Biodiversity in Belize
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Inca Trail Homepage

Part 1: Ollantaytambo to Wayllabamba

Part 2: Wayllabamba to Phuyopatamarca

Begonia parviflora

Begonia parviflora

Abatia macrophyllum

Abatia macrophyllum

Epidendrum secundum

Epidendrum secundum

Sobralia dichotoma

Masdevallia veitchiana

The Inca Trail

for the ecologically inclined

III. From Phuyopatamarca to Machu Picchu

The views from Phuyopatamarca (3711 m - 11,875 ft) are breath taking and you might wish to spend a longer time here. But Machu Picchu is beckoning!

The trip is mostly down from now on. Very soon we enter forest again. Initially there is still Polylepis but soon the forest changes and we renew our acquaintance with species as Oreopanax ischnolobus, Alnus acuminata/jorulensis, Clusia sp., Fuchia sp., Piper elongatum etc. Unfortunately, the forest is strongly degraded by past fires.

Finally the forest gets a more tropical character. Species found here include Melastomataceae, Anthuriums, Begonia's, Lichens, Mosses etc.

Picture Shawn Gregg

An interesting plant is Begonia parviflora. The Begonias that we are familiar with are low herbs that perform very well as a potted plant on our windowsill. But this species is actually a small tree!

In spite of the fire damage that is obvious to the trained eye, this forest is again quite enchanting. Also along this road are some of the more amazing Inca sites that the normal visitor to Machu Picchu never gets to see.

Finally at the Sun Gate - Inti Puncu (2760 m - 8,800 ft), just after you have lamented "I thought we were supposed to go down", there lies Machu Picchu below you in the haze!

This is the reward of a long hike and for many hikers a very emotional moment. From here on it is a long and (unshaded) rush to the site and many might forget to look at the plants along the trail. Particularly common are various orchids such as the Sobralia's and the Winya Wayna or Epidendrum secundum which comes in orange and pink varieties.

Once you are in Machu Picchu (2430 m - 7,870 ft) and feeling reckless, you might want to climb the famous Huana Picchu (or Wayna Picchu, the spelling varies)(2640 m - 8,450 ft). After all, it is there! and you are now fully trained!

The climb of Huana Picchu however, is something else. It is not that far, but steeper than any other part of the trail. Also, it is rather dangerous. The climb is steep and crowded with people trying to pass each other on narrow stairways. The soil through which the trail is carved is clinging rather precariously on the steep rock and sooner or later parts of it may simply slide down. Hope you are not there when this happens!

Should you decide to go, and the weather is nice, you will be rewarded with stunning views and interesting plant life. This is where I finally found the Masdevallia veitschiana orchid.


Near the entrance gate of the park Erythrina edulis (Pisonay) is common and very colorful. From the entrance gate to Machu Picchu it is still a ways down to Aguas Calientes (2000 m - 6,400 ft). Going down you will notice that the vegetation gradually gets more tropical. This is especially the case at the bottom of the valley where typically tropical plants such as Heliconia become abundant. One noticeable difference with a tropical forest though... you will see no wild palms here (apart from some planted in Hotel gardens)!

 

This concludes my ecological interpretation of the Inca Trail. Much more remains to be said and shown, but there is no space left and you have to discover it on your own. Enjoy!

 

 

Inca Trail Homepage

Part 1: Ollantaytambo to Wayllabamba (the lowest part)

Part 2: Wayllabamba to Phuyopatamarc (the highest part)

 

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Last modified: March 13, 2004