Hiking the Inca trail was something I had always wanted to do before I was 30 so I booked a tour and spent a week or so before chilling out in Peru. I was really looking forward to the Inca Trail and seeing the lost city of Machu Picchu.
I knew that to trek would be a bit tough, but I also knew that it would be worth it once I had finished. This is one of the reasons that I wanted to travel in South America – to walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and to understand a little more about the Inca civilization.
I had a 7:00am pick up from the hostel to the start of the trail (kilometer 82) in the sacred valley of the Incas. Here I met other people of the group there were 8 of us trekking in total. We had a spot of lunch and started to get to know the other members of the group.
Our guide was called Elizabeth and along with our 10 porters (who carried all of the camping equipment, food, huge gas bottles for the cooker) I couldn’t have hoped for a better group to travel with. Everyone was good fun and up for a laugh.
The first day we walked for about five hours, covering around 16km. We followed the river bank and passed some small Inca ruins, Mount Veronica (5900m high) loomed over us throughout the whole day. That night we camped near the small village of Wayllabamba. The highlight was definitely seeing the ruins of Llaqtapata, which is Quechua for “town on hillside”. The ruin was made up of village and farming terraces, which are located on the banks of the Rio Cusichaca River. It was an amazing sight and really got us excited about seeing Machu Picchu.
Day two started at 05:30 with a hot drink for those who wanted one. They drink coca tea here which is made from the leaves of the coca plant (yes, the same plant that cocaine comes from!) It’s meant to be very good for altitude sickness! We then had breakfast before heading off to climb through the forest to the highest campsite on the Inca Trail at Paq’aymayuo. To get there we first had to get up the first mountain pass of the route at Warmiwanusqa which was tough!!
It took me just under five hours to reach the top of the pass. Even though it was a hard, it was very rewarding to get to the top. Unfortunately, due to it being the rainy season, the clouds had come over and we did not get to see the beautiful views that the pass is famous for. From the top it was a steep walk down to the campsite.
Day 3 started great. After a cold night sleep in tents up a mountain at 3600 everyone awoke to the most amazing views. From here we hiked up to the second pass towards Machu Picchu. Day three was not as hard as day two and we got to see a number of Inca ruins and the views were amazing. In the evening our campsite looked out on to Machu Picchu Mountain with the Machu Picchu site being on the far side of the mountain. This campsite had hot showers and a bar which was just what we needed after a few days of hard walking and the bar came in handy as well.
The final day of the Inca Trail started at 4am the early start was for 2 reasons, our porters had to get the local train at 6am and so that we could get to the final check point before it opened and then get to Machu Picchu before the day trippers arrived. Unfortunately every group gets up at the same time and everyone is queuing at the check point by 5am, we were about the 4th group along. At 5.30 it is a mad rush through the check point and, despite aching legs, a fast pace to get up to the Sun Gate to get the first view of Machu Picchu. Because everyone starts at the same time it is just a massive crowd of people walking single file. The walk is pretty easy but does include a set of almost vertical stairs which were tough.
The Sun Gate itself was a bit of a disappointment, the view is OK but the ruins look pretty small and, despite our group being pretty far forward in the queue and it being the quiet season, the area was still packed. We only stayed a few minutes before heading off a bit further down the trail for much better views and more peace. After the Sun Gate point the views just get better and better until you finally get the first view of Machu Picchu
Elizabeth guided us on our tour of the Machu Picchu. She took us to all the major temples (Condor, Moon, Water/Fertility, Pacha Mama/Mother Earth, and Sun) and Intihuatana (the hitching post of the sun) and explained the purpose of them all and why they were all important. The religion itself seemed to be very nature based and is actually still practiced by some people in the area. After the tour we had free time to explore the ruins on our own and, if we wanted to, climb Huayna Picchu (the Young Peak, Machu Picchu means the Old Peak). I decided against another hike and found a quiet spot where I had a little nap before looking around the more residential areas of the ruins.
I always find these bits interesting, I love looking at how people used to live and imagining how different their lives must have been. After a few hours we caught the bus to the nearest town Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Pueblo) for some food and to meet up with our group. We all caught the train back to Cusco changing to a bus in Ollantytambo, which is supposed to be quicker, but we still didn’t get back to Cusco until 7.30pm. It had been a very long but enjoyable few days and after thin roll mats for 3 nights and sleeping in tents it was great to sleep in a proper bed.
The Machu Picchu was great and very interesting and a brilliant way to end the trek, but the highlight was definitely the trek itself. It was difficult in parts, especially with the altitude but it was rewarding and the scenery is amazing.
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