The ‘Short’ Inca Trek

The ‘Short’ Inca Trek

Rachel Callus – South America Travel Centre

Machu Picchu Peru

Excited anticipation was enough to get us up in plenty of time for our 6.00am pick-up from the hotel by Leo, the widely-smiling Peruvian trekking guide who was accompanying us on the short trek – just one day – that would give us a small taste of the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu! The three of us made our way to Ollantaytambo’s train station and climbed aboard the Inca Rail train that would take us to Kilometre 104, the starting point for our hike.

Rachel train

After only an hour we’d arrived and, with no platform to step onto, I made the slightly daunting leap down from the doorway of the carriage, with assistance from the conductor and encouragement from Leo already standing below. Other passengers aboard who were travelling on to Machu Picchu were quite curious about what we were up to but cheerfully waved us goodbye as the train departed. A porter had been patiently awaiting us at this stop and he quickly collected our luggage and set off to follow the rail line to the small town of Aguas Calientes where he’d drop the bags at our overnight hotel.

We took the obligatory ‘selfies’ at Kilometre 104’s hanging bridge over the Vilcanota River and, looking at them now, I see we had such big grins on our faces as we eagerly awaited the start of the trek. With passport and trekking-permit formalities completed, our 10km walk to Machu Picchu got under way; within only 20 minutes we were stopping to explore Chachabamba, the first of several ancient Inca sites along the way.

Inca Trail sign

By mid-morning the sun was quite warm and we continued upwards, making a slow ascent over the next three hours. Just before lunch, after passing by a spectacular waterfall, we reached the ruins of Wiñya Wayna and took a break to wander around this spiritually important site. By now we had clambered up what felt like hundreds of original Inca steps and, with legs beginning to tire, our lunch stop was welcome – a chance to rest in the shade and enjoy a lunchbox of fresh bread rolls and fruit, with a couple of little chocolate treats to finish.

We started off on our hike once more, watched by some very inquisitive llamas, and were happy to discover this leg of the journey was nowhere near as steep and challenging as the first. From here our path merged with the regular Inca trail that cuts across the ridge and, after walking on for another two hours, we finally approached the Sun Gate (Intipunku) – and came to an abrupt halt, struck dumb by the most spectacular view of Machu Picchu laid out beneath us! A similar reaction, I’d guess, to the other trekkers who’d preceded us and, having recovered from their own state of open-mouthed wonder, were now enjoying a well-deserved rest and a snack, and taking countless photos.

After savouring the view for as long as we could, we were coaxed on by Leo and made our way down the final 35 minutes of the trail to the actual ruins. I know everyone says the same thing upon seeing the craftsmanship of the stonework and the sheer number of carved and decorative sites that make up this significant ceremonial centre – but I can only add my voice to the chorus: “They’re absolutely … truly … well, just amazing!” Eventually we dragged ourselves away and made it to the bus stop for the 20-minute zigzag ride down the mountain to Aguas Calientes, checking into a comfortable room at El Mapi Hotel where we could relax, smiling and contented, and round off our long day with a delicious dinner.

Rachel Machu Picchu

No persuasion was needed for us to make another early start next morning, setting out at 7.00am for a more in-depth investigation of the ruins and to make a climb of Huayna Picchu, the mountain that features in every classic image of Machu Picchu. We were still a little tired from the previous day’s exertion but that didn’t lessen our determination to climb the mountain – in an impressive 43 minutes (a feat we were delightedly proud of) – to be rewarded with more incredible views of the citadel, looking down from this different perspective.

Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

The Huayna Picchu climb is not for the faint-hearted or for those who aren’t sure-footed; there are many high Incan stone steps to ascend and, as you approach the top, you have to pull yourself up over boulders, gripping hold of steel cables secured along the final stretch. But it felt great to be part of the camaraderie among the climbers, with trekkers descending the mountain encouraging those they passed coming up, assuring them it would be well worth the effort. And once we did reach the top – “Wow!” They were so right and, for anyone who enjoys a physical challenge, I would highly recommend this climb to cap off what will be, in any event, one of your most memorable experiences in South America.

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