Inca Trail Trails:
Inca Trail Overview
The Incas once ruled over an empire that rivaled that of Rome. Today, the Camino Inca (the Inca Trail), still carries travelers to the famed Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu. For 400 years Machu Picchu eluded western searchers until it was discovered by a Yale archaeologist in 1911.
On most Machu Picchu treks Quechua Indian porters and mules carry the bulk of your gear and look after your needs in camp. The route follows ancient Inca roads and tunnels through cloud forests, condor habitats, and orchid zones, rising up through the jungle and crossing the spectacular 13,700-foot Warmihuanusca Pass. After about five days of hiking, you pass at last through the stone archway called Intipunkuthe Gate of the Sun. There, below you, is the sacred city of Machu Picchu, looking even more exotic than any Hollywood set designer could have imagined.
While in the region, consider traveling to the Tambopata Reserve in the Amazon Basin. Tambopata is a lively jungle habitat, teeming with monkeys, small mammals, and thousands of colorful macaws attracted to the mineral-rich clays on the riverside. Wildland also offers extensions to Manu National Park, considered by many naturalists to be the finest nature preserve in the Western Hemisphere.
If time is no concern, take the path less traveled and witness the spectacular Vilcabamba and Vilcanota Ranges. Start by exploring the markets of Cuzco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, then ascend through high passes into the Vilcabamba Range, a strikingly scenic zone with many hanging glaciers and waterfalls. Then give your legs a rest and board a train to Cuzco via Machu Picchu. South of Cuzco lies the Vilcanota Range, where trekkers complete a circuit of the 20,800-foot Ausangate Massif. On the flanks of the Ausangate trekkers enjoy high passes, alpine lakes, glaciers, and abundant birdlife.
Another worthwhile Peru itinerary explores the glaciers, ice faces, and alpine lakes of the Cordillera Blanca. This trip offers a real high-altitude experience and visits regions little-traveled by tourists. The trek begins at Lake Llanganuco with a short afternoon ascent over a 15,510-foot pass to a camp surrounded by snow-capped peaks. The next day involves an easy descent into a local village, the gateway to the beautiful Huaripampa Valley. Then follow an ancient Inca trail over Punta Union Pass (15,711-foot), which offers spectacular views of turquoise glacial lakes, towering peaks, and meadow-filled valleys. Hike down from ridgeline to the evening's campsite in the Santa Cruz Valley. A short hike the following day brings trekkers to Cashapampa, where they are driven to the starting point in Huarez, a quaint village in the Andean foothills.
A Machu Picchu trek is typically part of a longer 12- to 14-day itinerary that includes Cuzco and Lake Titicaca. Even if you're anxious to get to Machu Picchu, it's important to stay in the cities for a few days to acclimatize to the high altitudes. Though pack animals will carry your gear on the trek, this is still a demanding hike.
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