The Inca Trail (the first three days of it!)

Trip Start Oct 14, 2009
Trip End Dec 03, 2009

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hooray, our much anticipated 4-day hike along the 42km Inca Trail starts today… On Friday the 13th… Oh well, we can't wait!

We woke up to rain… not a good start, but we took a small bus from our hotel to Km 82, the start of the trail, where we have to show our passports and get our Inca Trail ticket. We got prepared and handed over our 6 kg duffel bags (strictly enforced 6kg for the porters to carry!) and watched as our 20 porters (for the 14 of us and 2 Inca Trail guides) loaded up with 25 kgs each of our stuff, tents, chairs, cooking equipment and food and huge gas cylinders for cooking! Its crazy how huge their packs are that they carry on their backs the whole way…. Made us feel pathetic only carrying our day bags with just hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and about 1.5 liters of water each!

To preserve the trail, the Peruvian government has implemented a lot of regulations (such as the 6kg per person duffel bag limit for the porter, and each porter can only carry a maximum of 25kg). Each day only 500 people are allowed to start the Inca Trail. Those 500 people include all the porters, cooks, guides and tourists. So all up there are only about 200 or so tourists doing the hike. It is also required for everyone to have an authorized guide for the trail. Our trail guide is Efrain and we have an assistant guide called Enrique (Kiki) who walk with us the whole way and explain the sites and the trail and also act as an interpreter for our porters who speak mostly the local indigenous language Quechua and a little Spanish.

We started the trek in a slight drizzle, but that soon cleared and we enjoyed some sun for a bit. Along the way we came across the first of about 10 Inca sites that are along the way. It was called Willkarakay and it was another agricultural site that the Peruvian government is still in the process of excavating. Every so often in the hike we would be passed by these porters from our group and other groups, running by us carrying these huge loads wearing only sandals. Insane how fit and efficient they are! By the time we reached a campsite for lunch the porters had already set up the lunch tents and lunch was ready! We were given a cup of tea, a bowl of soup and a plate of chicken or fish with rice and veggies each day for lunch. REALLY good food, and a lot of it! We were never hungry! After lunch we had some time to rest and then started back up… right when the rain started again. Not bad though and it was actually quite warm still. When we reached the campsite for our first night we had hiked about 12kms but there weren’t any huge uphills or downhills and it was supposed to be the easiest day of the trail. The campsite again was already set up by the porters when we arrived, and it was a pretty primitive site. No showers and only one squat toilet. We had "happy hour" which was a great daily tradition (my favorite part of every day!) which was popcorn, hot chocolate and a snack such as cookies or cheese and apple fritters. We had a couple of hours to relax and clean up before our dinner. Our dinner was really good (soup, chicken/fish/rice/veggies) and this time we had our guinea pigs to try also (Dave watched them kill and prepare them – gross!). Then we headed for an early night snuggled up in our sleeping bags inside our tents (we averaged a bed time of about 8pm each night as we woke up around 5am each morning).

The second day of the hike is the one we have all been dreading… it is not the distance, but the altitude we hike up and down. The highest point (called “Dead Woman’s Pass”) is 4215m above sea level and pretty much straight up! We woke up to nice clear weather at 5am, had a quick (but delicious) breakfast and started the hike. For today’s hike our two guides would walk with us as a group for the first hour and then let us take our own speed while they stuck at the back helping the slowest people in our group and we would meet at the campsite for a late lunch. At one of the rest points along the way we came across a few fields (as well as a squat toilet) and some llamas who were grazing. The views of the mountains on the way up were amazing. Dave and I stuck with two or three of the other guys in our group who were a similar pace and slowly but surely we made it to the top of “Dead Woman’s Pass”. It was quite chilly at the top, but Dave and I stayed there for 30 minutes or so (the other guys continued down) and had a snack and watched as others made the trek up. Again, the porters just blew us away as they overtook us carrying their heavy loads. David and I handed them some coca leaves as they passed, which they like to chew along the way (and they appreciate it greatly!). Then David and I started the descent, which again is a steep decline on sometimes slippery rock steps. It took us about an hour and a half to descend from 4215m to 3600m or so where our next campsite was. We were some of the first to arrive and spent the next couple of hours resting and soaking our feet in the freezing Rio Urubamba which flows from down the mountain right past our campsite. When everyone had arrived we had lunch and then played some cards before “happy hour” and then had a nap before dinner, and then bed again. A relaxing end to a strenuous morning!

The third day of the hike was the longest and also covered the most Inca sites, but also ended with a hot shower and a snack bar where you could buy chocolate, chips and beer. So there was a strong incentive to get to the end! Again when we woke up it was drizzling rain, but after an hour or so it cleared up again. There were a lot of uphills and downhills during the day, but it was spread out by the Inca sites which we visited. Overall we hiked 16kms on day three and we enjoyed this day of hiking the most. It was very scenic and we hiked most of the day on the original Inca trail. This evening we each had a hot (but basic) shower for 5 nuevo soles each (about US$1.50) and a beer and enjoyed “happy hour” and some cards before our last dinner and our last night of sleeping in a tent.

For our last day of hiking and our end at Machu Picchu I’ll do another blog, as its quite a bit on its own! To sum up though, our Inca Trail experience was amazing and we’re both really glad we did it. Its very strenuous and the hardest hike either of us have done to date, but we have great memories!
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