Inca Trail

Machu Picchu Travel Blog

 › entry 17 of 166 › view all entries
As soon as we had decided we were going to come to South America we knew we had to do the Inca Trail. The four day hike is so famous and world renowned that it just had to be something special. We had booked it around five months in advance, and really we couldn't have done it any later as the Inca Trail is limited to 200 hikers and 300 others (porters, guides and cooks) per day. The long build up to it meant we were all very excited about the hike.

There was the nine of us who had booked together, along with six more hikers in the group - Zannah from England, Rob from San Francisco, Dave and Kim from Melbourne and Sydney, and Felicia and Larry from Canada. Our main guide was Henry and our other guide was JC.

We started very early on the Monday morning with a pick up from our hostel to the bus that would take us out of Cusco. The bus took us to the starting point of what is hiked as the Inca Trail, which is the point along the the historical trail that is 82 kilometres from Cusco to Machu Picchu. There was not much there but it had a place where we had a hearty breakfast. I also bought a very basic walking stick and so did most of the others. We were then given our sleeping bags and mats. I only have a 50 litre pack so my sleeping bag only just fit inside, and then I tied the sleeping mat on to the outside of my pack.

When we were all ready to head off we took some classic photos of the group and ourselves at the starting sign. We had our passports matched against the list of hikers for the day, walked the bridge over the Urubamba river, and we were on our way!

One of the first things you notice are the porters. They carry all the food, tents, cooking gear, furniture, and nearly everything else, up to each camp site. Even with so many of them there is a lot to carry so they have enormous packs on their backs. They also don't walk with you - they race ahead to set up each camp site (both lunch and dinner) before you arrive. Watching them race ahead is an amazing sight because they are locals who are generally quite short, their backs are incredibly overloaded, they are usually just wearing cheap sandals, and they go very fast. It is very humbling to watch. The porter who carries the gas bottle on his back and runs ahead deserves particular applause!

The first day of walking was relatively easy, but there were still some steep sections. The weather was quite hot at the start so we were all working up a decent sweat. We spent much of the morning getting to know each other as we hiked. It was apparant pretty quickly that we had a great group and that we would all get along just fine. Around midday we passed over a point with a great view of the Incan town of Patallacta below along with explanations from our guide Henry.

Around 1:30pm we got to the lunch site. We had been told by others in advance that they feed you really well, but we were simply stunned at what was in store for us. The porters had set up a full dining tent, equipped with a big trestle table and chairs for everyone. Another tent off to the side was the cooking tent, where the cook and his assistant prepared a sensational three course lunch for us. It was seriously good quality, not even considering the fact the food and equipment had all just arrived a couple of hours earlier by the busy porters! We couldn't stop talking about how amazing it was.

We sat around a bit after lunch to settle the food and then we continued on. We kept going for about three more hours before arriving at our camp site for the night. This one was a private one so there were no other groups around. Impressively all the tents had been set up in advance by the porters. I shared one with Rob. We sat around on a big tarp and chatted as most of us drank a beer we each bought from a local woman milling around the area. Henry pointed up one of the mountain side and showed us the dead woman you can see in a formation at the top. We were told the trail up there was the infamous Dead Woman's Pass that is notorious as the toughest section of the whole Inca Trail. It was a long way up!

An hour or two later we were summoned to dinner and were treated to another ridiculously good three course meal. It had been a long day and we had an early start the next so not long after dinner we retired to the tents to sleep.

We were woken the next morning around 6am to a knock on the tent with an offer of coca tea to start the day. Rob and I obliged and sipped it down. Coca tea is made from coca leaves, which are also sometimes chewed, and also sometimes made into cocaine. Coca leaves are legal in Peru but most certainly illegal in Western countries. It's a shame because the tea tastes pretty good and wakes you up real quick.

We got our stuff back into our packs, had a magnificent breakfast (see the trend?) and began the second day of walking. The first section was a steep hike for a couple of hours up to the site of our second breakfast. The reason for the two breakfasts is that it isn't practical to have lunch for a long time after that. We were pushed a lot harder than the day before, and were starting to rise further and further in altitude, so it was a good test getting up.

