Orchids at Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
In the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary there are estimated to be close to 300 species of orchids spread across the varied ecological niches in the terrain. This fascinating but little-known aspect raises even higher the interest in adventure travel and ecotourism. To the present around sixty genuses have been found in the sanctuary and more than 160 species have been identified and classified. However, due to the rugged nature of the geography only 35% or so of the territory has been studied; further investigation should reveal many more and some unknown species.
At least some species are in bloom throughout the year in ecological niches ranging 111 mi 1,725 ms. (5,660 ft.), the lowest point in the sanctuary, to approximately 4,500 ms. (14,750 ft.); the observant visitor will find orchids during any season. The best places to see orchids are in areas off the beaten track between 1,800 and 3,000 meters that is, in the could forest. The best time is during the rainy season, between October and March.
The diversity of orchids is stunning. There are plants more than five meters high whose flower is more than eight centimeters long, such as the Sobralia dichotoma, and also one of the world’s smallest orchids, a Stelis whose flower is barely two millimeters wide. Some are on the list of endangered orchids, such as the beautiful Masdevallia veitchiana, a once-prolific flower which has been virtually collected to death. Genuses include Pleurothallis, Oncidium, Lycaste, Brassia, Stanhopea, Anguloa, Maxillaria, Phragmipedium, Encyclia and Odontoglossum. There are more than thirty species of Epidendrum.
Among the greatest threats to the environment of the sanctuary are forest fires, which destroy valuable orchid gene banks and habitat, as well as alter and even destroy entire ecosystems. As it seems unlikely these fires will simply disappear, we should foresee the danger and search for viable options for the recuperation of the impacted zones in general, and for saving orchid species specifically. Nurseries with strict scientific standards should be established to conserve and propagate threatened species of orchids and other plants which can then be reintroduced to the forest. In addition these gardens could be used for commercial propagation in order to reduce the terrible depredation occurring today. Nurseries could save dozens of species (not just orchids) from disappearing from the sanctuary. They should in fact be located in different ecological niches not simply in the most convenient sites to include the greatest diversity of species possible. To take just one example, species of Masdevallia known for a long time in Machu Picchu such as M. welschii, M. davisii and M. Masdevallia have been collected excessively for nearly a century. What will happen with other genuses?
The challenge is clear: to conserve the diversity of orchids in Machu Picchu. There is still time.
Before embarking on the adventure by Caminos del Inca is necessary to know certain details needed to enjoy the walk correctly.