers and colorful orchids.
The Inca Tunnel is more of a feature in the Inca Trail rather than a ruins site. The tunnel can be found before you reach the third pass and you will see why they made the tunnel here. There is simply no other way to get further with this track due to the solid rock that is blocking the path. There is a raised causeway over a boggy area, a hewn tunnel and notches created in a cliff face in order to enable walking up its side. Nowadays we have a lot of sophisticated tools to do this kind of work, but the Inca’s used simple tools to create this 20 meter long tunnel, still the method of carving such a structure is very much a mystery.
Most of the last two days on the Inca Trail one can encounter archeological sites of original Inca construction. Phuyupatamarca also known as ‘the cloudy place’ can be reached by climbing down a long flight of stairs where you will be greeted by the marvelous site. The ruins contain six flowing fountains with Andean terraces and a pair of plazas including numerous buildings. Phuyupatamarca is thought to have housed hundreds of people at one time.
The name of Intipata was thought up by a recent expedition member, which means ‘Sunny Slope’. This is due to the many terraces and the absence of plazas, religious structures or fortifications. The ruins can be found a off the beaten track of the original Inca Trail, several hours from Machu Picchu. The location of the site gives reason that it may have been strategically positioned in order to pass messages quickly to the mountain city of Machu Picchu. It also has a beneficial viewing point down to Choquesuysuy and there are many lookout platforms throughout the ruins.
Wiñay Wayna, or ‘Forever Young’ was a name given due to the special kind of Pink Orchid that grows in the area. Similar to Intipata the structure was built upon a steep hill side and gives an advantageous view of the vulnerable access point along the Urubamba River. The main difference is that Wiñay Wayna consists of more, good quality structures, such as finely carved stone buildings and a complex fountain and bath system; this implies that it may have been a final cleansing post before the arrival to Machu Picchu. Close to Wiñay Wayna you can find an extraordinary museum and garden which displays flora and fauna from this particular section of the Inca Trail, rivaling the best selection of orchids anywhere in the world.
The fourth and final day of the Inca trail starts before the break of dawn and continues along the path to the site of Inti Punku, also known as: the sun gate at Machu Picchu. This site will give impressive views of the magical city of Machu Picchu, so be sure to save some space on your camera for this unforgettable moment! From there it is an easy and pleasant walk to one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World. All the aches and pains will melt away and this moment will make the four day endurance all worth it!