Image by Magali Meza via Flicker
Hiking in the Footsteps of the Incas
The UK has some fabulous hiking country, and whether you like a gentle stroll across the Cotswolds or wild camping in the Highlands, it’s no surprise that the first sunny day of the year sees us heading for the countryside in our thousands. However, once you’ve done the Three Peaks, climbed Snowdon, and been up and down Helvellyn more times than you can remember, you might start to think about somewhere further afield... and nowhere in the world offers you more hiking adventure than Peru.
es: Camino Inca de Cusco a Machu Picchu (Perú). Día 4. Descenso a Machu Picchu desde el Inti Punku. en: Inca trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu in Perú. Day 4. Descent to Machu Picchu from Inti Punku. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Thirty years ago, if you mentioned Peru to someone in the UK, they’d probably first have thought of Paddington Bear, and then perhaps the Amazon rainforest. Today, Peru is fast becoming known as one of the best worldwide destinations for adventure holidays, and particularly for the quality and breadth of available treks. The sheer variety of geography, from coastal desert to snow-capped mountains, and everything in-between, means that you have a huge choice of treks available, whether you just want to enjoy a few day hikes, or undertake a full-on week’s expedition into the jungle.
English: Panoramic Image of Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Indisputably the most famous trek in South America, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a four-day hike which takes you from the Urubamba Valley near Cusco, all the way to the lost Inca city which was re-discovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911. You pass through a mixture of high mountain terrain and sub-tropical cloud forest, and get to pass through other Inca ruins along the way as well. Although it takes you up to well over 4000m, so long as you have acclimatised sufficiently, the difficulty level isn’t all that high, and anyone who walks regularly in the UK should be able to complete it with no problem, particularly since most people do the trek with a team of porters who carry the tents and supplies.
es: Camino Inca de Cusco a Machu Picchu (Perú). Día 1. Ruinas de Llactapata. en: Inca trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu in Perú. Day 1. Llactapata ruins. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Salkantay Trek
The only problem with the Inca Trail is that you need a special government permit to trek that route, and only 500 are issued every day. That might sound like a lot, but in peak season permits go very quickly, particularly because all the porters and guides also need one. Luckily, there are alternative routes which don’t require a permit, and arguably the pick of these is a route usually known as the ‘Salkantay trek’ because it takes you to Machu Picchu via Mount Salkantay. It’s a tougher route than the Inca Trail, and the average altitude is higher, but your reward is even more spectacular scenery, including a short section where you cross a glacier. Again, although you need to be in good shape, there’s nothing that can’t be done by anyone who is an experienced hiker and most people who have done both rate the Salkantay trek even higher than the Inca Trail...
es: Camino Inca de Cusco a Machu Picchu (Perú). Día 3. El camino a través de vegetación amazónica. en: Inca trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu in Perú. Day 3. The road through Amazon rainforest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Hiking in the Amazon Rainforest
For something completely different, the Amazon rainforest presents a different side to Peru, and a whole different trekking experience. Covering roughly a third of Peru, and with much of still effectively unexplored, this is your chance to get off the beaten track and enjoy a real Amazon adventure! If you’d like to see yourself with your Indiana Jones hat firmly on your head, hacking your way through the jungle in search of either El Dorado or maybe just tonight’s dinner, then this is the place for you. Although you can do a variety of shorter treks, a longer expedition into somewhere like the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve will be an experience you’ll never forget.
English: Picture of the Tambopata river in the Amazon Jungle in Peru (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Trekking in Colca Canyon
As Michael Caine probably never said: “not a lot of people know this” but the ultimate source of the Amazon actually lies in southern Peru, in an area known as the Colca Canyon. This enormous valley is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and as well as offering some superb white-water rafting, there is some fabulous trekking to be done here. Vertiginous terraces line the sides of the canyon and giant Andean condors circle in the skies above you. If you lie down and pretend to be an injured sheep, you can even get them to circle closer for a better look as they size you up for lunch!
Bildbeschreibung: Yerupaja Grande, Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru Quelle: sebst fotografiert Fotograf/Zeichner: Thom95 Datum: 29.05.2006 Sonstiges: mit 6.635m zweithöchster Berg in den peruanischen Anden und höchster Gipfel der Cordillera Huayhuash (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Saving the best until last, the Cordillera Huayhuash is a sub-range of the Andes, located in Central Peru, just outside the small town of Huaraz. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Huayhuash offers some of the best high-altitude trekking in the world. Better than Patagonia; better than the Rockies; don’t even talk about the Alps. In fact, the only place which offers any competition is Nepal, and the classic 9-day trek route in the Huayhuash is often compared to the Annapurna trek there. If you yearn for iridescent glacier lakes nestled amongst beautiful snow-capped mountains; or high mountain passes looking down over untouched wildflower meadows, then this is where you need to be. You’ll need to be in good shape, and make sure you’re well-equipped (don’t think about scrimping on kit, because the nights can get bitterly cold) but it is possibly the best hiking environment in the world and you won’t regret a second of it!
Dan Clarke works for www.therealperu.co.uk and has enjoyed hiking all around the world, from the Caucasus to Tierra del Fuego, but given the choice, he’d be right back on the Inca Trail enjoying his humitas and Inka Kola!