Our whole group was up to it so we all made it comfortably to the second breakfast. The view at that point was outstanding, with gaping mountain sides and valley around, and a plain look up Dead Woman's Pass to the top. I had not really expected the scenery that the Inca Trail would have so I had many moments of awe at it all. It was perfect weather so we sat at the dining table in the open air and ate away.

After a bit of rest we headed off up the pass. It was one of the hardest physical efforts I have ever done. It is steep, it is long and there is much less oxygen than you need. There is not much to describe of the path as you are just stepping up and up all the way to the top. I made it to the top second last in the group after about 1 hour 40 minutes. It was a huge relief to get to the top and catch my breath and let my legs relax a bit. It is the high point of the trail at about 4200m. The view was even more superb than down below at the speck of ground we could make out as our second breakfast site.

We took some group photos of our achievement and not long after we had the three hour descent down the other side of the mountain. It was a long way down and fairly steep so the walking stick came in handy to take the pressure off the legs. Some others were struggling with the impact of the descent but I was holding up quite well. At the end was both our lunch site and our dinner site as that was it for the day's hiking. Just as we had all got into the dining tent for lunch it started bucketing down rain, and not long after it was hailing as well. We were all quite happy about the near miss. Anyone on the slower side from other groups would have had a miserable time trying to get down the steep rocky mountain in that weather.

After lunch we were introduced to all the porters individually and took a big group photo. I got tired after that and had a sleep for an hour or two in the tent. I could hear some commotion going on in the dining tent nearby so I went out for a look. A few from the group were playing a card game called Spoons, which involves a musical chairs kind of game with spoons instead of chairs and getting four of a kind with your cards instead of music stopping. We played it for a while, and one of the porters even got in on the action after Zannah explained the rules to him in impressive Spanish. We had dinner not long after and headed to the tents for bed.

The third day we were up at 5:30am, which sounds really early but with an early nights sleep and the fact it was already daylight meant it wasn't all that bad. The clouds were out and very close to us so the scenery was interesting to look across. Our first section for the day was to walk up to the second and final major peak. By about this time my legs were starting to really feel all the strain I had put them through the previous two days. On the other hand the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other and just forging ahead was becoming second nature so I didn't let my sore legs slow me down.

Not long into the day we were in the cloud line. We got to the ruins of Runkuraqay where Henry explained how it was a watch point over the valley. Further up the mountain was a small lake that looked very eerie in the thick cloud. We arrived at the top of the pass a couple of hours into the walking and stopped for a rest. Further down we went together through the ruins of Sayaqmarka. Beyond that we were walking through thick lush cloud forest until we got to our lunch late in the morning. It drizzled a tiny bit as we were about to head off from lunch, but it stopped nearly straight away so we didn't even get wet.

After lunch we had a two hour walk around the mountains to a camp site that some hikers stay at. There were great views from here of some ruins further down that we would come to later that day, and even a bare glimpse of the Sun Gate that you get your first view of Machu Picchu from the following morning. We went down to the nearby ruins of Phuyupatmarka and after that we were left to make our own way down to the camp site, with the option of going via the Intipata ruins on the way if we were willing to add an extra hour to the walk.

The views going down from here were really spectacular, probably the best of the whole trail. The valley is very deep and you can see a long way from so high up. It was great to walk down looking over all of that and seeing these huge ruins with hardly anyone around. I sort of expected that even with 200 hikers per day that the trail would be fairly busy with people, but we must have been early starters because often it felt like we were the only people doing it.

We had a lot of downhill to get to the camp site. We got there about 4pm, which made it the longest day of walking, but not overly strenuous. The camp site is called Wiñay Wayna and is right next to the ruins of the same name, and clearly not too far from a local village. There is a communal building that has proper toilets, sells beer and even has hot showers which I indulged in. While the shower was a bit dodgy it felt fantastic after three days of solid walking without one.

