Treking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Inca Trail

Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

At 4.30am we are picked up by Roger, our guide and our 6 porters in a minivan and we drive for two hours to Ollaytambo for buffet breakfast where we tried to eat as much as possible – fresh pancakes, scrambled eggs, fruit, bread, yoghurt, perfect way to start the day at 6.30am. And then a bit more of a drive to start our trek where our porters load up with their 25kg each and we have our daypacks of maybe 5kg at best.  The first morning is a relatively easy walk along the bottom of the valley, where we're surrounded by snow capped mountains – apparently they’re not always snow capped but the walk was closed a few weeks ago due to heavy snow and so it looks like we’ve got lucky with our timing again!  Our guide is very good, keeps us entertained and points out various things.  At this point the trail is fairly busy with locals and donkeys passing us and every so often a boy would go past with a massive speaker strapped to his back.  That happened a couple times along with several different musical instruments as they are setting up for Peru’s independence celebrations on 28th and 29th July – a small village along the trail is setting up for a big party!  The porters pass us on the way, despite leaving after us and by the time we arrive at the lunch spot they have a tent set up, hot water for us to wash our hands and are in the middle of cooking lunch.  This pattern continued throughout the trek and every time we were impressed with their strength, and skill in the kitchen.  Lunch was always soup followed by a main meal of plenty of meat, vegetables and carbs and then tea.  While dinner was soup, main meal and dessert.  All of the food was very tasty, especially considering that it’s prepared over one gas burner and we have no idea how they do it.

Our afternoon walk starts to get tougher as we are starting the first pass, but after a couple hours of steep ascent we are at our first campsite where tea, hot chocolate, biscuits and popcorn is awaiting us.   Funnily enough it’s pretty early nights on the Inca trail and so after dinner it’s bed time in our tent (which is surprisingly warm) in preparation for the long day tomorrow. 

At 5am the next day, we are awoken by a tap on the tent, cups of tea and hot water to wash – all brought to our tent.  Our breakfast is massive with porridge, fruit salad, omelette and bread and then we start our second day.  This is the hardest day as it’s all uphill to 4250m.  Our guide informs us that a couple of years ago they held a porter marathon where the porters entered to race the inca trail – the fastest time was 3hrs37min which seems impossible, especially at this point.  The ground is uneven and the Inca steps that we were told about aren’t in the best condition as the Incas destroyed some of their paths so that the Spanish couldn’t find their settlements.  This means that concentration is required all the time and the walking poles are especially handy to pull ourselves up over the big steps.  We reach what our guide calls the 'gringo killer’ where the top is in sight but still have a steep climb ahead.  I begin to feel a bit faint and concerned that it might be the altitude the guide gives me some sort of medicine to smell.  This doesn’t really make a difference but I think I’ve worked out what’s wrong – burnt off my breakfast already and I’m in urgent need of some chocolate so out comes the Mars Bar to save the day.  No problems once I’ve have my chocolate and we make it to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass for a well deserved break.  We then take another hour and a half to walk down to our lunch spot, the porters can do this section of the path in 15 minutes but it takes us a lot longer due to the big steps and uneven ground.   This stop is on the mountainside between the two passes that we’re conquering today and the view is impressive. Another good, filling meal and then off to our 2nd pass of the day at 4000m, the climb is steeper but shorter and we pass some ruins on the way.  The benefit of doing this trek is we come across ruins throughout the trail and have the chance to explore by ourselves (we didn’t realise how lucky we were until we came to Machu Picchu which is swarming with people).  We then make it into the cloud forest and visit some more ruins before arriving at our campsite for our second night which has an amazing view of the forest and mountains around us.  Our second night is spent by dinner, card games and chatting with our guide. 

From the way our guide had planned our trip, the third day is the easiest and so we don’t have to get up until 6.30am – a welcome lie in.  Plus it’s either flat or downhill walking so a bit easier although not so good for the knees, again very grateful of the walking sticks. We see more ruins today before arriving at both our lunch spot and overnight spot.  The scenery today is amazing, definitely a highlight of the trail. The campsite is the busiest we’ve been at as most people stay here as it’s closest to Machu Picchu.  Very importantly there is shower facilities here and we get our first shower (cold) in a few days.  In the afternoon we visit some ruins, our ‘happy hour’ includes cake today which I have no idea how they made but it was much appreciated, then its dinner and early bedtime as tomorrow is the early start.  Before bed there is a tipping ceremony for the porters, our porters have worked incredibly hard, always applaud us arriving after a hard day of walking and make sure we have everything we need, it’s actually quite humbling to see them work so hard to help us and be very proud of their jobs.  Our chef wore a chef’s hat and whites and was always looking to make sure we enjoyed the food.  We were more than happy to tip the recommended amount to show our appreciation of their work.  Over the past few days we were happy to see that our porters were the best kitted out (with shoes and proper backpacks) where as some of the other companies don’t provide much for the porters and so they run up and down these mountains in sandals.

