We left Arequipa at around 8.30 in the evening and were all set for our first real overnight bus of the tour. Thankfully it was yet another very comfortable bus – in fact even better than others we had used up until this point. The seats were large and comfortable – only 3 seats across rather than the normal 4, but for some reason the temperature fluctuated from very hot to very cold so it did not make for a great night’s sleep. Apparently, the drivers changed every 4 hours as the bus winds its way over the Andes but of course it was dark so we could not see anything – some might say that is not a bad thing as a lot of the driving on these narrow mountain roads has a lot to be desired!
As I have mentioned before, the buses and bus stations are trying very hard to rival the airplanes and airports. This bus station was no exception – here we had to pay Terrapuerto tax (literally ground-port tax rather than airport tax) and we got to enjoy the ‘executive’ lounge! 😂
Despite the fluctuating temperatures, I did not sleep too badly considering I have not been sleeping well the last few nights – whether it was altitude, the altitude sickness tablets I have started taking (to avoid getting altitude sickness I hope) or sheer fear of the upcoming hike … or perhaps a combination of all 3!
We arrived in Cusco fairly early in the morning but thankfully could get straight in to our rooms before heading out for a walking tour around the main sites and to learn a little of the city’s history.
Cusco sits high in the Andes at around 3,400m above sea level and was once the capital of the Inca empire from the 13th century until the 16th century Spanish conquest. Many of the colony buildings were built on top of Inca buildings and/or places of worship so it is still possible to see some of the incredible stone work the Inca’s are famous for. During our walk around we managed to experience all the weather Cusco has to offer … cold, hot, rain and sleet!! We hoped it was not what we were to experience on the upcoming hike!
That evening we had a meeting with our guide for Inca trial – we were to have 3 guides, 16 porters and 2 cooks for a total of 10 people, 5 people from our group and 5 from another group. It seemed like a lot of staff but I guessed they knew what they were doing. After the meeting it was straight down to packing. We had been given a duffel bag which we could put 6 kgs in for the porters to carry (including the 2kg sleeping bag I am hiring). Anything else we carry ourselves – at least my bag was lighter than in Colombia but I was sure I had still over packed!
Day 1 of the hike and were picked up at 5.15am (but not before they weighed the duffel bags to ensure they are no more than 6kg) and we then headed off to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, 2 hours away, where we picked up the rest of the group before the final stop at Piscacucho to meet our porters, complete our passport formalities – one for the National Park, one for the National monuments and start our trek.
Day 1 – 12 km 2650-3000m
As we had been told, the first day was relatively flat with only a few short steep uphill parts but we stopped regularly to see Inca remains (including Ilactapata) and admire the incredible views that surrounded us in every direction.
Our main guide is an archeologist and mountain climber so perfect for the job. He also looks just like a Spanish conquistador and his name is very aptly Juan Manuel – that said, he also speaks fluent Quechua so perhaps he is not a true conqueror. Either way, his enthusiasm, enjoy and continually jokes certainly helped me get through the toughest parts of the trek.
The porters go ahead of us, each carrying 25kg each, some in bags almost bigger than they are! Some stop at our lunch stop, get tents set up and cook lunch, whilst others continue on to our overnight stop to start setting up our camp! Some of them almost run up and down the track which is incredible and a little scary!
Our first night as spent at Wayllabamba, at 3000 metres above sea level. It had been a beautiful day but as the sun set it quickly got cold.
As far as first days go, it was not as hard for me as the Colombia trek first day – maybe it was easier, maybe I am fitter?? Who knows, the only thing I know for sure is it was not so hot and humid!
We arrived at camp to have our tents all set up for us and were quickly served afternoon tea of hot chocolate and crackers, followed only an hour later by a 3 course dinner – definitely can’t complain about the food as lunch was also 2 courses!
Day 2 – 12km 3000m – 4215m- 3600m
We had a 5.45 start for breakfast and then an introduction to all the porters before setting off. If you speak to anyone about the Inca trial, they say the second day is the hardest – not because of the distance but because of the elevation. They were not wrong, as we trekked 6 hours up hill, walking through cloud forest to the tree line and beyond to reach the highest elevation of the trek – 4215m at Dead Women’s Pass.
