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DX Hiker Craig at Machu PicchuWhat makes the Inca Trail a magnet for hikers from all over the world? Many countries have mountain ranges with beautiful scenery and Peru itself is richly blessed in this respect with many other areas for hiking. However the scenery is only one of the elements responsible for the magic of the Inca Trail. Can there be any walk anywhere in the world with such a combination of natural beauty, history and sheer mystery and with such an awe-inspiring destination? The various ruins along the way serve to heighten the hiker's sense of anticipation as he or she approaches what would surely find a place in any new list of archaeological wonders of the world - Machu Picchu...

Sunday, October 19th, 2003

CuscoFour roads once led from Cusco's main square to the four corners of the Inca empire that extended from what is today Ecuador and part of Colombia to northern Chile and Argentina, including all of Peru and Bolivia. An empire almost as vast as the Roman empire, the Inca nation was connected by a road network stretching over 14,300 miles. Due to its position as the capital of the Inca dynasty, contemporary Cusco, a city 10,500 feet above sea level is a showcase of several different cultures: Pre-Inca, Inca, Colonial and Republican. But Cusco was more than just a capital city. It was an administrative, military and holy city, similar to Mecca, and is now the oldest inhabited city of the Americas. Many kinds of architecture are found here and one's eyes can feast on their splendid variety and combinations. A city with a splendid legacy, Cusco's winding cobbled streets transport visitors through its rich and beautiful past.

After arriving in Lima, LuAnn and I had a short four-hour "rest" at our hotel before heading back to the airport for our flight to Cusco in central Peru, gateway to the Inca Trail. Our stay in Cusco would also be brief - one night - having to be ready to leave for the trailhead early the next morning. Condor Travel (www.condortravel.com), which handled all of the arrangements for our tours in Peru, turned out to be an excellent travel agency to work with and we were extremely pleased with their service. We took hundreds of pictures and these are only a very small sampling of them. Clicking on a picture will open a larger version in a new window.

Plaza de Armas - Main SquareWe landed in Cusco at about 8:00 AM. A representative from Condor Travel met us at the airport and transported us to our hotel to check in. On tap for the day: an afternoon tour of the city visiting the Inca's most sacred building in Cusco, the Koricancha (Temple of the Sun, which today forms part of the Spanish church of Santo Domingo), the Cathedral at Plaza de Armas (main square), and the fortress ruins of Sacsayhuaman overlooking the city. Although we were encouraged to rest to adjust to the altitude before our tour (tea brewed from coca leaves supposedly helped with that adjustment), LuAnn and I couldn't wait to hit the streets. Our first stop was the main square, where a parade was being assembled. We learned later that this is held every Sunday before church. All civic groups were represented, including the military and national police. It was quite impressive and amazing that they did this every week!

We returned to our hotel and were met by another Condor representative to discuss our trek and fill us in on the itinerary. Since we had hired a porter, he also provided a duffle bag to fill with the extra stuff we wanted to transport (sleeping bags, pads, extra clothing, etc.). Condor would be by the hotel to pick us up the next morning at 7:30.

SacsayhuamanThe tour of Cusco was very nice, albeit a bit too long and structured for our liking, but otherwise informative and enjoyable. The surrounding countryside is stunning, much of it sculpted by agricultural terraces once watered by complex irrigation systems. We returned to the hotel after dark and went in search of a restaurant for dinner. Back to the hotel after that and to sleep so we'd be ready for next day's adventure.

A couple of thoughts regarding Cusco and altitude acclimation. We were totally surprised at the number and frequency of young children "accosting" us to purchase souvenirs or get our shoes shined. It got to be tiresome after awhile and we were forced to be blunt. They came from everywhere. As for the altitude, we really should've spent a few more days acclimating before setting out to hike the Inca Trail but time constraints precluded that possibility. More about altitude at the end of this narrative.

Monday, October 20th, 2003
Kilometer 82 (9,000 ft) to Wayllabamba (9,840 ft) - 7 miles

The FootbridgeLuAnn and I were the first members of our group to be picked up. Transportation was a small tourist minibus that seated about 20 people. We went to various locations throughout Cusco to get all of the people who would be taking the hike with us. Our group consisted of ten people including us, a guide and roughly a dozen others (cooks and porters to carry the equipment). As I already mentioned, we had hired our own porter to carry some of our incidentals. That way, we would only have to carry our day packs, which with water, rain gear, and jackets was heavy enough. It was around 10:00 AM before we were on our way, leaving the city behind. We headed North over the plateau of Chinchero, with views of the snow-capped peaks of Pitusiray, Sawasiray and Chicon descending into the Urubamba Valley. The trip to the trailhead at KM82 took about two hours, with a brief stop at Chilca to visit the market and a chance to procure additional supplies. The final miles were over a pretty rough single lane two-track road, which kept going by house after house, with room for just one vehicle and plenty of ruts and washouts.

