Machu Picchu by Llama
Just saying those two words brings to mind images of a regal Inca city on the mountain...and a million questions.
Who were they? Where did they come from? Why did they pick this spot to build their shining city on the mountain? And where did they go?
Ever since an American explorer named Hiram Bingham discovered these ruins in 1911, people have been pondering these questions. And adventurers have been trekking up to the top to find the answers (or at least, the clues).
One thing is certain, though: These ancient ruins are situated in one of the most breath-taking spots in the world. Now, you don't have to be an "explorer" to see it. And you can see it in a most unusual way, too. A company called Llama Expeditions will take you to Machu Picchu on a llama trek. No, you can't ride these sturdy animals (native to the Andes). But they'll be carrying most of your supplies.
You'll be taking the Lares Trail, less famous than the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but often less crowded. And not as physically demanding. (Nonetheless, you've got to be in good shape to make this trip.)
Your jumping-off point is in the colonial city of Cuzco. You'll be driven through the Sacred Valley, and over spectacular mountain passes. Then you'll descend into valley of Lares. Llama Expeditions is community-minded, so you'll stop at a local market to pick up school supplies, bread, and coca leaves for the people you'll run across.
Over lunch at a hot springs, you'll meet the "arriero," who loads the packs onto the llamas, and also a few horses. And then...you're off! You'll hike up a valley, past the Rio Trapiche river. You'll camp for the night at the of Huacahuasi...by which time you'll have hiked 7.5 miles, and gained 2,297 feet in altitude. And you'll be sleeping at 12,467 feet.
The cook will wake you up at daybreak with a steaming cup of tea. After breakfast, you'll climb through pastures of roaming herds of alpacas and llamas. You'll eat lunch in a peaceful pasture. Afterward, the hike goes through wetlands with Andean geese and Punis Ibis, as well as occasional hill-hugging villages. By day's end you'll have hiked 5.6 miles, and be at an altitude of 12,139.
The next day begins with a drive to the archeological site of Pumamarca, a large, well-preserved Inca structure of some sort. Afterward, you'll arrive in the colorful town of Ollantaytambo, and then board a train for Aguas Calientes, where you'll check into a hotel. When you wake up the next morning, you'll be heading out to Machu Picchu...so it might be a good idea to soothe your tired muscles with a soak in the famous Aguas Calientes hot springs.
The next day...Machu Picchu! The group is taken by bus up a series of steep switchbacks to the shining city on the mountain. First, you'll take a guided tour of the site; and then you're free to roam about on your own. To commune with the ancient spirits and deities who still inhabit this place. To ask yourself all of those questions: Who? What? When? Why? And to look out in awe at a panorama so spectacular that it defies description.
You'll never forget the experience of Machu Picchu. The silence (at least, until the tourists get there later in the morning!). The sky-piercing peaks of the Andes. The once-glorious structures of what was apparently a great civilization. The splendid isolation of a place that the rest of the world didn't even know about until a hundred years ago. And the spiritual majesty.
And, unlike most of the others who make it here, you'll have done it by llama!