The little-known KM 104 Inca Trail Express Hike an outstanding mini-trip for those wanting “a taste” of the Inca Trail, but either lack the time or energy for the full 4- or 5-day Inca Trail. There is one day of hiking; second day is at Machu Picchu.
- Train to KM 104
- Starting the trek
- Wiñay Wayna
- Sun Gate
- Machu Picchu
- Aguas Calientes
- Hiking Stats
TRAIN TO KM 104
The sound of the rain on the ceramic roof shingles wakes us before dawn this morning. We quickly gather our things together and meet our enthusiastic guide, Claudia, on the train platform. As the royal blue and gold Peru Rail train pulls into the station in front of El Albergue Hotel, the summer showers cease. Today we take the train from Ollantaytambo to the famed kilometer 104 and hike the Inca Trail Express to Machu Picchu.
The whistle blows, the train lurches and we were on our way north through the Sacred Valley. As we pass through the valley, alongside the churning Urubamba River, we observe that, in many regards, not much has changed in the rural villages since the Incan Empire. Agriculture is still the main livelihood and many of the original Incan terraces remain in use.
We pass through several tight tunnels and notice the landscape start to change; the more arid landscape dotted with eucalyptus trees gives way to misty, dense, heavily perfumed jungle, accented with colorful orchids of all shapes, colors and sizes. We enter the cloud forest, the threshold of the Amazon, or, as they called it here, “la ceja de selva”, literally “the jungle’s brow”.
STARTING THE TREK
Upon arrival at the appropriate marker, we descend from the train and follow in Claudia’s wake across a suspension bridge over the Urubamba to the start of our trek. After registering with the trail control guards, we arrive quickly at our first Incan Ruin site where local farmers once lived and harvested crops for the city of Machu Picchu. Claudia leads us through the ruins and proves to be a wealth of knowledge concerning history, architecture, geology and botany as she gives us an introduction to Incan history and the sites surrounding Machu Picchu that we will be visiting today.
We leave the ruins and begin our trek following the Inca Trail along the shoulder of the verdant mountains. We see several species of Andean hummingbirds, orchids and other local flora along the way- Claudia always sharp to point out specific flora and explain its properties and, if applicable, its respective domestication history.
By lunchtime, the sun is shining and we arrive at the impressive Incan Ruin site of Wiñay Wayna, “Forever Young”. Here we visit the terraces and temples that overlook the steep valley below. I am amazed at how we seem to be the only ones here and relish in the tranquility and living, breathing historic wonder of such a place.
THE SUN GATE
As we continue, the jungle becomes even denser still and the path we are on is now 100% preserved Inca Trail and road. The path is ancient cobblestone and about four feet wide. It constantly goes up and down until we come to set of steep stairs. As we reach the top we see Intipunku, the Sun Gate, ahead. Our hearts start to beat faster with excitement as the glorious vista of Machu Picchu is just around the corner!
The clouds have rolled in quickly and the mist is thick as we cross the threshold of Machu Picchu’s sacred entrance. We can barely see 10 feet in front of us but Claudia tells us not to worry and wait. We eagerly hold our breath as a subtle wind slowly pulls the curtain of mist veiling Machu Picchu aside. All of sudden, there, in all of its splendor and majesty, is Machu Picchu.
After taking some time to revel and fully register what we were witnessing, we continue down the trail towards the citadel. Claudia gives us a tour of the upper part of the city and we continue on to the catch the shuttle bus down to the town of Aguas Calientes below.
Our shelter for the night is the luxurious Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel with sprawling grounds protected by lush forest. The mist leaves the night air a bit chilly and we welcome the crackling fireplace in the cozy bar as we sip pisco sours.
KM 104 Inca Trail Express Hike:
Total distance: 13 km (8.08 miles)
Estimated walking time: 6-7 hours
Maximum altitude point: 2,650 m (8,692 ft)
Machu Picchu altitude: 2,400 m (7,872 ft)
Want to add these adventures to your next journey to Peru? Check out the following tours:
7-Day Luxury Lodge to Lodge Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu (Huayna Picchu Included in package)
For more information on additional treks you can do from the Machu Picchu citadel, check out our blog:
Your friendly Peru specialist,