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The Inca Trail in Peru

by LatinAmericans.co.uk
The Inca Trail in Peru
What is today known as the Inca Trail was once the route of the lifeblood of the ancient Incan Empire. Winding through more than 35 kilometres of the mountainous terrain between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, the trail that was once filled with couriers, soldiers, priests and kings is now one of the primary reasons for travelling to Peru.

The Inca Trail is steeped in history, making it a popular place for walking holidays. The trail begins at Cuzco, once the capital of the Inca Empire, which at its height ruled an area the size of the Roman Empire. Cuzco was the administrative as well as religious centre of the empire until it was conquered by Spanish in 1533. Although they razed the city, Cuzco today remains an important archaeological and tourist site, with many museums, local markets, artisans and shrines to visit.

The trail itself served many important functions for the Incas, as it was the main route for moving people, goods, soldiers and mail across the empire. The trail also showcases much of the sophistication of the Incan empire, as it is integrated into a complex drainage system, and still has the ruins of several tampu, or roadside lodges, both of which date back to the Incan empire. Popular sites included in most walking holidays of the trail include Huayllabamba, a small village looking down on cactus gardens and fields of corn and the ruins of a small settlement called Llactapata, rediscovered in 2003 after a nearly a century of obscurity. Later along the trail, the ruins of ancient tampu, where travellers and their livestock could rest for the night, lie on the roadside of the mountain pass near Pacaymaya. After the Runkuraqay Pass, the cloud forest surrounding the Phuyopatamarka ruins takes over and surrounds hikers in a misty jungle of luxuriant trees and exotic orchids. From the Huinay Huayna ruins in the valley below Phuyopatamarka, a broad trail leads through light woodland to the imposing Intipunku, the Gateway of the Sun, which looks down onto the ruins of Machu Picchu, the end of the trail.

Machu Picchu did not emerge from the mists of legend until 1911, when it was discovered by explorer Hiram Bingham. Called “The Lost City of the Incas”, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a secret ceremonial city as well as the site of the Incan winter palace. Invisible from below, the city was self-contained, with natural springs and agricultural terraces to feed the population. The roughly 18 square kilometre city also had an important function as an astrological observatory. The Intihuatana stone, sacred to the Incas, was placed at a strategic point to accurately predict the two equinoxes, as well as other major astrological events. Many aspects of the sophisticated society still remain, including the agricultural terracing, where llamas still graze, altars, and some 200 stone structures, including houses, temples, and still-functioning aqueducts.

Despite the draw of Machu Picchu, many visitors say the trail is the real treasure. The Inca Trail is one of the only remaining places in the world where visitors can truly experience life as it was in ancient times. Left largely unchanged throughout its history, the trail continues to fascinate and inspire all who walk it with its striking mountain top views, alluring jungle verdure, and unique history—truly the only reason you need for travelling to Peru.


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