Category Archives: Peru

Short (2 day) Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The Inca trail was steep, hot and beautiful. The short Inca trail is an alternative to the traditional 4 or 5 day Inca Trail for those with neither the time nor energy to complete the longer hike. Advertised as a two-day trek, it is really a long day hike followed by a tour of Machu Picchu the following day. From the viewpoint of a less experiences hiker it offers a couple of advantages. First, it is a chance to experience the Inca Trail as a day hike – without the need to camp out. Second, it climbs to only 2750m (9000 ft) as opposed to the traditional Inca Trail which reaches 4200m (13,775 ft) at Dead Woman’s Pass.

The trail was initially supposed to be a male bonding experience with my brother Scott and I. We considered the longer trek,  but as the trip expanded to include Mike and MaryLou we decided to go with the short version. Even then we expected the hike to be just the two of us, or just the guys, with the others joining us in Aguas Calientes. Unexpectedly the women decided they wanted to join us. Scott was skeptical about any of us being fit enough to manage the hike, but I told him that with several months to prepare we could get ourselves in shape.

As we booked the trip I decided I wanted a private guide. I knew our group would be slow and I didn’t want to feel that we were slowing down a larger group. I decided to arrange the guide through our hotel (actually B&B) in Cuzco. I sent a note with our ages and a candid assessment of our physical condition as wanted them to know what to expect. At this point I should have followed up. As a private tour I expected some correspondence on our needs, expectations, etc. but never followed through trusting the guide to know what he was doing. It dawned on me a week before our trip that I had never heard from our guide, didn’t know his name, and wasn’t sure of any of the details. A quick e-mail and I was informed that Juan Carlos would meet us at the El Albergue at 8:30 Tuesday morning. I responded that 8:30 was later than I had expected to start, but got no reply before we left.

Train to Machu Picchu

Train to Machu Picchu

The late start would prove our downfall. Our guide, Juan Carlos, met us at the hotel at 8:30. We boarded the train about 9:30am and were let off at km104 about 10:40 to begin out trek.

Km 104 - start of the short Inca Trail

Km 104 – start of the short Inca Trail

Bridge over the Urubamba River

Bridge over the Urubamba River

Urubamba River

Urubamba River

We started with high energy and expectations, took the obligatory photo at the trailhead and crossed the bridge over the Urubamba river to the checkpoint. Only 500 hikers a day are allowed on the Inca Trail. Access is by permit only, which you have to book months in advance. A warden checked our passports against their list and we were allowed to proceed.

Juan Carlos with Mike and MaryLou

Juan Carlos with Mike and MaryLou

Almost immediately we reached the site of Chachabamba, a 15th century Inca outpost and religious center. It lay hidden in the brush even when the railroad on the other side of the river was constructed and was only “discovered” in 1940.

approaching Chachabamba

approaching Chachabamba

Chachabamba

Chachabamba

Chachabamba

Chachabamba

Chachabamba

Chachabamba

Orchid on the short Inca Trail

Orchid on the short Inca Trail

Short Inca Trail

Short Inca Trail

The trail began to climb through a patch of forest that had several varieties of wild orchids. Mike and MaryLou were having difficulty with the heat and altitude so we moved very slow. We were not the only ones. We pretty much kept company with a group of English hikers and a couple of women from Belgium. The early part of the hike climbs steadily across an exposed slope and is exhausting in the direct sunshine and thin air. Eventually we were rewarded with good views of Huinay Huana across the side canyon and Choquesuysuy far below. It was about here that Juan Carlos first told us that we needed to be to Machu Picchu by 5:30pm to catch the last bus off the mountain. I wasn’t overly concerned. Surely this thing must happen all the time. I figured there had to be a back-up plan. Couldn’t we catch a taxi down the mountain?

 

 

Choquesuysuy

Choquesuysuy

along the short Inca Trail

along the short Inca Trail

The narrow path finally dipped into some shade and we came to a beautiful waterfall where we had lunch at almost 3pm.

Waterfall on the short Inca Trail

Waterfall on the short Inca Trail

After lunch is was a short shaded hike to the foot of Huinay Huayna. We climbed the 392 stairs of this incredibly impressive site. It is composed of agricultural terraces spread out over the mountain side. The sweeping terraces lead around to a group of buildings, the staircase and a series of 10 stone baths that were likely involved in the ritual worship of water.

