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Inca Trail

Hiking the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is perhaps the most famous trek in Peru. This is the road to Machu Picchu, an ancient route that leads from the Sacred Valley into the heart of the Andes. You must obtain a permit and hire an official guide in order to hike the Inca Trail proper. There are plenty of tour operators in Cusco that offer trips up to Machu Picchu, so you should definitely look at reviews before you choose. For better or for worse, the tours are all-inclusive. The local tour operators employ porters to carry your packs and set up a camp. A team of local chefs will prepare three meals a day, and many hikers come back raving about the delicious meals. Keep in mind that the trek can be tough, especially in the first few days. The trail is often narrow, and it flirts with formidable heights. The mountains in this part of the Andes can rise well over 13,000 feet, and many hikers find themselves suffering from altitude sickness. Make sure to take a few days (in Cusco or the Sacred Valley) to acclimatize before you begin the journey. Finally: make sure to plan ahead! The Peruvian government limits trail access to 500 people per day, including porters. This regulation protects the local ecosystem and the delicate ruins, and it ensures that the trail won't be too crowded. However, it also means that permits for the peak summer season sell out months in advance. If you aren't able to get a permit for the classic Inca Trail, never fear: there are various other trails that lead to Machu Picchu.

Trek the Inca Trail
If you plan your Peruvian adventure far enough in advance, you can score an entrance to the Inca Trail. For our one-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu, we reserved spots over six months in advance. The first portion of the trail is a gradual ascent with stunning views of the Urubamba River valley. After a few hours of hiking and numerous water breaks, you arrive at the archaeological complex of Wiñaywayna. Many people will stop and have lunch at the campsite around here, but I recommend continuing along the trail to a spot with nicer views (and better smells.) After refueling, continue to climb until you reach Intipunku, or the Sun Gate, for your first sighting of Machu Picchu. At the Sun Gate, give yourself a rest, commend yourself for the distance you've hiked, and capture the magnificent views of Machu Picchu down below. Then, begin your final descend to the awe-inspiring ruins of Machu Picchu. The total distance of the trek is about 8 miles and takes roughly six hours.

4 days of excruciating bliss....
The mighty Inca Trail! Everyone talks about doing it one day, and you hopefully you will. It is a four-day trek through the Andes mountains in Peru. You begin from colonial town of Cusco, where it is wise to spend a couple days to acclimate before you begin the trek. There are many outfitters and options in doing your trek, so research a bit and choose best one for you re comfort, length, porters, food style etc... I have used United Mice over the years, and have always had great experiences for my clients and myself. http://www.unitedmice.com/ They have different options and prices of course, with a wealth of experience and passionate local guides. Backin the day, we did the trek in three days, now 4 seems to be the norm. I remember the second day being the most brutal, as it is all incline with a lot of steps. But when you reach the Sun Gate on the last day, you feel nothing but jubilation in seeing the ruins of Machu Picchu in the early morning. The trail has gotten crowded these days, and permits are required now to lessen the impact on the trail itself. Permits are given from March to December. The altitude rises to over 12,000 ft on the trail so take it slow, consume much water, and enjoy every moment! I shot this on a sectio of the trail with Velvia film and a f100 nikon camera; the days of film!!!

Lunch In The Clouds
High up in the Andes Mountains, along the Inca Trail. This is day 3 on the trail. It is almost 8 hours of hiking, but every step along the way is worth it. The first stop is Runkurakay, a structure that is more like an outpost. It has a commanding view of the valley below. After passing a ridge and forging ahead over stones laid by the Incas themselves, you come upon another fortress called Sayacmarca, which again looks over the valley below it. A well needed stop for lunch (shown above) marks the middle of the day, but it is far from over. After lunch, the first stop is Phuyupatamarca, or, "Cloud Level Town," and it doesn't take long to realize where the name came from. The clouds gently rool over and through the stone structure. And the last stop of the day is impressive indeed. Winay Wayna is a terraced town at a lower elevation, and has the final campsite nearby. Next stop, Machu Picchu in the morning. We hiked with Peru Treks, who were amazing. The guides were knowledgeable, the food was amazing, and the experiences unforgettable!

Llama Faceoff
We were taking a break on day 2 of our 4-day trek to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail when we happened upon some grazing llamas. This one seems to be having a stare down with one of our hiking group members, who is clearly wearing a llama wool hat.

Dead Woman's Pass Almost Killed This Woman
Filmmaker, photographer and graphic designer Vân Nguyen having a tough time climbing Dead Woman's Pass (Warmiwañusca) on the Inca Trail (Camino Inka). It took us four days to hike the 55 mile "Classic Inca Trail." The pass itself is located at 4,215 m (13,829 ft) above sea level, and is the highest point on this, the "Classic" trail.

An Incan Footbridge
I stopped to take a photo of my hiking boots as we crossed one of a handful of log and twig constructed bridges. Although obviously reconstructed, this wooden bridge is not far off from the kind that the ancient Incans would have crossed on their journey to Machu Picchu. Our guide told us that it is estimated that about 70-80% of the trail is original although several repairs are being made due to landslides and other causes including the impact of tourism.

Flowers in the Mist
On my hike I learned that there are several micro-climates along the Incan Trail. These colorful orchids that live high in the cloud forests are vibrant pop of color amidst the otherwise foggy backdrop.

The Inca Trail
It was four days in the making. Following an ancient trail with hand-laid granite rock slates from alpine to Amazon with a group of strangers. Ruins of a great civilization gave us places to pause and reflect or places to just stare out into the massive Andes Mountains surrounding us. I questioned whether the hike would be worth it. I knew the end result, Machu Picchu, would be but I never imagined the hike leading there would be the highlight of my trip to Peru. But it was. Days on the trail, every twist was different scenically. Every challenge worth it. A blog post I wrote about my experience: http://www.meander-the-world.com/what-hiking-the-inca-trail-looks-like/

Where The Incan Adventure Begins
At first site, the crowds seemed a bit overwhelming. I wasn't sure if I was prepared for five days on the trail in single line formation. Luckily as soon as we crossed the river it all faded away.

The tourism board and trekking companies do a great job of making sure that whenever possible, the trail feels like it is yours and yours alone.

Our outfitter, Andean Treks, provided us with an insightful local guide and by sheer luck (the rest of the group dropped out last minute) it was just the two of us and six local porters who tended to us on the trip.

We got to take our time and really learn about the land, the culture, the food and most importantly about the lovely locals that made the journey with us.