Day 1: Cusco to Wayllabamba 12km. Between 5:00-05:30 am we will pick you up from your hotel and travel by private bus bus to Piskacuchu (2700m) which is a small community located 82 along the railroad from Cusco to Machu Picchu (also known simply as km82). Buses normally stop at the town of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley for about an hour or so to give people the opportunity to have breakfast. Hikers cross the Vilcanota River and follow the trail to the right as it climbs steeply up from the river. After passing through the small village of Miskay, the ruins of the Inca hillfort of Huillca Raccay come into view high above the mouth of the river Cusichaca ('happy bridge'). It is a simple descent down to the Cusichaca river. From parts of this trail there are great views of the Cordillera Urubamba and the snow capped peak of Veronica 5860m.
You'll also get a great view over the extensive Inca ruins of Llactapata (also known as Patallacta on some maps). Llactapata 2750m means 'upper town' in Quechua and was first discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911 and was primarily an agricultural station used to supply Machu Picchu with maize, the staple crop of the Incas. The settlement comprised over one hundred buildings, houses for the workers and soldiers, including five baths. For a further 7 km the path follows the left bank of the river up to the small village of Wayllabamba (3,000m). The name in Quechua means 'grassy plain'. This is the last place along the trek that you can buy snacks and drinks.
Day 2: Wayllabamba to Pacamayo 12km. We will wake up at about 6:00 am and afetr breakfast we will leave Wayllabamba behind and begin the most difficult part of the trek. Following the left bank of the Llulluchayoc river for about 1 hour brings you to 'Tres Piedres' (three stones) and a small bridge over the Huayruro river. The stream is named after the Huayruro which is an ornamental tree. It's seeds are red and black. Many of the porters from the Ollantaytambo district are also known as Huayruros because of their traditional red and black ponchos! A little further on you'll enter a beautiful cloud forest passing a waterfall.
A further three hours trek through steepening woods and increasingly spectacular terrain brings you to the treeline and a meadow known as Llulluchapampa (3,680m). It is another 1½ hours climb to the first and highest pass of the trail (Abra de Huarmihuañusca or 'Dead Woman's Pass) at 4,200m. Once at the top hikers can celebrate having completed the most difficult section of the trail. The decent from the pass is steep although not difficult, following the trail on the left side of the valley to the valley floor and to the 2nd night's campsite at Pacamayo (3,600m). There are toilet facilities here.
Day 3: Pacamayo to Winay Wayna 15km. This day is the longest but also the most impressive and most interesting due to the many Inca ruins that we will visit along the way. From the campsite at Pacamayo it takes about an hour to climb up to the ruins of Runkuracay (3800m). These small circular ruins occupy a commanding position overlooking the Pacamayo valley below. Another 45 minute hike will bring you to the top of the second pass: Abra de Runkuracay (4,000m). At last you'll feel that you are walking along the trail of the Incas with paving, for the most part, being original. The descent down the steps from the pass is steep so take care. This section of the trail, up till the 3rd pass, is particularly beautiful as the path crosses high stone embankments and skirts deep precipices.
After about 1 hour from the 2nd pass you'll arrive at Sayacmarca (3624m) by way of a superbly designed stone staircase. The name Sayacmarca means 'Inaccessible Town' and describes the position of the ruins perfectly, protected on three sides by sheer cliffs. No one knows the exact purpose of these ruins. From then on the path descends into magnificent cloudforest full of orchids, hanging mosses, tree ferns and flowers, passing through an impressive Inca tunnel, carved into the rock, on the way. The trail then climbs up to the 3rd pass (3,700m). The view from the pass offers excellent views of several snow-capped peaks including Salkantay (6,180m) and Veronica (5,750m). A few minutes after the pass is Phuyupatamarca, the most impressive Inca ruin so far. The name means 'Town in the Clouds'. Access to the ruins is down a steep flight of stairs passing six 'Inca Baths' probably used for the ritual worship of water.
Leaving the site via an impressive Inca staircase you descend a thousand or so steps. Be careful with your knees which will feel the strain by the end of the day. After about an hour of walking through cloudforest you may just be able to see the tin roof of the Trekkers Hostal at Wiñay Wayna, although it probably won't be for another 2 hours until you arrive. Wiñay Wayna is the last official campsite before Machu Picchu. There is a restaurant where you can purchase drinks and even a well deserved beer, as well as hot showers ($1.5) and toilet facilities.
A short trail leaves from the southern end of the hostal to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna. The name in Quechua means 'forever young' and is named after a variety of pink orchid which grows here. The ruins comprise magnificent agricultural terraces set in an impressive location. There are also many buildings of good quality stonework and a sequence of 10 baths, suggesting that the site was probably a religious center associated with the worship of water. Ritual cleansing may have taken place here for pilgrims on the final leg of the trail to Machu Picchu.
Day 4: Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu 5km. We'll wake early at 4.15am, have breakfast and set off on the trail again by 5.15am to get to Machu Picchu before sunrise. The sky starts getting light by 5:30am and the first rays of the sun reach Machu Picchu at about 7:00am. The trail contours a mountainside and drops into cloudforest before coming to an almost vertical flight of 50 steps leading up to the final pass at Intipunku (Sun Gate). From this point you will be able to see sunrise over Machu Picchu which is spread out before, an unforgettable experience.
From Intipunku we will descend for about 40 minutes to Machu Picchu. When you arrive at the ruins you'll have plenty of time to take photos of Machu Picchu from the classic view point. Most groups wait at this point for a while so most of your photos should be 'tourist free'. When the group is back together again we descend to the main entrance where we will have to register and where you can safely leave your large backpacks. You can also go to the toilet and have a quick coffee in the restaurant just outside the entrance.
With just your daypack on the group will re-enter the ruins with the same guide for a complete tour of the major sectors. The tour takes about 2 hours so by about 10:30 you'll have free time to explore the ruins alone. The train back to Cusco departs from Aguas Calientes which is the nearest village to the ruins of Machu Picchu. The train departs at approximately 16:30 (time can vary) and you'll arrive back in Cusco for about 21:00. Included in our standard service is the tourist bus from Machu Picchu down to Aguas Calientes, the train back to Cusco and a transfer from the station to you hotel. Sometimes, however, we buy train tickets just back as far as Ollantaytambo and then bring you back to your hotel in Cusco by private bus. The later method usually works out about 30 minutes quicker.
We suggest that after visiting Machu Picchu that you take the bus down to Aguas Calientes by 15:30 at the latest (assuming train departs at 16:30). Buses depart every 15 minutes. Check with the guide for actual times. This leaves you plenty of time at the ruins to climb Wayna Picchu (the mountain that you see in the background). It takes about 1 hour to climb and 40 minutes to descend. Most people, however, leave the ruins at about 13:30 and return to Aguas Calientes for lunch (at the ruins there is only one restaurant and it's very expensive). There are several small restaurants in Aguas Calientes to satisfy all budgets. You may also wish to pay a visit to the town's famous thermal springs which feel great after finishing the trail. Entrance to the springs costs US$2, allow 2 hours to really enjoy them.
Note: This is a typical trekking itinerary and may be subject to change depending on speed of the group, group size and availability of camping space allocated by the UGM. Alternative campsites may be used.
Also see tour packages in:
South America Peru Outdoor: Land Rambler Hiking & Trekking Archeology/History
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