We are embarking on a journey into the realm of Inca Trail wildlife. Allow us to guide you through remote mountain valleys, lush evergreen landscapes, and cloud forests along our path to the Machu Picchu citadel. The mere sound of the wilderness and the careful observation of its inhabitants add a remarkable dimension to our journey, as each creature is truly wondrous. The Inca Trail boasts a diverse habitat, providing shelter to an array of avian, mammalian, reptilian, amphibian, and butterfly species, among others. Among this rich diversity, we find endemic species that have evolved in this unique corner of the world. The trail is home to both aquatic and terrestrial animals, encompassing both wild and domestic species, offering a captivating spectacle on the way to Machu Picchu. It’s worth noting that, beyond what we can see, there may be hidden life lurking on the cliffs and beneath the vast expanse of eastern bush.
Let’s delve into a brief introduction to the wildlife and animals one can expect to encounter along the Inca Trail.
Spectacled bear: When we talk about the Inca Trail, the spectacled bear stands out among the diverse fauna. These bears have been spotted near the Sayacmarca Inca site and close to the Sun Gate. While they are cautious and may detect the presence of humans, they tend to shy away and pose no real threat to hikers. Their diet consists of bromeliads and roots.
Grey-Breasted Mountain Toucan: These striking birds are often heard with their distinctive nasal calls. You are most likely to encounter them during the third day of your hike, from Phuyu Patamarca to the Sun Gate on the final day of your trek. They tend to congregate in wooded ravines and pre-mountain forests at elevations ranging from 2000 to 3400 meters.
Mountain caracará: Sightings of these elegant birds carrying reptiles in their claws have been reported. Caracaras often soar above the Puna grasslands near Dead Woman’s Pass and Runcuraqay Pass during the second and third days of the hike. With their black backs, white bellies, and distinctive orange beaks, they make for an interesting spectacle, always on the lookout for their next meal.
Andean Guan: This turkey-like bird is typically heard at dawn or dusk in the mountainous forests where bromeliads abound. They tend to be silent, but you may hear their calls during the early hike to the Sun Gate if you’re lucky enough to spot them.
Shining sunbeam: Also known as the copper hummingbirds of the Andes, these sunbeams can be found near Dead Woman’s Pass, where they hover above small bushes and flowers in search of nectar. You can also spot them in the Pacaymayo area, where they glide to catch insects and perch on flowers. They are characterized by their short bills and absence of white markings.
Giant Hummingbird: These majestic creatures, with their impressive head and rapid wingbeats, are a sight to behold. Typically found on lower semi-arid slopes and Polylepis woodlands, they are often seen near Patallacta and the Pacaymayu Valley. Like other hummingbirds, they feed on nectar and flying insects.
Andean Condor: Known as the king of the Andes, these colossal birds inhabit steep mountains and cliffs where they build their nests. Although human impact has led to a decline in their population, you might still have the chance to witness them in flight. These condors are the largest flying land birds in South America, with a wingspan of approximately 300 cm and a weight of 11 kilos. They primarily feed on carrion and are a rare but awe-inspiring sight in the Machu Picchu Inca Trail area.
Taruka or deer: These animals, characterized by their impressive horns, can occasionally be seen near Runkuraqay Pass. Within the Machu Picchu sanctuary, which encompasses the Inca Trail, there are four species of deer, including the Sachacabra deer, the white-tailed deer, the Andean deer, and the tanka Taruka (mazama Chunyi). With a bit of luck, you might encounter them in the early morning or late afternoon hours.
Andean Bothrops or la Jergona: Inhabiting pre-mountain and humid forests with an abundance of rodents, earthworms, and insects, these creatures seek the sun when it’s cold and freezing. During your Inca Trail hike, especially from the Phuyupatamarca area to Machu Picchu, watch your step. These snakes are venomous and should be observed from a safe distance.
Mitred parakeets: These noisy parakeets are denizens of humid forests and can be seen roosting in trees near the Wiñayhuana camping ground near Machu Picchu. They primarily feed on wild fruits, seeds, and nuts.
Andean Fox: These cunning creatures are known for their intelligence and agility. Although they are seldom seen during the day, they are responsible for rumors of foxes raiding sheep and chickens in Huayllabamba. Their diet includes mice, fruits, and grasshoppers. If you’re lucky, you might hear the fox’s distinctive cry near the first camping area above Huayllamba during the night.
Coati: Also known as nasua nasua, coatis are often sighted near the Sun Gate and the Huiñayhuana Inca site. They are usually active in the afternoon and morning hours, often in family groups. Males are larger and usually solitary, except during the mating season. One interesting feature is the white rings around their tails. Their diet includes nuts, fruits, small rodents, and lizards.
Mustached flower piercer: These are the eternal competitors of hummingbirds, as they also feed on flower nectar. You can often see them perched on flowers and leaves, busily flitting about from one flower to another. They are commonly found in the Machu Picchu and Inca Trail area at elevations ranging from 2000 to 3000 meters. These black birds exhibit white streaking on their cheeks.
Andean thrush: If there’s one bird you’re almost guaranteed to see on the Inca Trail, it’s the Andean thrush. They thrive in areas ranging from 2000 to 4000 meters, making the valleys of km 82, Kusichaca, Huayllabamba, and Sayacmarca their favored habitats. They are black to brown in color with yellow legs and bills, often seen hopping about in open grassy areas, searching for seeds and worms. Sometimes, they take to bushes and trees for fruits and berries and are generally unperturbed by the presence of humans and other animals.
Takzanowski’s Tinamou: These tinamous forage in rocky and grassy slopes with some shrubbery. On rainy, wet, and cloudy days, they are known to call repeatedly from within the bushes, creating a somewhat melancholic atmosphere. They tend to be shy and dart swiftly along the edges of bushes. These tinamous have dark gray feathers with pale streaks and spots, a slightly curved bill, and a white throat. There have been reports of tinamous walking along the trail with their little ones in tow, a delightful sight along the Inca Trail. Expect to encounter them near Runku Raqay Pass and Chaquicocha Camp.
Puma or cougar: The Andean puma, also known as the mountain lion, is the second-largest feline in South America after jaguars. It’s the fiercest feline of the Andes, feared by both animals and humans. While sightings of pumas are rare during the day, trap cameras have captured elegant photos of these cats within the Machu Picchu sanctuary. They are nocturnal predators and feed on raccoons and deer, coexisting within the deer’s ecosystem.
Puma at Inca Trail: As we set forth on the trail, keep a watchful eye on the wilderness, for who knows what surprises await us in the realm of nature.