The eight other people in our group were all from Europe... a couple from the Netherlands and another from Germany, and four singles from Italy (two women and two men). Our guide was a beautiful, bright young Peruvian woman named Marisol. She knew her stuff and we were lucky to have her as our guide. After leaving the minibus, we put on our packs then checked in with Trail officials to sign the entry log and show them our "admission ticket." Next, we had to show our passports at the entry point of a small footbridge over the Urumbamba River, which led to the Trail. Crossing, our trek had begun!  Trail Map

Setting out on the trail!The Trail, which here is an unpaved trail of possibly Inca or post-Inca origin, follows along the left bank of the Urubamba gorge (river on our right) for several hours, with views across the river of terraced farmland, snow-capped mountains, a glacial valley with a beautiful example of a terminal moraine, and a small, inhabited Inca ruin. For much of the three miles from the trailhead to Llactapata, the railroad is in sight on the opposite side of the river. It's interesting to note that the Trail is also a "road" for locals, the only way in and out for hundreds of Peruvians living in the backcountry. These people use the Trail with their pack animals to get in and out. And many of the residents also cater to hikers on the Trail in addition to their normal agricultural work. They sell soda, beer, Inca Cola and fruit to the many hikers who come along.

As we continued, there were small gnats (sometimes called sand flies) which were biting any exposed skin. I didn't take time out to put on any repellant, and instead I would swat them when I felt them on my legs. This proved to be a big mistake, when later I found that I had a multitude of itching bite marks on each of my legs.

Marisol at LlactapataBefore reaching our first ruins at Llactapata we stopped for lunch at a campsite, with several adobe homes in the vicinity. Shortly after lunch we arrived at Llactapata (7,550 feet above sea level). Llactapata ("Town on a Hillside") may be unimportant compared to Machu Picchu, but it certainly would be considered a major archeological site anywhere in North America, and would no doubt be well worth a couple of hours exploring. There are extensive agricultural terraces, ruined houses, and an unusual round watchtower-like structure in the lower level. We stayed on the Trail and did not descend into the ruins themselves.

From Llactapata the Trail turns south, away from the Urubamba and up the valley of the Río Cusichacha, a small stream scarcely deserving the name "river," about four miles to its junction with the Río Llullucha, where the Trail turns west and follows the Llullucha. Just above the junction of the two streams is the small village of Wayllabamba ("Place of Good Pasture," the only inhabited village on the Inca Trail). This is where we spent our first night, reaching it at about sunset, around 6:30 PM. The porters had already set up our tents and we had tea and dinner under a thatched roof, open sided structure. LuAnn and I were pretty tired and hit the sack soon after dinner. Temps outside were in the upper 30s. I was thankful that I had bought a 15 degree mummy sleeping bag!

Tuesday, October 21st, 2003
Wayllabamba (9,840 ft) to Pacaymayu (10,991 ft) - 7 miles

The trail towards WarmihuanuscaWe woke up early and had a quick breakfast. Our guide, Marisol, explained to us that today was going to be very difficult. We were now at 9,840 feet elevation and we had to climb over the first and highest of the mountain passes between Llactapata and Machu Picchu. At Warmihuañusca, or more popularly known as "Dead Woman Pass," the Trail reaches an elevation of 13,772 feet. That's quite a bit of elevation gain in a relatively short distance and that meant thin air and the possibility of altitude sickness.

From the campsites in the Llullucha valley, the Trail winds steeply along the south side of the river towards this first pass, cutting through dense vegetation until reaching Llulluchapampa ("Place of Offerings"), a large pampa just below the first pass where we are to have lunch. Today's trek WAS very difficult for LuAnn and I. We were certainly physically in shape for the journey but the high altitude was taking it's toll and starting to impact our breathing and the speed at which we could hike. With the extremely steep grades that we had to travel, we ended up pacing ourselves by walking about 50 yards and resting for a minute. Again, we kept passing small villages of six to ten homes every hour or so. The views started opening up and the area become much more alpine. By the time we reached the pampa for lunch we were thankful for the break!

