The natural scenery framework surrounding the
Inca Trail is impressive. As the traveller ventures further
down the trail, some delicate variety of orchid, a robust "Pisonay"
tree, or gracious Andean Guans teeming in a forest clearing may
give the traveller an idea of the notable balance that the ancient
Cusco dwellers were able to strike between nature and their own
The geographical composition is very varied. There are numerous gulches and glacier watercourses. They all flow into the Urubamba River, which crosses the area in a deep more than 40 kilometres (24.85 miles) long valley, forming a succession of different ecological floors.
While trekking along the trail, one can see behind, as on a movie screen, the snow clad Vilcabamba range: Salkantay, Huamantay and others with peaks reaching up to more than 6000 m.a.s.l. (16690 ft).
On all sides, forests and valleys create fantasy like images where dawns and sunsets turn into shows of grandeur and mystery.
Meanwhile the traveller crosses nine life zones in the Sanctuary, which are located between 2000 and 6000 m.a.s.l (6562 ft and 16690 ft).
These different altitudes, creating differences in climates, mark the boundaries of the existence of different species of plants and wildlife.
As an example, in the high areas we can find the so called high Andean grasses, amongst which different types of "Ichu" grass, such as the "Shulla" and the "Chilla" play a prominent role together with the "Crespillo".
However, the lower parts are characterized by more abundant vegetation such as the "Pisonay", "Queñual" and white alder trees, ferns, palm trees and "Puya" cacti.
During the climb more than 400 species of orchids adorn the trail, together with begonias, trees and bushes like the "Queñual"(Polylepis racemosa), the "Pisonay" (Eritrina falcata), the "Muña" (Minthostachys glabrecens), together with "Puya" cacti, amongst others.
In the same manner there is a variety of wildlife. More than 400 species of birds have been recorded in the Machu Picchu Sanctuary, i.e. the Andean Cock-of-the-rock (Rupícola peruviana) and the Andean Guan (Penelope montagnii).
In the rivers we may find the Torrent Duck (Merganetta armata) as well as River otters, whilst above, in solitary splendour, we may see the majestic Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) and birds endemic to the Sanctuary and adjoining areas, i.e. the Inca Wren (Thryothorus eisenmanni), the Caracara, as well as a great variety of hummingbirds, parrots and ducks.
We can also find the Spectacle Bear (Tremactos ornatos), the puma
(Puma concolor), the Dwarf Deer (Mazama chunnyi), mountain cats,
guemals and wild mountain goats, as well
as reptiles, frogs and toads, butterflies and other insects.