José Lavilla, guide in explora Sacred Valley
When people talk about the Inca Trail, it tends to get confused with the trade route, a four-day expedition where people camp at different sites along the way, but the Inca trail network is immense and connects large swaths of South America. Here in Sacred Valley, we have lots of Incan trails, and several of our expeditions travel through them, like the Violent Love expedition, and many others going through the Puna sector.
I always knew I would be a guide, because I have wanderlust, I like to soak up every place I go, strolling around, observing my surroundings, feeling the altitude, the cold, the heat, the wind, or the calm breeze. I want the people I take with me to push past their own limits and dig deep when they explore, taking the time to enjoy travel in a new way, to really engage with the place and its people, to get to know it at its own pace, on its own terms, its aura.
That is what I’m passionate about: working with people who are willing to engage like that everywhere they go. In other words, people open to experiencing a profound journey.
What I like best about my job is to see how satisfied my clients are after an expedition. A lot of people feel really proud they were able to push past their own limits. Others are excited that they got to live through new experiences, and others because they learned about a new culture. Everyone goes home with some small, deep change.
Going Up Sacred Valley
We traverse the Sacred Valley on three levels: we begin on the Quechua level, climb up to the Suni, and then reach Puna. My travelers love it because they get to see different kinds of vegetation and views on each level, and learn about the histories and people from each place.
So picture this: We’re on the Quechua level, 2,500 to 3,500 meters above sea level. We feel the wind in our faces and see the corn and vegetable crops on lands made fertile thanks to the sediments coming down from Urubamba River.
We continue to climb, and between 3,500 and 4,100 meters above sea level, we reach the Suni level, which is a Quechua word meaning long or tall. We are greeted by a technicolor landscape, thanks to the potato flowers, in shades of purple, and the green vegetation.
Higher up we find the Puna, which begins at 4,100 meters above sea level and goes up to 4,500. Because of the altitude, we have to acclimate a little, but it’s worth it to see the corn fields giving way to dunes and snow. We even make out some glaciers, and if the weather permits, across the way, we might get a glimpse at the Queñua forests, one of the few trees able to grow in this cold. An image like no other.
Besides the view, there’s the connection to the people. I understand and speak Quechua, so I can serve as a bridge between wayfarers and locals from the area. Imagine what it’s like to be there, nearly 5,000 meters up, in the middle of nowhere, and to talk with a shepherd, to hear him share part of his life and what he does with you.
Tipón, an example of Incan hydraulic engineering.
A New Adventure
There in Puna, you can start a 13-kilometer hike from the Urubamba River Valley to Pachatusan, one of the sacred mountains overlooking the region. It is one of my favorite routes, which is why I’m so excited that it is part of the new expeditions this year.
This route is a unique way to journey over part of the Inca Trail and get to Tipón, a practically unknown archeological center where people worship water, one of the few that is still active, and an example of Incan hydraulic engineering.
The water emerges in upwelling from underground channels, its gurgling sound adding to the tranquility of the place. When I’m there, I just let the calm come over me and enjoy the sensation of contemplating a place frozen in time. That’s the experience I want my travelers to take away with them when they complete their expeditions.