Home to the Inca Empire, and one of the world’s oldest civilizations, Peru is a country alive with history and blessed with breath-taking views. On the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu, Joanne Mitchell explored the South American lost city, and with the help of an Explore Tour guide completed a four day trek along the Inca trail trek along the Inca trail.
We could have had no better introduction to the Peruvian way of life than a two night stay in Cuzco, the heart of the Inca Empire and the archaeological capital of the Americas. The world heritage site provides a striking contrast between old and new; beautiful churches built by the Spanish sit alongside stylish restaurants and wonderfully authentic art and craft shops. A long flight, jet lag and high altitude combined left us tired and suffering from altitude sickness. We made the most of our two nights in the Awekis Dream Hotel in Cuzco knowing the spacious rooms and generous bath would be something of a luxury once we were on the Inca Trail!
Well recovered, we began the classic trek along the Inca Trail with a bus journey to Ol Lantaytambo, the final opportunity to buy provisions for the treck ahead. Arriving at our destination we met our porters or ‘angels’ as they are known on the trail. For the next four days they would make our camp, prepare our food and carry with them 25 kg of camping equipment, staying ahead of us to set up lunch stops and camps.
Day two brings with it the toughest part of the trek, so we started early with a cup of ‘coco tea’, claimed to help altitude sickness, which set us up for the climb to 4210 metres. Trekking through the lush cloud forest towards the open spaces of Llulluchampa, blood, sweat and tears were rewarded with an expanse of wide meadowland with stunning views of the snow-covered peak of Veronica, the highest mountain in this range. This point in the trip separates the serious climbers from those not as fit, testing participants mentally and physically. For me, reaching Dead Woman’s Pass proved emotional – everyone had pushed themselves to the limit and celebrated by taking plenty of photos. It was an amazing feeling that was truly unforgettable.
The third day of the trail offered adiverse day of trekking and a two hour descent brought us to the ruins of Sayacmara overlooking the beautiful Aobamba Valley, past lush vegetation and through cloud forests. The landscape on this journey changes all the time, each site you reach becoming more incredible. Arriving at the magnificent ruins of Winaywayna, a small Inca city, we hear how the area, like Machu Picchu, was abandoned generations ago.
The next day was our earliest start: 4 am in order to reach Machu Picchu before the crowds of tourists coming via bus or train. Although the day begins in the dark, the thought of what lies ahead – views of Machu Picchu, not to mention a hot shower and a real bed – was enough to keep us going. Reaching the famous Intipunku ‘Gate of the Sun’ we were rewarded with our first glimpse of Machu Picchu, an unforgettable moment. The atmosphere was electric and the sense of achievement unlike anything else.
The Cuzco market makes for a great afternoon of shopping for colourful handmade crafts, a chance to meet the locals and support the
local economy. While in Cuzco, make sure you try the local delicacy, alpaca.
Peru has three main climatic zones: the tropical Amazon jungle to the east; the arid coastal desert to the west; and the Andean mountains and highlands in the middle of the country. In the Andes, which have altitudes over 3500m, average daily temperatures fall below 10°C (50°F) and overnight temperatures can dip well below freezing. From June to August is the dry season in the mountains and altiplano (Andean plateau); the wettest months are from December to March
15 1/2 hours
- 5 hours
Best time to travel
June - August
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