MaryLou on the Inca Trail

MaryLou on the Inca Trail

Huinay Huana

Huinay Huana

Huinay Huana

Huinay Huana

Huinay Huana

Huinay Huana

 

Huinay Huana

Huinay Huana

At the top we turned left and made our way to the Trekker’s Hotel which is really more of a campground with water and toilet facilities. The theoretically it was downhill after this since the Trekker’s Hotel is the highpoint of the trail, but there were plenty of ups and downs to come including the infamous Monkey Stairs which we climbed on all fours. The trail was indeed flatter, but we were so exhausted by this time that it didn’t sem to matter.

Mike on the Inca Trail

Mike on the Inca Trail

On the Monkey Steps of the Inca Trail

On the Monkey Steps of the Inca Trail

We arrived at IntiPunku, the SunGate, just as the sun was setting and got our first view of Machu Picchu.

Intipunku with Machhu Picchu in the background

Intipunku with Machhu Picchu in the background

To make a long story short it was dark before we got off the mountain and arrived at Machu Picchu, so unfortunately we couldn’t see what we came to see. Worse – the last bus down the mountain had indeed left for the day and we were told it would be a 3 hour walk down the road in the dark. Here we found the downside of not being with a group as the English tour group managed to get a bus to come get them, but “regulations” wouldn’t let them give us a lift. Our guide managed to arrange a ride with a group of workers leaving for the day, but when their “bus” came it was a pick-up truck with no room for us. We convinced the driver to return for us after an hour round trip. Mike and MaryLou hopped in the cab while I climbed in back with our guide. We finally managed to get to our hotel about 10:30 by which time we had of course missed dinner.

A few lessons learned:

  • Know what you are getting into
  • Insist on communication with your guide beforehand
  • Know if there is a deadline to finish and the consequences
  • Don’t assume the guide has in all under control
  • Private doesn’t always equal better
Mike's shoes

Our only casualty – Mike’s shoes

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El Albergue and the Ollantaytambo train station

El Albergue Hotel, Ollantaytambo

El Albergue Hotel, Ollantaytambo

Our hotel in Ollantaytambo is basically on the train platform. It has been quite interesting to watch the constantly changing scene of people, trains, cars and buses. Every trip out brings vast changes.

Ollantaytambo train station

Ollantaytambo train station

At times the street and platform are totally quiet, devoid of all people and traffic. At the other extreme is pure chaos of trains, buses, taxis, street vendors, police, conductors, locals and tourists. The morning starts at 5am with the adventure tourist crowd headed to Machu Picchu and the arrival of the street vendors and local workers.

Ferrocarril Street, Ollantaytambo

Ferrocarril Street, Ollantaytambo

A lull follows until the trains start to arrive from Cusco. Suddenly the street is full of porters humping huge packs of gear up the road and piling it on top of buses. Tourists hiking the Inca trail send their baggage on to Aguas Calientes and I can only gather that this is the first stage for the baggage trip.

The early and late trains are full of young backpackers, staying in hostels and carrying all their possessions in a backpack. The more well to do sleep in hotels, take a train after sunrise and have others carry their baggage should they choose to hike. I admire the former, but find myself at present appreciating te fact that I can make the hike without schlepping a huge pack.

The Hotel itself is quite lovely. It has 16 large and comfortable rooms, though I would try to avoid the rooms directly facing the train tracks. The restaurant is one of the best in town, and a made to order breakfast is included. The hotel is about a 10 minute walk from the heart of town, but is very convenient to the train station.

El Albergue Hotel, Ollantaytambo

Dining room at El Albergue, Ollantaytambo

Dining room at El Albergue, Ollantaytambo

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Connections

The world is full of small connections. Ollantaytambo is no exception. I bought two books in preparation for our trip. One a guide book by Ruth Wright. The other a book on the engineering design of Machu Picchu by her husband Ken Wright.
Mike Klinke and I were looking at the water features of Ollantaytambo when we ran into a man laeding a team of students from UVA (my alma matter) who were doing a hydrological survey. The team was being led by none other than Ken Wright – and we were invited to meet him and his wife!

Jeff with Ken and Ruth Wright

Jeff with Ken and Ruth Wright

The next morning at breakfast, who walks in but Ken and Ruth. They had heard about the hotel having some old photographs they wanted to see. We were able to introduce them to the owner’s son whom we had gotten to know.
I of course took the opportunity to have Ruth and Ken sign my book.

