Rediscovering the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The Inca trails in the Historic Sanctuary

When I first went to Cusco in 1973 I set up an offset printing shop, the first in the city. We published the first maps and guides to Cusco, the Sacred Valley (at that time only the stretch between Sacsayhuaman and Pisac was surfaced) and Machu Picchu.

One day an American couple came in, who had hiked the Inca Trail and produced a guide called “Journey & rough the Clouds “. I decided to print it and an illustrator, Don Wilson, who happened to be in Cusco, did the design. The photos were in black and white, the cover in color.

I had already been hiking around Cusco, I knew the nearby ruins such as Tipon, Huchu’y Qosqo and many of the archaeological remains in the Sacred Valley. But the Inca Trail fascinated me. I had been to Machu Picchu, but by train. At that time we went up to the Lost City in square Dodge buses with gas engines, owned by the state company Enturperu. I had met Dr. Manuel Chavez Ballon, the longstanding archaeologist of the square and his son, who had hiked the Inca Trail, and that’s how I started on my first trip. I was profoundly curious and I was completely absorbed in the adventure. I took the local train, at that time hauled by a steam engine, and went down to Km. 88 (Qoriwayrachina) with a backpack that weighed at least 30 kilos – with my stove and tent on my back and with a friend for company. & at was in 1974.

There was only one place to cross the river, a floating bridge on the Q’ente estate that belonged to the Zavaleta family – an immense esplanade with three levels of terracing and a house on the riverbank, the center of operations of a property that covered 22,000 hectares and stretched as far as the River Vilcanota to the east, the River Cusichaca to the south and the Aobamba valley to the north, making a triangle that finished near to Mount Salkantay. & ey charged one sol to cross. Fortunately, it was a solid thing – a platform with a metal frame and handrail to stop drunks or your belongings from falling in the water. Everyone who lived in the zone used it. & ey had day laborers from Huayllabamba working for them and they recommended a number of locals to help me with the load. So, the first two days we were accompanied by the Herrera brothers on the trail from Q’ente along what is now known as the Inca Trail -though obviously it was unrecognizable in those days as it was only used by cattle going to Llulluchapampa for the pasture below the first pass at certain times of the year. & ere was no evidence of human activity and for long stretches, the trail as we know it today didn’t exist. It was an adventure; I remember camping at Runkuraqay when you could hardly see it and at Sayacmarca in the oval room when it was completely overgrown. You couldn’t see Phuyupatamarca either, it was completely covered with vegetation.

It was at that time, and because of the magical – almost spiritual – experience that I decided to start a business that would take tourists on this extraordinary trip, a mixture of communion with, and dominance by, nature over the traces of human presence, gave a spiritual and purifying character to the trail, which ended with arrival at Intipunku and its imposing panorama of the citadel of Machu Picchu.

That’s how Explorandes started, not just for this trip but for all the other places that have been discovered around Cusco. As the years passed and when we started receiving clients, working together with the INC we went on exploring and improving the Inca Trail. Sections that had been abandoned for hundreds of years were rediscovered and reopened and INC and COPESCO began to “add value” to the trail. An increase in tourism and the impacts caused by the fact that its use was unregulated, started to worry the six or eight companies that were working in a professional and businesslike manner.

In subsequent years, the large number of ancient routes around Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary enabled us to draw up innumerable itineraries to show the precipitous geography of the Andean valleys, the mountains and the vast territory surrounding the Protected Area, the buffer zone and, finally, the basins of the rivers Urubamba and Apurimac, bastion of a culture that was once the dominant civilization and which still exists today.

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