Lush, jagged peaks above the mighty Apurimac River, Incan cities perched on mountaintops, coca maté to help with the altitude — for us North Americans it was like entering a different world. We experienced both dry season and rainy season within a few days when a freak rainfront blew through, changing the dusty trails to mud and coating the peaks with snow and tendrils of fog.

The Cordillera Vilcabamba is the Andean mountain range in the region of Cusco. Many famous Incan ruins are located in this area, as are major sections of the Inca trail system. We visited Machu Picchu here (at 7,970 feet), and did a five-day trek to the sister city of Choquequirao (10,010 feet). We reached 16,500 feet at the Palccoyo Rainbow Mountains, bordering the Altiplano.

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