Tour company used: G Adventures.
Wow. Where do I even begin when I start this encounter with the Sacred Valley and the Inca Trail hike? It’s one of them experiences where at the time you will question: Why am I doing this? Why did I pay to put myself through this? Will I make it to the end of this journey? Will it even be worth it at the end? So many questions and so many slips of positive mental attitude, yet somehow you do make it (well, considering that you don’t back out or get trailed off with illness or exhaustion, for example) and then all them questions are answered. You can make it, you did make it, that is why you payed to do it and yes, it was worth every agonising second.
Before setting off on the four day Inca Trail, I can honestly say I didn’t quite know what to expect from it. I was made aware that the first day was the easiest, the second day was the hardest, the third day was the most scenic, the views are spectacular and that you had to be careful of Altitude Sickness. Other than those recommendations and snippets of information I just knew I was setting off on a four day hike to climb up to Machu Picchu – One of the “Wonders of the World”.
I had studied Altitude Training in my third year of University so I was aware of the precautions, signs and symptoms (see: “Tips for hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu”) so in that aspect I wasn’t too concerned. The mental and physical aspects of it however, I hadn’t really set myself up for. I honestly thought that I’d be fine (ha ha, who knew I could be so wrong?!)
I’m going to give you a bit of information about what I experienced and how I managed with the hike but please remember, this is just my encounter. Everyone has their own experiences and opinions of the hike; we are all different, we all have different ways of coping, different mentalities, experiences and physical capabilities. I am a 26 year old female with quite a strong positive mental attitude. I practise yoga most days and go for long walks almost daily. I’m a healthy individual but I haven’t stepped inside a gym for about 6 months so my muscular strength isn’t spectacular (something I totally should have prepared myself for, but again that’s in my next post: “Tips for hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu”).
So, let’s get into each daily activity and you can get an insight of what to expect when hiking the Inca Trail. Oh, I must also mention that the group I hiked with did have our own Porters whom carried 6kg of our luggage, per person, and then we were to carry the rest. I didn’t weigh my backpack but it was a fully packed 25l backpack plus a 2.5l water bottle in hand (also something I wouldn’t recommend, but again, check my next post for more information).
The day you set off on route to Machu Picchu. You’re feeling apprehensive, nervous, excited, clean, fresh and alert. You’ve arrived by bus to the starting point, your bags are packed, the Porters have weighed and collected your duffle bags, your backpack is on, water’s in hand (or in your bag), suncreams lathered on, you’ve used the toilet (1Sol charge) and you set off with your group and tour guide(s). All raring to go you take your pictures under the Inca Trail sign and 2 minutes into the walk you hit your first pit stop: Check in. Here is where you will queue up, tickets and passport in hand and you wait to be checked in to start your hike. Depending on where you are in the queue you could be there for a while, we were the second group through and we were there for a good 30-45 minutes. Once you’re through however, the hike begins.
Day 1 is the easiest of the four and they start you off slowly. The trail is fairly flat with just a couple of short inclines that may leave you panting heavily but your guide(s) will give you lots of rest periods and breaks for “story time” (this is where they will give you some history about the Inca’s and the ruins etc).
You arrive to a camp site for your lunch break, enjoy a good feed (always three courses) have a rest, fill your water bottles, and set off again. You’ll arrive to your official camp sight by late afternoon where your camp site is all set up by your amazing porters, you’ll sit exhausted thinking “I thought Day 1 was the easiest” and wonder how you’ll manage Day 2. You get to know your amazing Porters in an informal introductory meeting and once that is done, tea is served.
Tea always consists of hot drinks (tea’s, coffee and hot chocolate) and a light snack (crackers, popcorn, biscuits etc). After tea you are served your dinner which is usually a soup to start then a well balanced main. The food is great, especially considering they carry all the food in their 25kg backpacks and prepare it all “camp style”. They ask before you set off your dietary requirements and cater to all your needs (did I say how amazing they are?). The vegan food was awesome, it was way above what I expected and couldn’t have asked for anymore from them.
After dinner you’ll most likely head to bed to prepare for the next day (Day 2 of course, you know you’re dreading Day 2 already).
Are you ready for Day 2? I know I wasn’t (well, I thought I was but that’s a different story!).
Day 2 is by far the most challenging: physically and mentally. I don’t want to put you off at all but this is the day when all of them questions at the beginning of this post will come running through your head. It will push you both physically and mentally as you climb 1000m to the “Dead Woman’s Pass”. It may not sound that high however it is a constant uphill climb, pushing and pushing, up and up, until hours later you reach the peak of 4,215m high. Be prepared for hundreds and hundreds of steps, winding around corners tricking you into thinking there may be a flat patch approaching. There’s not. Keep your head up, keep positive, you can do it, you will do it, but just take your time. It’s not a rush. You will get there. Take rest stops, have small snacks, sip your drink slowly and get to that peak. You can do it. Just take your precautions (see: “Tips for hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu”).
Once you’ve battled your demons and pushed your body through hours of “torture” (slight exaggeration. Maybe. Maybe not), you will reach the top of “Dead Woman’s Pass” – Woohoo !!!! The rest of your trip from here on is a doddle. You can relax.
