Classic Inca Trail: Four-Day Trek
By Dr. Dan James Pantone
The Classic Camino Inca begins at either Km 88 (Qoriwayrachina) or Km 82 (Pisqakucho). In addition to being the trailhead for the Inca Trail, Km 88 is also the site of the ruins of Qoriwayrachina which are located near the Urubamba River. Most hikers do not enter Qoriwayrachina to explore it. However, there are unique stone sculptures and altars present at Qoriwayrachina, making it well worth the effort to explore and hikers should be ready with their cameras, taking photos and uploading them in their ipods for sharing with their family and friends back home.
archaeological site encountered on the trail are the ruins of Llactapata, a site
that is thought to have been used primarily used for crop production. Llactapata is very well preserved and is located at
9,318 feet (2,840 m) above sea level.
Its name means "High Town" in Quechua. The Llactapata Ruins on
the Classic Inca Trail should not be confused with the ruins of the same name
located west of Machu Picchu that are observable on the Salkantay Alternate
Trek. Recent studies of the Llactapata Ruins located on the Salkantary
Trek indicate that
the settlement was positioned, designed and functioned as a sacred center
similar to Machu Picchu, while the Llactapata Ruins on the Classic Inca Trail
were more agricultural in function. Sadly, few trekkers leave the Classic
Inca Trail to visit the ruins that are located far below the trail.
The first ruins encountered is a circular, walled complex with typical Incan niches inside. This beautiful Incan ruin is called Runkuracay ("Pile of Ruins") and is located at 12,139 feet (3.720 M) of elevation. The circular ruin is thought by archaeologists to have been a "tambo" which was a resting station for couriers traveling along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Runkuracay contains an area for sleeping and a stable area for their pack animals (generally llamas).
After Runcurakay Pass is the site of Sayacmarca ("Dominant Town"), which sits on top of a sheer cliff. After Sayacmarca, the vegetation along the Inca Trail begins to change as it proceeds through a tropical cloud forest that is actually part of the Amazon jungle, filled with exotic flowers and colorful orchids.
Sayacmarca ruins, trekkers encounter the beautiful ruins of Phuyupatamarca,
which is thought to have been an important religious site containing numerous
baths for religious ceremonies. Incredibly, the majority of the Inca Trail,
especially that encountered on the last two days, is of original Incan
construction. One interesting feature is the incredible engineering that
went into the original Inca Trail construction. The Trail actually passes
through mountains using a system of tunnels. The tunnels are truly an
engineering feat that illustrate the effort that went into the construction of
the trail. To think that this paved trail has survived over 500 years is a
tribute to those Incan engineer and workers that planned and completed this
The final day (Day 4) begins near the ruins of Wiñay Wayna ("Forever Young"), an important and well-preserved Inca ruin. This is where the Two-Day Trek meets up with the main Four-Day Trek. The final leg of the trek involves climbing to the vista of Inti Punku, the 'Sun Gate' where hikers can finally see their destination in the distance, the ruins of Machu Picchu. From here, it is an easy and enjoyable hike to one of the wonders of the world, Machu Picchu.
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