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As I climbed over a wooded headland, I was immediately engulfed by the overwhelming solitude of Lake Titicaca, its icy, intensely blue depths surrounded by glorious vistas rimmed by snow-crowned summits. The rarefied air was calm, the surface of the nice lake mirror calm. The silence was profound. Lake Titicaca is sacred to many cultures, and was the cradle of Andean civilisation. Based on legend the primary Incas Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo rose from Lake Titicaca’s mysterious depths to start their ministry to bring civilisation to a chaotic world.

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The beautifully tranquil Island of the Solar is rife with Andean mythology and littered with Inca ruins. As I gazed over the Island of the Moon, over which a full moon had fittingly risen into a dark sky smeared with stars, the lunar reflection rippled throughout the calm surface, becoming a member of the Islands of the Solar and Moon in a shimmering bridge of light. Occasional flashes of lightning danced over the distant peaks of the Bolivian Andes. Even understanding nothing about Lake Titicaca’s history and mythology, this was intensely moving. With the Inca legends added in, the experience verged on the spiritual.

Our goal was to trace the rise and fall of the Inca empire by a journey from its Lake Titicaca birthplace, by the imperial heartland to its capital of Cuzco, and past via the Sacred Valley to the densely forested Cordillera Vilcabamba, where the Incas made their closing stand in opposition to the Spanish Conquistadores.

From the lake, we travelled north throughout the treeless, pale green Altiplano. The snow-capped Cordillera Real sparkled on our horizon. Small settlements and remote farmhouses had been scattered throughout bleak rolling plains interspersed by low, isolated hills. Occasional campesinos labored diminutive fields, their small herds of llamas and alpacas grazing on thin stone island windbreaker cheap pickings.

Beyond Sorata, we shadowed the Camino del Oro, the historical gold mining route. Crossing a number of chilly mountain passes, we reached Mount Paititi, which many have searched in vain for a legendary Inca metropolis believed to lie hidden beneath impenetrable cloud forest swarming with bears, pumas and snakes with two heads!

Reaching Amarete, distinctive Inca terraces suddenly carpeted all seen mountainside from high peak to river. Mile upon unbroken mile of valley-filling terracing contoured beautifully all of the method to Curva. Peru at present dominates the publicity for Inca terracing, but this Bolivian valley surely boasts essentially the most impressive terracing anyplace. Even after 500 years, these fields nonetheless yield ample maize, peas, potatoes and wheat for local communities.

Curva is the home of the Kallawayas, the historic healers and fortune-tellers of Bolivia’s Apolobamba mountains, who once handled Inca aristocracy. We climbed towards Akhamani, the Kallawayas’ most sacred peak, and hand-caught trout from a tiny stream for supper. We scrambled steeply over darkish rocks to a succession of excessive passes, where we placed white stones for good luck and energy. Our requests have been answered virtually immediately as condors soared magnificently over our heads.

The following daybreak, we struggled out of iced up tents into a bitterly cold morning and the sight of Akhamani bathed in sensible sunshine towards a cloudless blue sky and nearly full moon.

From the 5,100m Sunchulli Pass, the snow-coated Apolobamba peaks stretched into the space to our left. To our right, the Sunchulli glacier towered above the calm turquoise Laguna Verde, beyond which scowled a dark, brooding ridge protected at its base by impossibly steep scree.

Drained and damp, we staggered into the misty stone town of Pelechuco on festival day, which locals have a good time with bullfights in the main sq.. We paused briefly to observe the alcohol-fuelled festivities before continuing northwards. Reaching the summit of the Katantika Cross rewarded us with some of the best scenery within the Andes: glaciers and crevasses glinting in the sun plunged towards the valley far below, rimming a tranquil, trout-stuffed lake bordered by Inca paving. And one other condor perched not far above my head. Beyond the go, the panorama mellowed markedly from jagged, icy summits to endless rolling pampas, and finally Peru.

For a number of days, we crossed yet more Altiplano, and met a few hardy campesinos who extract an austere existence from the cruel, unforgiving terrain. Desolation reworked to magnificence as we reached Cuzco, the historic Inca capital and “navel of the Stone Island Vests Inca world”. Infinite church steeples, bell towers, palaces and other sacred buildings preserve Cuzco’s superior beauty regardless of attacks by the Spanish and natives through the Conquest, and large earthquake damage.

From Cuzco, we entered the Sacred Valley and adopted the Urubamba River in direction of Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. These most spectacular of Inca sites had been all royal estates of Pachacuti, the nice warrior emperor who started the Inca enlargement in round 1440. In Ollantaytambo, the final surviving Inca settlement, people still dwell in original Inca houses and water nonetheless flows along an authentic Inca channel.

We climbed via clouds to Machu Picchu, the fabled “lost citadel” that perches extremely atop a precipitous Andean peak at the sting of dense rainforest. By no means found by the Conquistadores, the abandonment of this religious, astronomical and architectural glory stays a mystery. We’d all seen it in pictures many times earlier than, however nothing fairly prepares you for seeing it in its jaw-dropping mountaintop magnificence.

Leaving the Urubamba valley, we plunged down 2km to the Apurimac River, and slogged up nearly as excessive on the opposite aspect to succeed in the deserted, atmospheric ruins of Choquequirao. Not mentioned in any chronicles, the purpose of this twin-level metropolis bordered by three monumental terraces is unknown.

We witnessed the good winter solstice festival of Inti Raymi, enacted on the post-Conquest Inca capital of Vitcos. Hacking our manner alongside a skinny, winding trail through thick jungle, we eventually reached Espiritu Pampa, the location of Vilcabamba the Outdated – last stronghold of the Incas. Peeking from dense forest beneath a towering canopy of trees, the poignant ruins bear characteristic trapezoidal doorways and niches, however huge bushes these days overwhelm the crumbling stonework – much as the Conquistadores overwhelmed the Incas.

The Incas were a shadow of their imperial greatness by the point they retreated right here. Nearby, in 1572, the last Inca Tupac Amaru was captured by the Spanish, hauled off to Cuzco and executed, so ending the dazzling, however short-lived, Inca empire.

Journey into distant, rugged and stunning wilderness and trace the rise and fall of the glittering Inca empire. From the Incas’ mythical birthplace at Lake Titicaca, Inca Trails takes you throughout thrilling ranges of the Andes to the empire’s breathtaking pinnacle at Machu Picchu, and beyond to the Incas’ remaining stand in the dense Vilcabamba forests.
Inca Trails

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