Before dinner we all went out to the Winaywayna ruins for a look around. Despite the camp site being quite busy there was nearly nobody else here. The sun was going down so as it started getting dark we explored around this magnificent old city on a mountain side on our own. The fact we were exploring like little kids without it being overburdened with other tourists made it pretty special. We headed back in the dark with our torches and had our 'last supper' in the dining tent. The cook even baked us a cake to our sheer amazement. The cook and the porters don't go on the final day of the trail so we gave each of them a well-deserved big round of applause for the amazing work they had done for us. After dinner some of us went back to the communal building and drank some beers before bed.

The final day revolves around the epic conclusion to the Inca Trail - arriving at Machu Picchu. It is ideal to get there early so that you beat the tourist rush that come steadily from the nearby town of Agues Calientes by bus. The limitation is that the trail to Machu Picchu from the camp site opens at 5:30am, but the earlier you get to the gate the earlier you get your passport processed and can go from there. We decided to get up at 3:30am, but we figured that that would only give us a slight improvement of chances of some other groups. Incredibly after we got up, packed up, had breakfast, and got to the gate we were the first ones there. We were pretty stoked with ourselves as the whole trek was just going perfectly in nearly every aspect.

The gate opened at nearly spot on 5:30am and we went through after our passports were checked. We were all very keen to get to Machu Picchu as early as possible so many of us stormed ahead. It was a very fast pace - nearly jogging - and I ignored my body for a long time as we power walked over the stone trail. After about half an hour of that I was starting to give way to the speed of the others and slipped back a bit. Thankfully it was not long after that I got to the Sun Gate, which first involved climbing some incredibly steep stairs that took my legs and lungs to the limit.

Up at the Sun Gate was a fantastic sight. The weather was spot on perfect - blue sky, just a gorgeous day. I could look down on Machu Picchu still a way below with Huayna Picchu boldly up beside it. It was a great spot to catch my breath. The group behind us were starting to catch up so after obligatory photos we powered on down the hill.

We got to Machu Picchu at about 6:30am. We were all palpably happy with the sight in front of us in the perfect weather and not too many people around. Tourists from the buses had been arriving already for about an hour but most were yet to come. We took the postcard shots looking down over the main part of Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu in the background and they came out really well. It is very hard to describe how totally outstanding the experience of being there was after such a long and stunning hike.

After half an hour at the viewing spot over Machu Picchu we headed down to get a tour of the enormous Incan city. Henry guided us around and showed us the main areas and their functions and so on. The place is massive considering it is perched on top of a huge mountain. When the tour ended we were given bus tickets down to Agues Calientes and left to explore on our own. We looked around for a while but the numbers of tourists were starting to get overwhelming, to the point some spots were jamming up with people. We stopped by the cafe outside the gate and bought overpriced food before getting the bus down to Agues Calientes to meet up at the restaurant that Peru Treks books out for the afternoon before the trip back to Cusco.

The bus ride took about half an hour and we quickly found the restaurant and got some lunch. We were sitting there eating when a woman came over and offered to sell us photos of ourselves on the trail. There was the group photo right in front of the sign as well as one of myself and Zannah walking along the trek. It took me a bit to remember the guy who quickly snapped our photo a few days earlier just after starting.

We wanted something else to do for a bit so most of us wandered up to the hot springs they have in the town. It was great to sit in them and soak in the warmth, although they weren't nearly as hot as the ones we really liked in Banos, Ecuador. The bar upstairs was run by this hilarious local hippy character who featured himself on the front of his menu in a grand pose, and the walls of the bar were painted with depictions of himself in mystical situations.

We headed back to the restaurant and after a bit it was time to go. The way back was an odd one - we had to get the train part of the way and a van for the rest. The train ride didn't cover a huge distance but it went so slow we wondered if something was wrong. The van ride back was fairly uneventful and eventually we were back in Cusco at about 11pm. Having got up at 3:30am that morning we had had a very long day so as a group we all said our goodbyes to each other to bring an end to the experience.

Overall the Inca Trail was one of the best things I have ever done. The funny thing is that I am going back to do it again next year around May on my South America tour, so it will be interesting to compare this experience with the next.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Machu Picchu
photo by: NazfromOz