The Inca Trail: A farewell to Cusco

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Of this I feel sure—that few romances can ever surpass that of the granite citadel on top of the beetling precipices of Machu Picchu, the crown of Inca Land. – Hiram Bingham

Few words have surpassed those of Hiram Bingham on the day he climbed from the Urubamba River to a high set of ruins know to the locals in Quechua as the ‘Old Mountain’.

To call him the discoverer is a bit much, as the local farmers had known about it for generations, but it was the one Inca citadel (we know of so far) which the Spanish Conquistadores never managed to find.

Most tourists are whisked to the site by a combination of train and bus, but we decided that we wanted to earn it in sweat, panting and aching muscles. And by god it was worth it.

Winding through valleys, over mountains and through cloud forest, the Inca Trail is one of hundreds of roads which wind their ways through the Andes from Ecuador to Chile. They were the broadband of their day allowing messengers to run messages from one end of the Inca Empire to the other as rapidly as possible.

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Want mountains? The Inca Trail has mountains.

As you walk, hour after hour, day after day through rain, sun, wind and semi-darkness, beauty abounds everywhere (except the squat toilets, but since this is aspirational stuff we’ll pretend those don’t exist).

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Don’t look down. Looking back from the trail to Dead Woman’s Pass.

What makes the Inca Trail a little tricker than your average jaunt through the mountains is the altitude. The altitude gain isn’t colossal, you’ll find similar climbs all over the world, but there aren’t many with this little oxygen.

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Dead Woman’s Pass, the Inca Trail’s highest point is not conducive to looking good when you’ve just climbed 1km straight up.

Now I’m not going to take you through every part of the Trail step-by-step because words can do it and the sites along the way justice. Suffice to say it is truly life changing, something our entire group agreed with. It can drive you to virtual breaking point, and just as you prepare to curse it reveals something which makes you gasp.

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Inca ruins everywhere, each whetting your appetite for the big dog.
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A room with a view.
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The Trail is relentless and serene.

Through all these enviable places and sights, the Trail winds on and on towards the citadel in the clouds. As far as pieces of human engineering go, this one is extraordinary. Honestly, I could spend the whole post just talking about the centuries of history under your feet, but inevitably that would be deeply dull.

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The Inca Trail: making you friends for life.

Llamas and alpacas graze the hills picturesquely around you, adding to the surreal nature of the scene; especially for those coming from countries low on llamas and alpacas.

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Then, glory of glories, you climb your last staircase and a familiar silhouette rears into view.

Finally seeing the citadel after the best part of four days walk to get there is a life-affirming moment. An instant when you know you made the right choice. I’m grasping for words here, because there are none which adequately say anything about the place. Lexicology has nothing on Machu Picchu.

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And there it is. You can stand and soak up the view you have seen a million times. And photograph it.

Do the Inca Trail, go to Machu Picchu and marvel. I will never regret having done it, and neither will you. Oh, and remember how it takes four days to get there? A fit Quechua-speaking local can run the whole thing in 4-5 hours. The record stands at 3 hours and 47 minutes. Ouch.

More another day. For now enjoy the Inca Trail and soak that view in. Machu Picchu.

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