Reaching the top of “Dead Woman’s Pass” is amazing. You feel a huge sense of relief and accomplishment and it’s awesome. The views are stunning and you feel like you’re in the clouds (well you are, unless it was just a cloud day?). Everyone encourages one another and you feel united as a group; lovely.
From here the rest of the days’ hike is downhill. Depending on how you are with downhill (or where you’re campsite is of course) it’s not much further to the end of your day and getting back to camp. For me it was less than an hour which was amazing and downhill for me was easy so I was thoroughly happy!
When you arrive back to camp it’s lunch time so you have the rest of the day to just relax. As a note: Day 2 you power through from 6am – 1pm (well, our group did anyway) without a lunch stop so it’s just snack stops. Be sure to fuel up and hydrate as often as you can to keep you going!
Now is time to relax, refuel and rehydrate before Day 3.
Like I was told prior to the hike, Day 3 is the most scenic and for me personally the most enjoyable.
After Day 2 the hike couldn’t have got any worse so mentally I was feeling great. The hike in general was a pretty steady incline throughout but with lots of flats and a few declines. It’s a pretty steady, enjoyable hike.
Aside from the gradient, the views from Day 3’s hike were by far the most beautiful. We stopped at four Inca Sites along the way, which were all beautiful, and we got told all about them and their history and on the route you pass so much natural beauty and wildlife, it’s amazing.
You’ll pass through bridges of lush trees covering the pathway, colourful moss growing on the rocks, flowers, caves and if your lucky wild lamas chomping on the trees blocking your path. The nature, the views, the wildlife and the terrain make for a rather long (the longest day at about 9-10hrs long!) but an enjoyable, pleasant walk.
I forgot to mention, during the lunch stop on this day (I don’t know if this covers all camp sights but I know for sure it does for all G Adventures groups) we were surprised with an absolutely incredible buffet lunch!! It was amazing and just what everyone needed. The chefs even made a personalised cake for the group which is astounding considering they’ve made that just on a small fire and pan (they steamed it first then frosted and decorated it; incredible). I didn’t get pictures because I just dived in (to the meal I mean, not the cake #vegan, but the others demolished that cake!) but it was awesome and instead of cake they made me some fried plantains with a sweet orange sauce; so good.
Once your day is over you arrive to camp and it’s almost straight to tea time and then dinner. At dinner you will have a gathering to say thank you for all the hard work the Porters have done, congratulate one another and enjoy your last meal together. Once dinner and acknowledgements are over its time for bed because Day 4 is approaching and it’s one heck of an early rising for you all…
The finale is in sight. The final hurdle to the one Wonder you have been working so hard towards reaching: Machu Picchu.
You are finally here. Finally at Day 4 and the end is near. It’s sad to think that these four days will soon be over but exciting to know that soon you will be seeing Machu Picchu and then arriving back to the Hotel to receive clean toilets, clean clothes and a nice warm shower.
Day 4 begins with a wake up call of…. wait for it…. 3am !!! You get awakened at 3am to be up, ready and rolling for 3:30am. 3:30am you leave to walk 2 minutes (depending on where your camp site is, 2-5 minutes) and stop again to wait until 5:30am for the check point to open! Here is where you will moan about waking up early to be sat waiting in the freezing cold and darkness for so long, however once the sun comes up and the bugs start creaking the excitement kicks in and through that barrier you go! (We were the second group in line so we’re through quick. The line was very long so if you’re at the back you may be waiting a while longer).
The walk begins and you’re headed to Machu Picchu.
Uphill you go for a couple of hours, the walk isn’t as easy as Day 3 but your excitement and knowing the end is near will keep you pushing through. After the approximate two hour uphill walk the terrain is fairly flat and easy and you get to two pit stops where you can admire the sights of Machu Picchu; it’s pretty awesome.
We were extremely lucky with the weather and had sunshine throughout but it was pretty cloudy, on and off, so we just waited for the clouds to pass and then admired our view. It was amazing.
The time flies by and you reach Machu Picchu before you know it. You take numerous photos with numerous poses and numerous angles. You’ll leave the site, drink and eat overpriced food and drinks from the restaurant outside the gates, but you won’t care because you’re so happy to be having a great meal after such an early start (or coffee for many peoples cases). You will then return back through the gates to Machu Picchu to receive a full guided tour and then free time in the site of Machu Picchu.
People will smell super fresh and super clean because they’ve just arrived by bus and train and you’ve been roughing it for four days without showering and smelling awful (which now you’re immune to). You’ll envy their cleanness and although you’ll enjoy walking around Machu Picchu you’ll be exhausted and dreaming about that shower you’ll soon be receiving, although it’ll be another 7 hours or so until you reach your hotel back in Cusco.
You want to know the end of the story in my case? We arrived back to the hotel at roughly 7:30pm, I checked in and found my room, emptied my bags and put my clothes into laundry, walked back to my room (on the 3rd floor I may add – it may not sound bad but you just wait until it’s your turn; you’ll understand), and passed out onto my bed. Next thing I know it’s 6am and I’m fully clothed and un-showered laid in bed ready to start the next day…
Enjoy the Inca Trail guys. It’s one heck of an experience!