While there are many Inca trails that lead to Machu Picchu, the now famous Inca Trail, a popular trekking route, has a special history and significance in Inca culture.
The mountains around Cusco and the Sacred Valley are riddled with ancient trails that were once used by the Incas and their predecessors. Dotted along these trails are countless archaeological sites that once held religious, ceremonial or agricultural significance. But while these trails leading from site to site are, indeed, Inca trails, what is known today as the Inca Trail is a 43km (26 mile) famous trek that winds through the Inca countryside, combining beautiful mountain scenery, subtropical jungle and fascinating archeological sites.
The Inca Trail was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1915 during an expedition to Machu Picchu in which the famous explorer was trying to prove that the Inca citadel was actually the legendary Lost City of the Incas. After significant clearing work between 1913 and 1915, Bingham came to realize that what he had come across was the ruins of an old Inca road that led out of the Sacred Valley in the direction of Machu Picchu.
It is believed that the Inca Trail was a route of pilgrimage to Machu Picchu that was used by the Sapo Inca in the 15th century. The Incas believed that the mountains (Apus) were holy, so as a result of the stunning mountain landscapes that are seen along the trail, it is widely accepted that along the route of pilgrimage the Incas would perform religious ceremonies and rituals to honor the mountains and their sacred peaks.
The road was built through very difficult terrain, with bridge crossings of stone or wood, and even tunnels that were carved through the mountains. There were more simple trails through easier terrain that would have been more ideal for transporting products, llamas and people to Machu Picchu, so the Inca trail was likely only used for religious purposes and to honor important peaks such as Wakaywilka and Veronica, as well as the 6,096-meter (20,000-foot) stone face of the holy Salcantay mountain, the highest peak in the Vilcabamba mountain range.
Moreover, the trail passes through many important sites between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu that give a high level of importance and mysticism to the ancient road. What is today known as the “Classic Inca Trail” is a four day trek that starts at km 82 of the railway and winds through the mountains, passing the incredible Inca ruins of Llachtapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuypatamarca and Wiñaywayna, arriving at Machu Picchu for sunrise or at midday on the fourth day.
At Enigma, we offer many variations of the Inca Trail to suit any travel style. Our expertly-led, private service treks include the classic route in either 3 days/2 nights, 4 days/3 nights or 5 days/4nights, as well as a short Inca Trail trek that is 2 days/1 night. We also offer options for groups and luxury services along the way.
The Inca Trail is truly a historic marvel and one of the most exciting ways to reach the famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. In you are interested in making the journey or would like more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us.