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Live from the ground - a Machu Picchu update

Astrid Jane, our Assistant Destination Manager for Latin America has recently returned from Peru.  She visited the mudslide affected region of Cusco and its surrounds and also completed the Machu Picchu trek.

The mudslides:

In late January 2010, torrential rains caused devastating mudslides which blocked the train route to the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. The rivers overflowed, flooding hundreds of homes and hectares of crops and thousands of tourists were stranded near the ruins in local villages. As the railway to Cusco was severely damaged, the Peruvian authorities evacuated tourists by helicopter. All of our groups were safely evacuated to Cusco within the week following the mudslides.

What’s still left to be rebuilt and fixed?

Temporary services via bus and train to the Citadel of Machu Picchu are expected to continue until the end of June 2010. Our Classic Trail trekking groups are currently being transferred by bus from Cusco via Ollantaytambo station to Piscacucho Station (km82). This is the starting point for the four day Classic Trail.

To return to Cusco, all clients travel by bus from the site of Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes town, use Peru Rail from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo station and then return by bus to Cusco.

Due to reduced train capacity, some of our group itineraries have been slightly altered and some groups may be required to spend additional time in Aguas Calientes following their visit to Machu Picchu. We will do our best to advise all groups prior to departure, and our Geckos staff and trekking leaders will provide further updates on the ground.

The direct rail service from Cusco to Ollantaytambo Station and Aguas Calientes Station is not expected to be complete before June. Once this service has been repaired, capacity will increase and bus traffic will ease between Cusco and Piscacucho Station.

What about the people who live in the area?  How are they faring?

The locals are very pleased to see tourists returning to the region. As access to the site of Machu Picchu was closed during the months of February and March, their regular incomes were dramatically reduced. 

During my recent visit I met with our Cusco Manager who advised that the low season in February and March was a good time for our trekking guides and porters to undergo further Health & Safety training. Our ground staff also completed a quality control check of all our trekking gear which was updated and repaired where necessary. Even though Machu Picchu was closed, many of our clients continued to join our groups in February and March, and were able to complete a section of the Lares Trail. This meant we were able to continue to employ many of our tour leaders and porters and therefore continue to support the local community.

How was the climb?

Over the four day trek, I felt a huge variety of emotions. On Day One I felt fresh, energised and thrilled to be commencing the legendary Classic Trail to Machu Picchu. The first day was spent getting to know various group members, our trekking guide Miguel (pictured with Astrid) and our assistant guide Richard. It was a good warm up day in preparation for the challenging days ahead. The pathways were well worn, and hills not too steep. The group also passed through some amazing scenery in the Sacred Valley, and fortunately, we had clear views of snow-capped Veronica Peak.

On the morning of Day Two I was apprehensive, aware of the long and arduous trek to Warminwanusca, or Dead Woman’s Pass at 4200m. Day Two was our most difficult day due to the effects of altitude but on reaching our highest pass, the difficulty of the previous few hours was forgotten and exhilaration took its place.

Day Three was completely different again, as we made our way through tropical rainforest and had fabulous views of the cloud forest below us. This day was mostly downhill so a little trickier on the knees but easier on the the lungs. We encountered a heavy rain shower during our lunch break so we were able to make use of our ponchos and wet-weather gear!  Luckily, the short burst of rain was during our meal stop so we had the shelter of the large tent and a fabulous three course lunch to keep us occupied.

On Day Four, we awoke well before sunrise and bid farewell to our amazing porters. After our final morning of trekking the Classic Trail, we arrived at the infamous Sun Gate and were able to enjoy clear views of the site of Machu Picchu. At this point, I was feeling exhaustion, delight and contentment, knowing all the hard work was well worth the spectacular view!

Highlight of the trek:

Finding some quiet time to trek by myself, enjoy the views and have a think about all the people that have stepped on the exact same stone pathway since ancient times.

Did you need to do much preparation?

I didn’t complete any particular training for the trek, so I was a little slower than others in my group. However, it’s not a race and there are plenty of hours in the day to complete the trek at your own pace. I would recommend anyone considering the trek, to start taking stairways rather than lifts as often as possible leading up to the trek. It will make it a little more enjoyable if your body has trained for this type of activity.

Key items required for the trek:

Hat, sunglasses, waterproof boots and a poncho. You really need to pack for all types of weather.

Any other helpful hints for anyone considering booking a Machu Picchu trek?

If you are interested in trekking the Classic Trail, BOOK EARLY! The Peruvian Government now issues permits for the trek and the number of permits available are limited.  You will need to have your passport information when you book or as soon as possible after booking as permits are linked to passport numbers.  In the instance that Classic Trail permits are sold out, we organise a trek following the Lares Trail. The Lares trail is equally challenging in terms of altitude and passes through remote rural villages, providing stunning views across the Andes Mountains.

Thanks Astrid!  We have heaps of trips that incorporate trekking the incredible Machu Picchu trail.