Steep trail to the first passLlulluchapampa overlooks an open meadow where llama and sheep were grazing. Tall mountain peaks surrounded us and featured a breathtaking view of Mt. Huayanay. We could see the Trail struggling up the mountainside towards Warmihuañusca pass and the cloud forest that harbors the Quechua tree, a rare forest to be found in the Andes. We knew it was going to be a heart-pounder, as it is for most. After lunch, Marisol led us down to the meadow and then back up to the Trail. The terrain changes with altitude, so that a little beyond Llulluchapampa it gives way to light woodland, then to scrub, then to puna, bleak grassland and bare slopes. The ascent becomes increasingly steep, and the terrain increasingly rugged. The going continued to be very difficult for us and we let the rest of our group go on ahead.

Looking back from above Llulluchapampa in the general direction of Wayllabamba we could see the river valley far below. We made it to the top of the pass early in the afternoon, marked by a green and white sign that shows it to be 4050m above sea-level (13,772 ft). The pass was very windy and cold, with sleet and drizzle falling. Because of the poor visibility, the magnificent views were obscured in clouds. A few people were hanging around but most continued on the Trail, as did we. It would be a steep downhill all the way to our campsite for the evening at Pacaymayu. Going down took less effort and we made better time, but the downhill is not a piece of cake either... it is very hard on the knees and you always have to pay close attention to where you place your feet or face the consequence of falling down on the rocky path. The Inca Trail is difficult going up or down!

Looking down on our campsite and the first part of next days trailAs we descended, we could see the first part of the Trail for the next day in the distance. It was a great view but we knew it would be another difficult day. We were going to camp at the base of the valley, along the Pacamayo River. As we got closer, next days trail became clearer and we could see all the way up to the next set of ruins, Runcurakay, which was a circular structure high up on the next mountain. At this point the Trail was composed of thousands of stones. Darkness was beginning to set in by the time we made it to our camp at the bottom of the valley, a small, unevenly sloping area large enough for only a few tents. There was a small Inca ruin there, and the camp had a working cold shower and an outhouse with toilet seats.

LuAnn was not feeling well and decided to skip tea time and dinner. Eventually her condition worsened and she got sick several times during the night. We were all worried about her. One of the Italian women was a nurse and gave LuAnn some medicine for nausea. They had little effect. For the rest of us, after dinner it was another early night to sleep.

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2003
Pacaymayu (10,991 ft) to Wiñayhuayna (8,366 ft) - 10 miles

We had another early breakfast and broke camp. LuAnn was still ill, but got herself ready and actually started out before the rest of us! We had been told during our orientation before the trek that the third day would be fairly easy. This was not entirely true... First, we were going to hike ten miles today, the most one-day distance of our trek. Second, from the valley of the Pacamayo, the Trail climbs steeply up the opposite side of the valley wall, towards the second pass. Though not as high as Warmihuañusca, Runcurakay Pass tops off at 12,631 feet and there would be a third pass to traverse as well.

LuAnn rests at Runcurakay RuinOur group left the campsite and caught up to LuAnn in about fifteen minutes. She was struggling and continued to be sick but was determined to go on. There really was no alternative, but I was impressed just the same at her courage and fortitude! We returned to the pace we used the day before and slowly made our way up the steep trail.

About halfway up is a circular, walled complex with interior niches. This Inca ruin is known as Runkuracay ("Pile of Ruins") and sits at 12,139 feet elevation. The building is thought to have been a tambo, a kind of way post for couriers following the Trail to Machu Picchu. It contained sleeping areas for the couriers and stabling facilities for their animals. LuAnn laid down at the site for about 20 minutes to rest.

After Runkuracay ruin, the Trail continues to climb towards the pass of the same name. Enroute we traveled by a small alpine lake (really a pond), and just a short time later reached the pass. The temps were warmer than the day before and it was clearer allowing us to enjoy the spectacular view on all sides. LuAnn rested again and Marisol convinced her to take a different type of altitude sickness medicine. This one did the trick and she started to feel better.

Trail decent on the other side of Runkuracay passOn the other side of the pass, the Trail descends towards a valley containing another shallow lake, bigger than the one we had passed earlier. At around this point, the Trail changes from a dirt path to a narrow stone roadway, assuming the more engineered nature for which the Trail is justly famed, and which characterizes it from here to Machu Picchu. This is the beginning of the true Inca Trail, as the stones of the roadway were laid by the Quechua people of the period of the Inca Empire. It should be mentioned here that only the rulers were known as Incas, the people were Quechua, ancestors of those living in the area today.

