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ESCAPE 31


PERU: CAMINOS DEL INCA Jenny Handley hiked the Inca Trail – large steps, even


larger victory! I


t can take up to four days to experience Inca architecture and monuments, ending with the classic, heart-stopping view of iconic Machu Picchu from above.


The Inca Trail was originally designed as a purifying pilgrimage route from which to enter the sacred site of Machu Picchu, but there are shortened versions for the less active, and luxury train trips for the hedonistic who choose to hike only Machu Picchu, rather than the entire trail. The impressive Belmond Hiram Bingham train – with Champagne, local Pisco Sours cocktail and the obligatory Peruvian band – leaves from Cusco, where many acclimatise to the head-aching altitude of 4 200m above sea level with lashings of sacred herbal coca tea. The snow-capped scenery of the Sacred Valley along the Urubamba River and Anta – the “bread basket of Cusco” – is spectacular and much of the livestock and crops are grown here. The train passes fields of pigs – organic, we assume – to an ancient town called Huarocondo, nicknamed “the Capital of Roast Pork”.


The train twists and turns into the Pomotales


Gorge, dropping almost half a kilometre into the little community of Pachar. Next stop, almost halfway, is Ollantaytambo, where you spot the pyramid-shaped peak of Veronica, also known as Willka Weqe (“Holy Tear”). At Piscacucho, many hikers start the Inca Trail, while at Machu Picchu station, others start their less arduous adventure. A hair-raising half-hour uphill bus trip, switch-backing around hairpin bends, takes


you to the entrance of the iconic citadel of Machu Picchu. A limited number of daily tickets, bought in advance online, are available for entry to this Unesco World Heritage site. Guides show you the best vantage points – and will explain why locals have short, sturdy legs and broad chests, plus 20% additional haemoglobin in their blood to cope with the altitude. About 70% of the original Inca site remains, with


llamas still wandering on the agricultural levels and picturesque lower levels, adorned with flowers like orchids. In the main square of the Inca village is the ceremonial rock where animals were offered to the gods, the Temple of the Three Windows and the famous Temple of the Sun. Check in at the entrance at 8am to return to the


checkpoint by 10am after climbing to the highest point, with large steps at first, followed by a scramble along narrow paths. It’s not crowded until the summit, so expect a palpable feeling of joy and excitement with all the hikers at the top: prove it on Instagram, with a photo taken at the Machu Picchu 2 667,58m sign. Then, with a tremendous sense of accomplishment, you’ll return to the entrance to tick off your name and passport number, having completed your memorable climb.


ABOUT 70% OF THE ORIGINAL INCA SITE REMAINS, WITH LLAMAS STILL WANDERING ON THE AGRICULTURAL LEVELS AND PICTURESQUE LOWER LEVELS, ADORNED WITH FLOWERS LIKE ORCHIDS.


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