OYOP: Inka Trail to Machu Picchu
We just finished hiking the 4 day, 3 night trek on the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu.
Before the hike, we spent 2 days in Cusco, Peru. Cusco is the base city for people hiking the Inka Trail. Cusco was once an important city for the Inka people before it was taken over by the Spanish in the 1500s. Today, it is an interesting mix of Spanish architecture in the cathedrals and buildings surrounding the main square, Plaza de Armas, and of the original Inkan times with plentiful indigenous Quechan people selling handmade crafts and wearing traditional clothing that was prevalent in the smaller town of Pisac. We learned that 60% of Peruvians still speak Quechuen, the original language of the Inkan people.
We spent the two days in Cusco taking it relatively easy exploring the city to get acclimated to the high altitude. Cusco isabout 3,000 meters above sea level (over 11,000 feet) and altitude sickness can hit anyone and prevent them from enjoying the hike on the Inka trail. We drank plenty of water and lots of coca tea, a tea made from local coca leaves that helps with altitude sickness, to get acclimated. We experienced some of the symptoms like loss of appetite & sleep deprivation at first but felt good overall.
We stayed in a neighborhood called San Blas at hostel Samay Wasi, a short walk uphill from the main Plaza. San Blas is an artsy neighborhood with a lot of art and handmade crafts and textiles being sold, organic cafes and cobblestone streets.
After 2 days in Cusco, we then started our trip to hike the Inka Trail. To hike the Inka Trail, you have to have one of the coveted 500 permits that are granted per day and a guide. Those 500 permits are typically made up of 200 tourists and 300 porters, guides, & chefs, according to our guide.
We went with a company called Alpaca Expeditions. We had 11 hikers on our trip that were made up of us, 5 college students from the USA who were friends from college and study abroad programs, two Canadian ladies who were experienced hikers, and a mother/daughter team from Columbia.
For those 11 hikers, we had 18 porters, 1 chef, and 2 guides. Needless to say, it was all of the help and more any hiker would need on the trail. We were all blown away by the work of the porters and chef along the trail. The porters each carried about 25kg (over 50 pounds) and walked ahead to the lunch site and campsite each day to setup camp. We each had tents, sleeping bags, 3-course meals, water to refill our bottles, and a campsite toilet just for our group.
It was still a tough trek. Just not as tough as the Danish group we saw carrying all of their own belongings with no walking sticks. Or as tough as the people who carried Steve Gleason the entire trek in his wheelchair. Or as tough as the group that led a blind man the entire way and didn’t get to their campsites until after 2am. Ok, maybe we had it pretty easy. But it was still a 4 day hike through the mountains of Peru.
The Inka Trail is beautiful. The stones that make up parts of the path are over 90% original from the Inkas, according to our guide. We saw endless mountain ranges, multiple Inka ruins along the way, llamas & sheep, snowcapped peaks, and vast green valleys.
On the first day, we all met up at about 4:30am and bussed to the start of the hiking trail. We had a relatively easy terrain and took many breaks to learn about Inka ruins and history. We learned quickly how fast the weather can change from cold to hot to rainy to sunny with each slight change in altitude in the mountains.
The second day of the hike was the most challenging, with about 10 hours of walking, and hiking up to Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point on the trail, at over 13,000 feet. Even though it is summer here in South America, it is also the rainy season, and we all expected cold and rainy weather. Instead, we got clear skies, nice breezes and beautiful views. We were very lucky and said our thanks to Pacha Mama, Mother Earth, at the end of our trip together.
The third day was pretty easy, and we stopped hiking after lunch. In the afternoon, we took siestas and reconvened to visit nearby impressive ruins. We had our last dinner together, complete with streamers and a cake, and a ceremony to thank our porters for their hard work along the trail.
On the 4th day, we woke up at 3:00am in order to hike the remaining few minutes to the entrance of the last part of the trail to Machu Picchu so we could attempt to be the first group in line (we were!). We waited two hours for the gate to open, then hiked the remaining hour to the Sun Gate, a beautiful viewpoint of Machu Picchu. We ate breakfast here, then had a two hour tour with our guide of the ruins. After, some of our team explored on their own while others, including James, hiked the peak HuaynaPicchu behind the ruins.
Overall, this hike was an incredible experience with some of the best views we had ever seen. We learned a lot about the history of Peru and the Quechan people, that I think will be beneficial in appreciating and having a better understanding of the country during the rest of our three weeks in Peru.
It was also nice to be with other travelers and hikers to hear about their experiences in South America and around the world. Talking about this experience being the first week of our one year trip really made it sink in more that we will be living abroad for a while.
After the end of our time at Machu Picchu, we took a bus to the nearby town of Aquas Calientes, where we spent the night. We had a last lunch with our group and said our goodbyes, then checked into our nearby hostel. We cleaned up and walked to the local hot springs where we soaked our muscles and enjoyed the mountain views. Oh, and we tried alpaca for the first time. I hate to say this about those cute, fuzzy animals, but they taste delicious.
We still have a few days left in this area of Peru. We will spend two days in another town along the Sacred Valley, which is the name of the valley along the Urubumba River, and a few more days in Cusco to follow.