From here, the Trail leads to a second, larger Inca ruin, Sayacmarca ("Town in a Steep Place"). This complex lies at 11,811 feet above sea level and was about three miles from the Runcurakay ruins. Sayacmarca effectively controls the Trail - which passes beneath it - at this point. It is built on a promontory of rock overlooking the Trail and is accessible only via a single narrow stone staircase of 98 steps. Sayacmarca is roofless and overgrown but the walls still stand and the shape of the fortress can easily be seen. Nearby is a stone aqueduct which once carried water to the site. Our group had already climbed the narrow stairway and were exploring the ruins by the time we arrived. LuAnn and I had had enough of stair climbing and we decided to wait for them outside the ruin.

SayacmarcaAfter Sayacmarca, the Trail descends to the valley floor through a very dense cloud forest, eventually taking the form of a long causeway leading across what may once have been the bed of a shallow lake. Nearby is where our lunch was served, about a half hour past Sayacmarca, at a place called Ponchamarca. LuAnn, feeling much better now, opted to limit her lunch to a piece of bread and some fruit juice. In the distance we could see that the Trail begins to climb again. Marisol gathered everyone together and we set off on the last leg of today's journey.

The first tunnelFrom here, much of the Trail shows superb engineering, built into the steep hillside on top of Inca stonework. Often there was a shear drop to the left of about 30 to 50 feet. Soon we came upon the first Inca tunnel, where the Inca engineers widened a natural fissure in the rock into a tunnel large enough to allow the passage of men and animals along this steep hillside. It actually got VERY dark in the middle section of this tunnel! At another point stones were set in notches cut in a cliff face to build up a surface wide enough to walk along where none existed naturally. This section of the Trail also features some of the most interesting exotic vegetation seen along the trek and an awesome view back down to the Río Urubamba in its winding gorge.

PhuyupatamarcaAfter passing through some of the wildest rugged scenery imaginable and over the third pass (11,975 ft), we looked directly down on to the ruins of Phuyupatamarca ("Cloud-level Town"). The ruins are reached by descending - what else - a long flight of stairs. The site appears to have had some ritual function; the rectangular structures along one side are baths, which were apparently fed from a spring higher up. The highest bath was reserved for the nobles, while the lower classes performed their ritual ablutions in water that had already been used by the aristocracy. The ruins are set in a concave, semicircle pattern. The buildings were divided up into four sectors which are: the agricultural sector with many terraces, the religious sector, the fountain sector and the residential sector.

LuAnn descending the steps at IntipataLeaving Phuyupatamarca the Inca Trail descends an unbelievably long series of winding steps, literally thousands and thousands, with many cut into the living rock. Amazingly enough, this section of the Trail was only discovered several decades ago, and opened to trekkers in 1985. Formerly, hikers followed a section of non-Inca Trail between Phuyupatamarca and Wiñayhuayna. One has to wonder what unknown archeological treasures remain hidden in the underbrush. The change in vegetation from alpine bunchgrass to relatively densely forested mountainsides is dramatic and we eventually reached Intipata, another ruin. It was starting to get dark and we were a bit irritated by that fact. We continued on the Trail, reaching the Hostel Machu Piccu (also know as the Wisayhuayna Visitors Center - accessible only on foot) at around 7:30 PM, just at the point where we couldn't see squat! There to greet us was Marisol! How could she have gotten there before we did? She explained that she took a different trail - shortcut - to the Hostel, along the high-voltage power lines. Somehow we had not been told about that route. Marisol wanted to take us to our campsite but LuAnn and I had a different idea. There was a restaurant here and we wanted a burger and fries! We told Marisol that we would meet up with the rest of our group after we ate. We enjoyed our meal at the restaurants outside patio, including a couple of beers. Those were delicious!

Evidently there's a side trail to another ruin nearby called Wiñya Wayna ("Forever Young," named after an orchid species). It was not in the cards for us as we had all arrived too late to make the trip. As I mentioned, we were to sleep in our tents - yet again - but beds, floor space for sleeping bags, hot showers, and of course meals and drinks are available at the Center. We finished dinner and made our way to the campsite, which was perched alongside a steep drop-off. A trip to the bathroom at night could be dangerous. The rest of our group was having tea when we got there and had yet to have dinner. We hung out with them until their dinner was served, then set up the inside of our tents for the last time. After a bit more conversation with the group, we all headed off to bed. Tomorrow we would be up at 4:00 AM for the short two hour hike to Machu Picchu.

