Finding the Machu Picchu magic

Hiking the Short (2 day) Inca Trail Trek with Llama Path.

This is Machu Picchu! Apparently…

OK, so our group could afford to take a light hearted attitude to the morning mist shrouding Machu Picchu. Unlike most of the many, many people waiting hopefully for the cloud to rise, we’d already had our first views of this official wonder of the world.

The conversation that morning was all about how lucky we were to have arrived at Machu Picchu, via an ancient Incan path, to find it almost deserted and glowing like the lost city in the brochures…

After our experience of trekking 10kms up the old Inca path from the valley, climbing through other Incan ruins, past waterfalls and through cloud forest to the Sun Gate, it was quite a shock to return the next morning via a convoy of buses carrying literally thousands of people.

But let me get back to the beginning. You may think that a 4 day trek up muddy mountain paths in the rainy season, camping in basic tents and using smelly squat toilets, is not attractive. We agree. On the other hand, arriving at Machu Picchu via a bus and missing out altogether on the beauty and challenges of the Inca trail was not attractive either. The 2-day trek is a happy alternative for those who don’t have the funds, time or commitment for the real deal.

We joined four other travelers and our guide Will at 5.00am in Cusco and drove around 1 1/2 hours through the Sacred Valley to the train station at Ollantaytambo. The train winds it way along the valley floor to Machu Picchu Pueblo (formerly known as Aguas Calientes). It is a spectacular trip past snow-capped peaks and through a gradually changing landscape that becomes more and more jungle-like. Machu Picchu is essentially located at the start of the Peruvian Amazon jungle. But we didn’t travel that far – we got off the train early at stop no.104 to begin our hike.

Bye-bye train, hello Inca trail

For the most part the trail winds gradually up, but with sections of more challenging stairs. Along the way Will guided us through two partially reconstructed Incan sites, including the impressive Winay Wayna.

Looking back down at the valley floor from the trail
This set of stairs is so steep the safest way to climb them is using hands as well as feet
Taking a break at the bottom of Winay Wayna, before tackling the 300 stairs to the top
The Incans managed to cut these stone blocks so that they could fit them together using no mortar – and without leaving gaps!
Winay Wayna from above
Past the Sun Gate and the goal is in sight!

The 2-day Inca trail trek is a bit of a misnomer. It actually involves one long day of trekking – either 10km to Machu Picchu, from where you can take a bus the rest of the way – or 16km all the way to Machu Picchu Pueblo. The last 6km includes almost 5kms of steps – all going down. This trek was a new challenge for Eliane and Maille: the longest trek they have done in one day. 10kms was quite enough for Maille, on arrival at Machu Picchu she was keen to take the bus. But Eliane was equally keen to continue for the full 16kms. She achieved this with no problems whatsoever – even giving up her hiking pole on the way down to a fellow trekker whose legs were giving way beneath him.

Bridge to Machu Picchu Pueblo

After a delicious celebratory dinner with our friendly group, which included some other novice trekkers relieved to have made it all the way, and a great night’s sleep in our very comfortable hotel, it was another early start.

The second day of the tour/trek involves a 3 hour guided tour of Machu Picchu. We learnt so much from Will about not just the site and its history, but the beliefs and culture of the Quechua people. For instance, the word Inca refers to the Quechuan rulers – the King and Queen – although it’s now commonly used to refer to the pre-colonial Quechuan empire and its people. Will was passionate and very knowledgeable on his subject, having studied the history of his country at University. He identified strongly with the Quechuan spiritual beliefs and world view and I was impressed – again – by how intact the Quechuan indigenous culture appears to be.

Will lecturing in front of a slowly emerging view of Machu Picchu
Finally revealed in all its glory, Machu Picchu is truly impressive

These pictures don’t show it, but there are hordes of people visiting Machu Picchu at any one time and it’s easy to get stuck in a slowly moving conga line of people, snaking its way around the site, before being spat out at the exit.

In our view the 2-day Inca Trail Trek was well worth the money. It enabled us to experience the magic of discovering Machu Picchu through our own efforts, following in the footsteps of the Incas.

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