Jan Meerman, 2004
(This is not about Belize, but about Peru.
Just in case you were wondering)
are many reasons to walk the Inca Trail. Getting to the
famous Inca site of Machu Picchu and seeing abundant historical
monuments along the way is one obvious reason. Suffering
the hike and enjoying the sense of achievement is another.
Experiencing the flora and fauna of the Andes is a next
one. Doing it for all three reasons, is obviously the best
are several sites on the web that give descriptions of the
trail. Some are poor, some are good. Most of these sites
are rather short-lived, so I won't present any links here.
Just use your search engine and look for "Inca Trail",
"Inka Trail" and/or "Camino Inca". Most
of these sites describe the trek itself or the abundance
of stunning Inca sites. Few give more than fleeting attention
to the ecology along the trail. To provide some ecological
background I came up with this site.
joined the Inca trail in July 2003 as faculty member and
group leader for Environmental
Expeditions, a Maryland based travel company specializing
in educational tours. For the local logistics, Environmental
Expeditions teamed up with Peruvian Odyssey which proved
to be a winning combination. Our guide on the trip was Alvaro
Sabogai. Alvaro was an inexhaustible source of information
on the Flora and Fauna of the trail.
To understand the ecology of the Inca Trail,
it is important to understand the effects of altitude and
rainfall. If you travel Peru from west to east, you will
notice the immense change in ecosystems and climates. The
Andes is the most important factor in this. Essentially,
the cold gulf stream in the Pacific Ocean prevents rain
formation on the west coast leading to desert conditions
in the west. In the east lies the moist Amazon basin but
rain coming from that direction can not cross the Andes
and alleviate the drought in the west, but the eastern slopes
of the Andes are lush and green.
Although on the Inca Trail you don't travel
exactly from west to east, the above transitions are still
noticeable on a small scale. The transition from dry to
moist here are mostly a consequence of altitude. Still, the
influence of the nearby Amazon basin is becoming apparent.
A schematic overview of the altitude
changes on the Inca Trail:
The trail starts
around Km 82 along the Urubamba River in a zone that
the Peruvians call "Quechua": This zone
is between 2300 - 3500 m (7,500-11,500 ft) and has
temperate, dry weather with average temperatures that
range from 0 -210C (32 -700F).
The rainy season is from December to March. The rest
of the year is dry or even parched from May through
September (see graph for Cusco at the left). This
region is extensively cultivated and essentially,
there is no natural vegetation left.
Wayllabamba, lies a zone called "Suni" or "Jalca":
Technically this is the zone between 3500 - 4000 m (11,500
- 13,000 ft). There is still some agriculture possible at
this altitude. Above that lies the "Puna" which
is a zone from 4000 - 4800 m (13,000 - 15,750 ft). The weather
here is very cold with frequent frost. It is mostly grassland
with a type of grass called "Ichu" (Stipa
spp., Festuca spp.) and the area is used for
grazing Llamas and Alpacas.
Descending from the
"Puna" through the "Suni"
you gradually move into the "Yunga Fluvial": which
are inter-Andean valleys on the east side of the Andes roughly
between 1000 - 2300 m (7,500 - 3,300 ft). These valleys
have a moderate, moist climate and abundant vegetation.
They are the first signs of the wetter and hotter Amazon
basin further below.
zones do not strictly follow altitudinal lines but serve
as general outlines only. The different vegetation cover
in these zones is clearly demonstrated in satellite imagery.
For example in the 1993 Landsat 5, TM Satellite Image below.
This image is in false colors (for the technical people,
this is a section of an image taken 1993/08/07, path 04,
row 69 using bands 543 [RGB], resolution 30 m).
this false color image:
example in white circle) = Snow, Blue = Water
Bluish Green (see example in pink circle)
= Grassland or Puna
Green (see example in orange circle) = Shrubland, mostly
Orange Brown (see example in yellow circle) = Forest
the image I superimposed the Inca Trail in yellow and
indicated various points along the route. From this image it
appears that the first half of the trail leads through
grassland only. Closer inspection however, will reveal
narrow orange bands following the valley bottoms. The strips
of forest here are so narrow that they barely register on
the image but the forest is very distinct along the trail,
only then you don't realize how little forest there actually
following pages will describe the trail in somewhat greater
detail. Enjoy your walk!
1: Ollantaytambo to Wayllabamba (the lowest part)
2: Wayllabamba to Phuyopatamarca (the highest part)
3: Phuyopatamarca to Machu Picchu (the descent)
Some literature that I found and used (but
which can be extremely
difficult to find!):
Cassinelli del Sante, G. 2000. Trees and
bushes from the Sacred Valley of the Incas
Travel Maps: Cuzco Region Machu Picchu, Peru 1:110.000.
M. 1999. Guia de Flora y Fauna Valle Sagrado - Camino Inca,
Machu Picchu Peru.
Fjeldsa J & N. Krabbe. Birds of the
S.A.C. Field Guides.
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