Up at 3.30am today as the porters have to catch the 5.30am train – the train company only has one train a day that they’ll let the porters on, on the much restricted local trains.  So we are in the queue at 4.30am for the trail to Machu Picchu to open at 5.30am.  Then it’s a very fast paced walk for an hour and a half to get to the Sun Gate for sunrise.  The sun gate is a ruin that overlooks Machu Picchu, and is the traditional inca entrance to the complex.  We have a brief stop here but as its fairly busy with people we continue down to Machu Picchu to watch the sun come over the tops of the mountains.  The view is impressive as we watch the sun move over the ruins – built from east to west so it can appreciate the sun rise and set.  The view is amazing and it is good to take a break after our trek and truly take in the setting before the masses arrive...

By 8am things get a bit hectic  - bus loads of people start arriving from 6am and so it’s busy, very busy and given that we got up at 3.30am neither of us are in the mood to deal with people...We soon realise that Machu Picchu is a very impressive ruin but is just not set up for the amount of tourists that visit it. This is something that has been hotly debated in local press since we have been here and there is talk of placing further restrictions on visitor numbers. Something clearly has to be done as they are just not able to deal with the numbers. 

The morning was spent with a tour from our guide around the ruins where he explained the various theories behind Machu Picchu, to sum up – they don’t know but the guesses vary from fortress to university....The scale of the rocks used in the construction are massive, I find it difficult to understand how the Incas managed to build a site of this size in the time they were around (a few hundred years).  I met an American from the US who claimed it was obvious that the Incas didn’t build Machu Picchu from scratch as it was much older than 500 years and that they only lived there.  So there is another theory but don’t think I’ll be repeating that to the Peruvians as they are very proud of the Inca legacy.  By 11am we feel we should be more interested in the site but food, a shower and sleep is calling and so we get the bus down to Aguas Calientes, the town by Machu Picchu.  The town is a bit of a nothingness, filled with hotels and restaurants but I suppose that’s inevitable next to the biggest tourist site in S. America.  We check into Terrazas Del Inca guesthouse, a friendly, family run hostel which has beds and showers – the two things that we have been lacking the past few days so we’re happy!!  We get lunch with our guide in Hot Springs 2 and then spend the rest of the day relaxing in the little town.

The next day is yet another early start, breakfast at 5am, and we started queuing for the bus at 5.10am, and got onto a bus about half an hour later, then we queued for about an hour to get into Machu Picchu (this is why we don’t miss touristy places).  Then while most of the tourists watch the sun rise (it was a bit cloudy and so we didn’t bother), we explore the parts of the ruins that were too busy yesterday to see.  So in that respect it was worthwhile to come back a second day, however without a guide it doesn’t quite mean as much.  The main reason for coming back is to climb a second viewpoint (Huayna Picchu) over Machu Picchu (we signed up for this back in the UK and I was regretting signing up for further trekking...).   This walk turned out to be not quite a walk but more of a scramble up a steep ascent of as usual uneven Inca steps.  It was a tough climb - We didn’t have much time to enjoy it as we had to rush back down to make our train, but it was an impressive view and good to get another perspective of the site.  And so back to Cusco via a very comfortable tourist train (hard to understand but that’s how most people arrive to Aguas Calientes – you don’t have to go for the four day trek, but for us it was definitely worth it!)

Overall we had an amazing time on our trek to Machu Picchu. I think we would both agree that the special part was actually getting there, rather than the final destination. Along the way we got to see many inca sights and it was impressive for us to take the route to Machu Picchu that the Incas took. We definitely recommend the trek and wish we had more time to do some of the other great treks around Cusco.
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Joe on

Sunrise across Machu Picchu looks and sounds fantastic, hope legs arent too achey and feet arent too stinky!

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