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More Ollantaytambo photos

Here are a few more pictures from Ollantaytambo. Unfortunately I don’t have a way to download from my good camera, so you are stuck with those taken on my phone.

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Moray and Salineras

Yesterday afternoon we hired a taxi to take us from Ollantaytambo to Moray and on to Salineras. The total trip took us about 5 hours over winding mountain roads. Our driver, Carlos, was great and waited patiently while we visited both sites. Total cost for the cab was about $30.

Our first stop was Moray. The following is courtesy of Wikipedia.

Moray is an archaeological site… on a high plateau at about 3500 m (11,500 ft) … The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is about 30 m (98 ft) deep. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and bottom. This large temperature difference was possibly used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. In other words, Moray was perhaps an Inca agricultural experiment station. As with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system.

imageimageThe drive itself was spectaular as we made our way through the mountains above Urubamba.

On the road between Moray and Salineras

On the road between Moray and Salineras

Near Maras, Peru

Near Maras, Peru

Salineras is a vast array of salt evaporation ponds. The local stream Carries salt leeched out of the rocks. The water is diverted to the numerous ponds where the water evaporates leaving the salt.

Salineras

Salineras

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Ollantaytambo, Peru

This morning we visited the fortress temple at Ollantaytambo. The site has been occupied for over 600 years. It was here that Manco Inca led the Incas to their only defeat of the Spanish. The site has outstanding religious, agricultural and military sites. We hired a local guide to take us through the site for  S/50 or about $20 which was well worth it. He spent about an hour with us, walking through the site, discussing the architecture, history and culture.

Guide describing the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo

Guide describing the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo Fortress

Ollantaytambo Fortress

Inca stonework at Ollantaytambo Fortress

Inca stonework at Ollantaytambo Fortress

Ollantaytmbo

Ollantaytmbo

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

Monoliths at Ollantaytambo

Monoliths at Ollantaytambo

Terraces at Ollantaytambo

Terraces at Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

Water channel at Ollantaytambo

water channels at Ollantaytambo water channels at Ollantaytambo

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Peruvian food

It has not taken us long to begin sampling the local cuisine. Last night it was alpaca steaks and burgers. This morning it is coca tea and tomales.

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Trains in Ollantaytambo

No need for an alarm clock. As you can see from the photo the train station in Ollantaytambo is just outside my window.

 

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Ollantaytambo train station

Ollantaytambo train station

Ollantaytambo Train Station

Ollantaytambo Train Station

 

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Peru at last! Cuzco to Ollantaytambo

After a long night and a frenzied dash through the Lima airport we finally arrived in Cusco. The poor driver had waited at the airport since 7am when we finally stumbled out after collecting our baggage at 11:30.

flags in Cuzco

flags in Cuzco

Sacred Valley, Peru

Sacred Valley, Peru

Urubamba River

Urubamba River

Motor Taxis in Urubamba

Motor Taxis in Urubamba

It took us about 1:45 to make our way down the Sacred Valley from Cusco to Ollantaytambo where we are staying. Cusco reminded us of our arrival in Naples, Italy a few years back with its chaotic traffic.
Ollantaytambo has a timeless feeling that I really enjoy. Minus the tourists it seems to have changed little in 500 years. We quickly settled in and had a great lunch near the historic Inca fortress and then spent the rest of the afternoon walking around town.

Bell tower in Ollantaytambo

Bell tower in Ollantaytambo

Colorful clothes in Ollantaytambo

Colorful clothes in Ollantaytambo

Inca stonework in Ollantaytambo

Inca stonework in Ollantaytambo

Plaza de Armas, Ollantaytambo, Peru

Plaza de Armas, Ollantaytambo, Peru

 

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Night in Bogota

Our flight was delayed coming out of Washington and we missed our connection to Lima, so we are spending a quick night in Bogotá before catching a 3:30am shuttle to the airport for a 5:30 flight. I must say Avianca / Taca was great about getting us a hotel and rebooking – very smooth as these things go.

I met John Lancaster in the lobby of our Hotel as we were checking in. John is a freelance writer for National Geographic. I remembered reading one of his articles a couple of months ago on Kazakhstan. He was on the same flight as us out of Washington and missed his connection as well. He is off to do some surfing and an article for Surfer’s Journal.image

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