Thursday, October 23rd, 2003
Wiñayhuayna (8,366 ft) to Machu Picchu (7,874 ft) - 4 miles

LuAnn at the Sun Gate - Machu PicchuBreakfast at 4:30 AM (ugh!), and ready for the Trail at 5:00 AM. All of us were given a "box" lunch and then started out for the final destination of our trek. From our campsite at Wiñayhuayna, our hike took us through shifting panoramas: to the left of the Trail the shear bromeliad-studded cliffs, to the right what looked like toy trains and tracks far below in the sinuous gorge of the Urubamba, and ahead of us the drama of Huayna Picchu peak rising like a stone juggernaut out of Pachamama's breast. It was fantastic, incomparable! After no more than two hours, we reached a narrow flight of stone steps leading upwards into a small stone structure with a grass floor. This is Intipunku, Gateway of the Sun or Sun Gate, and through the rectangular doorway just moments after sunrise, we had our first, unforgettable view of Machu Picchu... the mysterious gray stone city mounted like a gem in a setting of cliffs and canyons. Intipunku is called the Gateway to the Sun, because it is located in a notch on a ridgeline, which allows the first morning light to stream into Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu!At a distance of about 75 miles from Cusco, in the valley of the Urubamba river, Machu Picchu rises to an altitude of 7,874 feet above sea level, between the Huayna Picchu (young peak) and Machu Picchu (old peak). It lies within a spectacular framework of the nearby forest vegetation and the rugged landscape. The ruins are situated on the eastern slope of Machu Picchu in two different areas: the agricultural and the urban. The latter includes the civil sector (dwellings and canals), and the sacred sector (temples, mausoleums, squares, and royal houses).

We spent about twenty minutes looking down at Machu Picchu and taking scores of pictures. It was breathtaking! Finally, Marisol called us together and we started down a broad, flagstone paved trail - the view improving at every turn - a trip of about 30 minutes to reach the Watchman's Hut in the upper part of the Machu Picchu Agricultural Sector. Soon after, we made our way to the main entrance where we submitted our admittance passes and signed in. We also had Machu Picchu stamped in our passports.

Marisol touring Machu PicchuMarisol provided the tour of the site, which lasted about an hour and a half. She told us that Machu Picchu was 80% original and 20% reconstructed. All structures were built using the white granite rock found on the mountain, and we even visited one of the quarries. Although constructions show different levels of architecture, religious buildings exhibit a high degree of perfection. In general the construction was of stone, while the roofs were built of tree trunk and thatched with Ichu straw. The walls were made with an inward inclination for protection against earthquakes. After the tour, we were free to wander, ponder and explore the ruins on our own for the rest of the day. But we had seen enough and were ready to get back to Cusco... for a much needed shower and a good meal!

Perurail - Back to CuscoAfter boarding a minibus at Machu Picchu, we headed down the mountain on a narrow winding road with 17 switchbacks, finally arriving at the small town of Aguas Calientes, our departure point. Our Perurail train was scheduled to leave at 4:20 in the afternoon and since it was only 11:40 AM, we tried to get an earlier seating but that train didn't go all the way to Cusco. So we hung out at a little pizza restaurant until it was time to leave. The five hour trip to Cusco was sweet indeed... we had done the Inca Trail!

Some additional musings...

How hard is it?

That will depend on you and what you're used to. It's generally reckoned to be a strenuous hike but there's no rock-climbing or glacier-walking involved, so no technical expertise is required. The difficulty comes largely from the repeated steep ascents and descents, and from the high altitude. The climb to the first pass takes you up from around 9,800 feet to more than 13000 feet in a relatively short space, followed by a descent of around 3000 feet. After the second pass at 12,631 feet, things generally become easier. You should remember also that unless you go with an organized tour or hire porters you will need to carry camping and cooking equipment, clothing and food for three or four days, all of which makes for a fairly heavy pack.

How fit do I need to be?

