South America

Machu Picchu: The Lost City of the Incas

August 08, 2007

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LUKAS PIETER

Photo credit: Lukas Pieter
Salkantay Mountain - PeruWe stocked up on food, rented hiking poles, and left Cuzco briskly, at 6:00 a.m.  We had private transportation to Mollepata, the starting point for our 6-day hike around Salkantay, at 6,200 meters the third highest mountain in Peru.  Later, we joined the classical Inca trail leading to Machu Picchu.

Inca trail

           The walk and the setting were absolutely spectacular.  Snowcapped mountains, cold water streams rushing in the valleys, blooming orchids, lupine, cacti -- nature was only occasionally interrupted by a sheep farm or stone formations built by people as wind breakers or walls to keep sheep together at night.  For the first two days, we did not meet a single tourist.  There were more opportunities for spiritual moments than I had hoped for as I rested on ancient walls, looking at mountain peaks wrapped in fog levitating above the valley.

The first night we camped at a valley 4,000 meters in altitude overlooking the sacred Salkantay mountain.  It was freezing cold!  I woke up at 4 a.m., broke the ice off the stream to wash my face, and waited for the sunrise.  The climb on the second day was hard.  We ascended over 1,000 vertical meters in just 2 hours, crossing over an overpass at 5,000 meters above sea level.

Inca Trail through forestOn the third day we descended into a lush forest.  We pitched the tents on a terrace overlooking the valley and a small village.  We woke up with the sunrise and headed up to the Dead Woman's path, some 1,200 meters higher than our campsite the previous night. 

The next day offered what I consider one of my favorite parts of the trail.  We started tough, climbing into an overpass but later descending into a deep valley, essentially a rain forest, abundant with flowers, mosses, and dense tree and bush vegetation.  At the bottom of the valley, the original Inca Trail started.  As we headed uphill again, we were awarded with amazing views of the Wayana Picchu mountain and the Aquas Calientes Valley.  The descent to the next campsite was brutal but beautiful, as we passed through the jungle and an incredible maze of terraces.  We descended over 3,000 stone steps!

Machu PicchuOn the last day, we left before sunrise, following a line of flashlights ahead of us, impatiently awaiting the view of Machu Picchu.  After a 2-hour walk, we finally arrived at the pass and the view opened up.  As the sun came up and lit the ruins, the setting was dramatic.  Machu Picchu has amazing stonework, and the city seamlessly blends with the mountain.  The hike to Wayna Picchu, the famous magnetic and spiritual mountain overlooking the ruins, accentuated the experience -- a definite "must" for anyone who goes to Machu Picchu.

Lukas Pieter, who is from the Czeck Republic, now resides in New York City.