It was incredible to think that Mt Cook Aoraki is only around 3700m and at that elevation, instead of looking down on things, we were still looking up at the mountains surrounding us. Despite the massive physical effort and lack of oxygen, I t was stunning with the Andes extending around us for miles. (FYI 2 of the guides always carry oxygen just in case it is needed – on our trek, it was not!)
I must admit, I was so fearful of the day and it was by no means easy, but it was not as hard as I had expected and reaching the summit felt like such a massive achievement.
After reaching the summit we had 1.5 hours of steep downhill and I was very thankful for the poles I had hired. We arrived into camp at 3,920m around 3.30 and back in our routine of a small wash with warm water before afternoon tea, dinner and bed!
Day 3 – 16km 3,920m – 3,600m
I loved day 3 – it was the longest day and it started with 1.5 hours uphill but we passed through so many different ecosystems, from bamboo rainforest (with the cutest little hummingbird) to damp cloud forest full of ferns and moss.
Not to mention the different Inca remains we passed on the way – including Runkuraqay and Intipata (I think) and walking on original Inca path ways and craze steep big steps
And the views …. the Inca Trail is really so much more than just Machu Picchu on the last day!
It had rained most of the night and had we left at around 6.15am in the mist and we could not see anything but it strategically cleared to allow us to see some amazing views – the pass we had walked over the day before, Inca remain, Machu Picchu mountain below us and a stunning view of the mountains with a rainbow. We got to camp just before 5 and straight away headed off to see the most stunning remains near our camp (Phuyupatamarca) – Juan Manuel (our guide) was particularly enthusiastic about these remains. They were well preserved and hardly any people go there which makes them extra special.
We have been lucky most days not having to walk with too many other groups despite there being 500 on the trail each day (but that includes porters, guides etc and considering we have over 20 support staff for 10 people). Today the track was busier as we all stayed at the same camp.
It was soon dinner and time to say goodbye to our Porters who will leave us when we head off at 4.30am! It was hard to believe that the trek was almost over. All the anticipation and it turned out to be so much fun and over far too quickly. Our guides were incredible – Juan Manuel is as hilarious as he is knowledgeable, and Eddie is not far behind. Klever is a bit shyer but very sweet.
Day 4 – 6.5km 2,650m – 2,430 – 2,643m
The fourth and final day of the trek and we were up at 3.30am – not to start walking, but just because the porters had to pack up camp and get a 6.30am train back to town! We walked in the dark around 10 minutes and joined the queue of follow hikers who were waiting for the archaeological site gate to open at 5.30am. Then we were off – I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or something else, but I was in the front of our group most of the way for the 1.5 hour hike, including up the stairs they call the ‘gringo killer’ which I didn’t even think were bad – I was still waiting for the hard stairs when Juan Manuel announced we had reached the Sun Gate and we got out first glimpse of Machu Picchu with the first rays of morning sun coming over the mountain and hitting it – it really was so worth every ache and pain (although there were far less of those than I had expected)!
In a nutshell, Machu Picchu is a15th-century Inca City situated on a mountain ridge 2,430 metres above sea level above the Sacred Valley. Most believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472) and it is the most familiar icon of Inca civilisation. It remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911.
Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historic Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and in 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll!
From the sun gate, we then walked down to the site itself and took a few photos before continuing down to check in to the site self and for Juan Manuel to give us a tour of the site – I think we were all just in awe of the site and the incredible mountains surrounding it.
After our tour, we caught the bus down to Agua Caliente where we had lunch with our hiking group and guides – we had all had such an amazing time and probably spent most of lunch laughing so hard we cried, recalling our funniest moments of the trip. I will really miss the guides as not only where they sweet and knowledgeable and incredibly funny but also very well organised – unlike the main guide for our trip! Accordingly to Juan Manuel – there are two kinds of illnesses on the Inca Trail; altitude sickness and attitude sickness. Thankfully we had neither!
Words can’t express how happy I am to have done the trek, particularly considering how much I had dreaded it before hand.