"The" Inca Trail
Cusco Travel Blog› entry 33 of 36 › view all entries
I say "the" Inca trail because there are in fact hundreds (or thousands) of Inca trails that traverse the north-western part of South America, all the way from Bolivia to Ecuador and even Colombia. But, the most famous trail is the one that leads to Macchu Picchu (the deserted, untouched city of the Incas). The standard trek takes about 3.5 days, starting by the river at Km 82. Most of the people on our GAP tour had booked too late to get a place on the trail - they only allow 500 people to enter per day, including porters and guides - so they left us to do an alternative trail, called Lares, and we would meet them a few days later at Macchu Picchu.
So our group was very small, which was nice - just Tash and I, Steve (a pickle company manager from Milwaukee, also on the GAP tour) and a couple from the UK on their honeymoon.
The trail: The first day is quite easy. The trail is sandy and dusty with a few gentle ups and downs and some rocky stairs, but nothing too strenuous. The second day, everyone will say, is the hardest, because you're going uphill until Dead Woman's Pass, which is at 4,200m above sea level. The trail is undulating at first, then starts ascending: a sandy and rocky path with a few steps through subtropical jungle. Very dark and scenic (and not at all what I expected the trail to be like, to be honest). Our first rest stop was at a flat, grassy area where we had snacks and watched the sun peek over the mountains. Tash had lagged behind on that first stretch, and when she finally made it to the rest stop, we found out she'd been struck badly by altitude sickness.
The hardest part was to come, but we all made it without too many problems. Frequent stopping was the key, I think. From the rest stop to the top of Dead Woman's Pass, it's basically a staircase. We ran the last few steps up to the top of the pass as a group, watched by other amused trekkers (we could hear some incredulous "oh my god, they're running?!"). The view from up there was lovely.
We were given the choice to camp at the lunch site, which was the original plan, or to do an extra 3 hours' hike to a camp further along the trail.
The third day was basically all downhill, on steep, rocky Inca stairs. I hated to think of what sort of damage I was doing to my knees but I'm sure my walking stick helped. (At the start of the trek, Tash was the only one with a walking stick - she liked the condor, puma and snake design on it and even sent it home at the end of the trek. After some convincing, the others bought sticks too, so I couldn't really say no, seeing as I had a bad knee and all, and it was only a few soles for a lightweight bamboo stick with a little embroidered holding piece on the top).
The fourth day, everyone wakes up super early (3.45am for us) so they can line up in front of the trail gate, ready to do the last leg of the trail to the Sun Gate and then Macchu Picchu. It's crazy, because everyone has a competitive mindset that they have to be first at the sun gate, even though you don't actually get to see the sun rise from there (it's too damn early). So this was probably the worst part of the trek. We were the third group in line, and once the trail was open, the first few people set off at an incredible pace. We all felt pressured to keep up, so it was a wonder that no one fell, seeing as we started off with only our torches to guide us.
The food, porters and campsites: We were all incredibly impressed by the food. And the porters. Four the six of us, we had 10 porters and one cook.
The porters were as amazing as people say they are. Our porters were "older", anywhere from 35 to 50, except one guy who was 25. On our first morning together, after breakfast, we had a little presentation where all the porters introduced themselves and told us how old they were and if they were married and had any kids. Well, everyone except the young porter and the cook (who was around 24) was married and had at least 1, if not 4 kids. Peruvians (especially in the highlands) look quite young till around 30, where they start to look really, and some of our porters could have passed for grandfathers.
All the groups on the trail camp at certain areas, so seeing other tourists is inevitable.
There is another Inca ruin near the last campsite, called Winayhuayna, mainly used for agricultural purposes but really quite impressive, built into the steep mountainside. There were all of two other tourists at the site when we visited, and it had a still-functioning aqueduct and seriously steep stairs running down the centre, but of course, it wasn't quite so impressive when compared to the mother of all Inca ruins...
Macchu Picchu: was one of the most spectacular things I've ever seen. I've had a picture of it on my wall for a few years now, but nothing compares to the real thing. The famous view of it is from the path, a couple of hundred metres past the Sun Gate, so you're looking down on the city ruins and the mountain Huayna Picchu behind it.
We met up with the rest of our GAP group and were given a guided tour by Jorge. The city of Macchu Picchu is so big, it would take a few days to really explore all of its little rooms and areas (especially since it's quite tiring going up and down stairs in the hot sun). By midday, the place was teeming with tourists - I'm not sure if the number of tourists are restricted on the site itself. After the tour, we were given a couple of hours to do our own exploring, so I followed the signs to the Inca bridge, followed by Bastiaan (a 15-year-old Dutch boy from the tour) and his father, Erik.
The ruins of Macchu Picchu invite leisurely exploring and I inevitably got lost, but there are so many tourists it's hard to feel isolated. After awhile, it just got too crowded and too hot to continue, so I met up with a few others and caught the bus down to the town of Aguas Calientes where we all had lunch together.