The fitter you are, the more you will enjoy it. Conversely, the less fit you are, the less you'll enjoy it. If you're extremely unfit, you may even fail to enjoy it to the point of collapsing in a lifeless heap somewhere along the way and having to be buried on the spot by your fitter companions. In the absence of any agreed universal measure of fitness, consider that for a relative fit fifty-one year old (me) it was difficult but manageable. I found the second day and the first part of the third very tough indeed, but thereafter things became easier. However, don't be deceived. It is very hard work in places and you are likely to be carrying a heavier pack than you are normally used to. A better than average standard of fitness is probably highly desirable, if not absolutely required. If you want to prepare yourself, hiking is the most obviously appropriate activity but anything that builds stamina such as running or swimming is also useful. Stamina is more important than strength or speed; being able to bench-press five hundred pounds will probably not help unless you intend to walk the Trail on your hands.

What about altitude?

The Inca Trail is high enough that some people do have problems with the altitude, LuAnn and me included. Being short of breath is relatively common and is not, by itself, cause for concern. On the other hand, severe dizziness, loss of coordination and concentration, severely irregular (Cheyne-Stokes) breathing, and death from pulmonary or cerebral edema are generally regarded as more serious symptoms of mountain sickness. The chances are that you won't experience any ill-effects from the altitude, but it is definitely worth spending some time acclimatizing before you set out, with Cusco being the obvious place to do this. If you go straight from sea-level to the Inca Trail you are much more likely to have problems, as we did. It's been suggested that 3-4 days acclimatization, including day-hikes in the Cusco region, should be considered a minimum. Again, getting fit beforehand will also make life easier.

What's the best time of year to go?

The 'dry' season from April to October seems to be generally considered preferable, at least as far as weather is concerned. The driest months are from May to September, winter months in the Southern hemisphere. Temperatures can fall to below freezing above 10,000 feet, and it may be windy from August onwards. During the spring, September to December, there are likely to be early afternoon showers (sometimes accompanied by thunderstorms) of short duration, and it may be cloudy and overcast. Nights during this season are clear (which means cold at high altitude). The rainy season is from December to May. There is likely to be heavy rain for two to three hours every afternoon, as well as the possibility of light showers that continue over a longer period. Walking conditions are difficult and streams may become impassable. Note that just as anywhere else in the world, these are general tendencies. You could have a dry day in December and you could get rained on in July. Note also that there's a wide variation in temperature, dependent on altitude and time of day. Some guidebooks report that it can vary by up to 40 degrees, so it can be quite warm during the day at low altitudes and below freezing higher up during the night.

Is it dangerous?

Not especially. It's a three or four day walk in a fairly remote area. There are places where you could fall and hurt yourself, or even kill yourself if you really work at it, but unless you're very careless or clumsy it's not very likely. On the other hand, it's not a good place to have a medical emergency. If you have a tendency towards cardiac arrest, passing suddenly into a diabetic coma, epileptic fits or whatever, try to arrange for it to happen somewhere else.

I'm scared of heights - will I be able to walk the Trail?

If the words 'Inca Trail' call up images of swaying rope bridges over deep ravines and narrow paths carved into the faces of sheer precipices, relax. There's nothing like that. And it's a walking trail, so you don't need to do any mountaineering. There are a few steep descents, and there are some places where there is a drop-off on one side of the roadway. However, even people who don't like heights should be able to walk these stretches quite comfortably.

What about wild animals?

One section of the Trail is optimistically marked "Zona de Osos" ("Bear Zone"), but your chances of stumbling across a bear are probably very slight. Predatory wildlife on the Inca Trail consists mainly of the local pigs and dogs around Wayllabamba (who will eat anything that you leave outside, including boots, rucksacks and plastic garbage bags) and biting flies, which will eat you up. The insects, particularly around the Pacamayo, are extremely fierce. There have also been reports of chiggers and other pests near Wayllabamba. A good insect repellent is a necessity.

Is the Trail crowded?

You're likely to meet about 200 other people per day on the Trail, including large groups with guides and porters. The crowding is evidently particularly bad during the popular summer months. This has an inevitable impact, both on the facilities and the environment. Whatever the conditions on the Trail, Machu Picchu is usually Tourist Central.

Toilet facilities?

They're scarce. There are pit toilets at the campsites, but the rest of the time you're on your own. What this means above all else is that you need to be a good citizen of the wilderness and obey the rules. Since it's impractical to backpack your crap out of the region along with the rest of your rubbish, this means that when you have to go, you should go a long way away from the Trail, and bury your excrement properly after you're done. This is not an especially pleasant task, but it must be done. And when you're at the campsites, use the facilities available.

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