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Winding through the majestic Andes is the 45 kilometer (30 mile) hike known as the Camino del Inca; the Inca Trail. Beginning at the center of Peruvian tourism in Cusco, the trail takes hikers up, down, inside and out of Inca history to arrive at the most breathtaking of all historical ruins: Machu Picchu.

 

Most hikers begin the Inca Trail at a point a few hours away from Cusco by bus, while the hike itself takes from two to four days to complete depending on where you begin and how quickly you want to move on. Right away, hikers experience the mind-blowing beauty of the Urubamba River and the breathtaking vistas of the noble Andes. The climate shifts along the hike, and there is no telling what will be around the next turn. From highland vegetation to jungle flora, any lover of plants, flowers and trees will surely find themselves in Eden. Fans of birdwatching will also enjoy distinguishing between the hundreds of species found on the trail. Not only do the natural sights captivate visitors along the way, but the smaller Inca ruins like Llaqtapata, Runkuraqay and Sayaqmarka are not to be taken for granted. The only drawback of the Inca Trail is the whiplash one can get from trying to take in everything at once!

 

More spiritual types will enjoy the Inca Trail as well. Behind the lingering mist that provides occasional glimpses of the surroundings, a waterfall appears next to the trail; rugged snowcapped mountains gaze down upon their guests when their cloud cover is blown and the summit of “Dead Woman’s Pass” seems attainable for a minute before disappearing a moment later. Hikers are thrown into the carnival of a constantly-changing environment.

 

The Inca Trail is certainly not for the faint-hearted. At 4,200 meters (13,800 feet), the summit will quite literally take your breath away. Even young people in decent shape find it hard to catch their breath climbing thousands of steps in the thin Peruvian air. Overestimating one’s abilities can be dangerous on this journey, but the reward at the end is definitely worth the risk.

 

On the morning of the fourth day, hikers reach the Sun Gate, the gateway to every hiker’s dream before arriving in Peru: the mysterious ruins of Machu Picchu. Although no one truly knows what Machu Picchu was used for, many historians have taken a guess. One suggestion is that it was a gathering place for the enlightened; Machu Picchu may have been an extremely selective place for learning allowing only one percent of the Andean population knowledge of its existence. A more probable suggestion is that it may have been the last stand for the Andean people against the invading Spanish. Since a high percentage of female skeletons were found during excavation, it has been theorized that the Incas sent their women to Machu Picchu, hoping they would have a better chance of survival.

 

What is certainly known about Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail is that they were discovered by an American archeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911, though Bingham thought it was the city of Vilcabamba. While excavating Machu Picchu, Bingham noticed an overgrown path from the Sun Gate towards the Sacred Valley. It took researchers several years to complete the journey, but what they uncovered was the Camino del Inca. Nowadays the Inca Trail consists of only about 30 percent of the original path, but is a spectacular and memorable journey nonetheless.



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