One of the most popular hikes in South America, the Inca Trail is definitely the experience of a lifetime. A centuries-old trail, it begins in the ancient Incan capital of Cusco and winds some 88 kilometers to some of the world’s most iconic ruins: Machu Picchu. Of course, the entirety of Inca Trail is absolutely stunning, from stunning snowcapped Andean peaks to centuries-old ruins situated in bucolic river valleys. However, these 5 highlights are truly bound to make your jaw drop.
Wayllabamba. The endpoint of the first day’s trek along the Inca Trail, Wayllabamba, which means “grassy plain” in Quechua, is the perfect spot to watch the sunset behind the dramatic Andean peaks. This grassy plain overlooks a stunning spot of Andean scenery, with centuries-old Incan terraces winding through the surrounding mountainsides. There is even a village nearby where travelers can mingle with local villagers.
The Valley of Llulluchapampa. Trekkers will start off the first portion of day two of the journey hiking through the picturesque Valley of Llulluchapampa. As you gradually ascend in altitude, you will even be afforded perfect views of stunning snowcapped cliffs.
Runkuracay: This unique oval structure, sometimes colloquially know as the “Egg Hut,” is believed to have been a kind of rest stop for Incan travelers, called a tambo, providing them with a place to spend the night and rest their animals. It is the perfect place to enjoy a mid-hike break and marvel at the beauty of Incan architecture.
Sayacmarca: First discovered by the famous Hiram Bingham when he wandered along a road extending from Machu Picchu, the dramatic Sayacmarca is situated at a fork in an old Incan road in a dense subtropical forest full of butterflies and hummingbirds. Quechua for “Dominant Town,” these unique ruins have an almost mystical air about them and are arguably the most impressive along the Inca Trail (except for Machu Picchu itself, of course!). It is believed that Sayacmarca was actually built by the Colla, a major enemy of the Incas, and that the Incas took over the site following their conquest of the group.
Phuyupatamarca: Dubbed “La Ciudad entre la Niebla” (“The City above the Clouds”), this major archeological site is situated a staggering 3,200 meters above sea level. Apropos to the nickname, Phuyupatamarca is very often surrounded by dense, white clouds. The ruins, dramatically constructed into a steep cliffside, contain five stone baths that fill up with freshwater during the rainy season. It is believed that these baths were used for religious ceremonies. Visitors can also check out the site’s elaborate hydraulic system, a true testament to impressive capabilities of Incan engineering. Of all of the Incan ruins in the region, Phuyupatamarca is arguably the most intact and therefore a truly spectacular site for trekkers passing through.
Huiñay Huayna (Wiñay Wayna): Huiñay Huayna (traditionally spelled Wiñay Wayna in Quechua, the language of the Incas) was constructed into a steep hillside overlooking the Urubamba River. In addition to the site’s ancient houses and temples, it also boasts an incredibly complex system of Incan terraces, formerly used for agriculture. The name of the site roughly translates to “Forever Young,” and many trekkers report that these ruins are the most beautiful found along the trail.