Trekking on the High Inca Trail

Distant wisps of cloud drift idly in the valley, between forest-cloaked mountains. As the sun emerges, fanning out its rays, the clouds glow golden. I stare in awe; I’ve just woken, and in the early-morning haze of my mind this image takes on an aspect of paradise, of dream... this is just another morning on the High Inca Trail.

The past few days have each been more spectacular than the next. I’ve stood on the shores of crystal-clear lakes, gasped as the distant thunder of avalanches echoes off glaciers. I’ve laboured up steep slopes to a pass at 5,000m, and while drawing in deep breaths of the pure air, witnessed a condor soar past within meters of us. Everything I'd imagined about Peru has turned out to be inadequate by comparison to the real thing.

This has been the greatest trek of my life. Let me tell you a little about it:

What is the High Inca Trail?

The High Inca Trail covers everything the classic Inca Trail does. The difference is the starting point; the High Inca Trail begins three days earlier, winding its way through the remote and picturesque Cordillera Vilcabamba. You’ll see a greater number of ancient Inca ruins, and pass near the colossal Mt. Salcantay, with its numerous glaciers. In short, it’s an extended version of the Inca Trail, giving you the chance to see more of this incredible part of the Andes.

View from Inca Chiriasqa Pass View from Inca Chiriasqa Pass

Why choose the High Inca Trail?

The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu are shared, public experiences. There’s nothing wrong with that; it can be just as special, in a different way. On the High Inca Trail though? You’ll have the whole of the Cordillera Vilcabamba to yourself. We spent days trekking through some of the wildest, most remote scenery I’ve ever seen, and during that time we encountered no-one. There was nothing but space and nature, and the occasional condor.

Machu Picchu Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

This iconic ancient ruin, once the best-kept secret of the Inca Empire, is the centrepiece of the trek. Surrounded by a natural curtain of mountains, sprawled out atop a rocky pinnacle, it is truly a sight to behold. As our guide described what the city would have been like hundreds of years ago, time seemed to roll back, and my imagination populated the old stones with glorious ceremonies at sunset, great gathered crowds cheering for Inca Kings clothed in gold. This is truly a must-see.

Campsite at Marcocasa on the High Inca Trail Campsite at Marcocasa on the High Inca Trail

How hard is it?

I’m not going to lie to you – it’s more difficult than the classic version. You’ll find yourself at higher altitudes, where the air’s thinner. You’ll be doing more walking, and on more varied terrain. Where The Inca Trail is considered moderate, the High Inca Trail is considered challenging. That said, you don’t have to be an athlete to do this – I’m certainly not, and I managed just fine! And I can promise: it’s worth it. If you want to know more, check out this handy guide.

Pampa Cahuana Pampa Cahuana

What should I bring?

Never fear, we’ve got you covered: 5 Things You Didn’t Realise You Needed On the Inca Trail.

Plaza de Armas, Cuzco Plaza de Armas, Cuzco

Take me there: The High Inca Trail

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