Tips & Tricks to help you plan your next adventure
Just over 3 months into our trip, the day finally arrived for us to commence the only thing we booked before leaving Australia - The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Now we had booked this a seriously long way in advance - like June 2014. Machu Picchu is one of the biggest tourist attractions in not just Peru but the whole continent, so needless to say after spending a week waiting in Cusco, we were pretty excited to begin.
We got picked up from our hostel a bit before 6am on the 2nd of March and then got to nap in the van for the 1.5 hour ride into the Sacred Valley to the town of Ollantaytambo for breakfast before our trail would begin.
After breakfast we were taken to the entrance of the national park and disembarked the bus with all of our belongings for the next 4 days. Here we had about 20 minutes to sort ourselves out before beginning the walk. In this 20 minutes we bought small straps from local ladies to tie our mattresses (included in the fee from the trek company) and our sleeping bags (our own from home) to the bottom of our backpacks to save some bag space. Our company “Peru Treks” provided plenty of porters who would carry all of our tents and food for the 4 days, as well as setting up camp and helping the 2 chefs to prepare meals for us every day. There was an option to hire an additional “personal porter” for $75 US more for the 4 days, who would carry 6kg of stuff for you. However, we went for the “less is more” option saving cash and just brought the bare minimum in clothes for 4 days in a small backpack each.
We took the obligatory photos under the sign that signifies the start of the trail before heading on to the park entrance. Here the security is really quite intensive, for not just tourists but also guides and porters. The Peruvian government only allocates a limited number of passes to the National Park per day, and they scrupulously check all of these passes alongside tourists passports to make sure people aren’t sneaking into the park. They also check that the porters aren’t being forced by companies to carry packs heavier than then allowed 20kg of company equipment each.
After checking all the boxes, we were finally off! The first day of walking was super easy. Like ridiculously easy due to the fact we have been at an altitude above 3000m for around a month, and the pace was set mostly for those who had come from sea level in the last week. We wound through farmland along the side of the Urubamba river without much incline, stopping for lunch provided by the trek company and having plenty of opportunities to buy snacks and drinks along the way from the local communities. We eventually arrived at Wayllabamba around 5pm where our porters had set up camp for the night, and the chefs were already prepping dinner.
I bought a giant beer off a local lady and left it propped up in the small creek next to the campsite to cool down. I seriously don’t think I’ve seen a single refrigerator in about a month. We got called around by Raul the head guide into one big circle where one by one everybody introduced themselves to everyone, trekkers, guides, porters and chefs all included. This was really cool as some of the porters hardly spoke spanish (only Quechua - the local language and language of the Incas), and had to be translated. We also found that the oldest porter was 50 and had been doing the Inca trail for around 15 years, and one of our youngest porters was working on the inca trail for the first time!
Back to the now cold beer, we all sat around chatting as the sun went down below the valley edge until dinner was ready. Every meal we had on the trail was awesome and had at least 3 courses. I seriously think I put on weight over the 4 days. We had a cup of tea and a briefing of the next days plan before getting into bed around 8pm. I slept pretty well considering camping at altitude on a super thin mat and only got woken up once by a donkey loudly chewing on the grass right next to my head.
We got woken up at 5am with coffee (or tea) being delivered to us in bed, pretty awesome! After we packed our things we had for breakkie before heading off on day 2. Day 2 is the hardest walking day of the Inca trail, as you climb from around 3000m to the highest point - Dead Woman’s Pass - around 4200m. The guides let us go at our own pace but gave us 3 checkpoints to wait at as a group for everyone to catch up. The day was meant to take roughly 8 hours of hiking - hence the early wake up. We got to the first checkpoint in around 30 minutes and waited for the group. When everyone caught up, we were warned that the next section would be the hardest, and to wait at the 2nd checkpoint for “2nd breakfast”. Although hard, we didn’t find the 2nd section too bad and really enjoyed the uphill through some beautiful forests and along creeks. We actually got to chat to some of the porters along the way - spanish is improving!
We waited for an hour or so for everyone to catch up for second breakfast which was rolls, popcorn and more tea and coffee. Here I should probably mention how quick the temp can change in this area around Cusco and Machu Picchu. In 5 minutes you can seriously go from sweating and getting sunburnt to reaching for both jumper and raincoats. Combine this with slogging up steep hills and waiting around on exposed passes, you can imagine how many times a day you have to either add on or strip off layers.
As we finished second breakfast and set off again to reach Dead Woman’s Pass, the wind picked up and it started to drizzle. Combine this with full tummies and the highest altitude we had hiked at yet, we found the 3rd uphill section of the day the hardest by far. We reached the top in the howling wind and sideways rain, took a quick snap of the signpost at the top (the view was obscured by clouds), and quickly headed back down the other side towards camp. Porters flew past us with their huge backpacks as we cautiously descended the dodgy wet path, eventually arriving at camp around 12:30pm. We only took about 3.5 hours of actual walking time, and considering this was meant to be the hardest day of walking, weren’t feeling too bad. Everyone had trickled in by around 2:00 when we had lunch, and then had several hours to kill before dinner. Some people had a nap and I tried to have a “bath” in the creek which can’t have been much above freezing - needless to say it was pretty short.
Eventually dinner time came and we ate again before going to bed before another early night and wake up. The next morning’s wakeup routine was the same before heading off. The 3rd day is the longest in kilometres, but also has the most ruins and the most awesome scenery. Combine this with no long uphill slogs, it seemed to fly by. We saw plenty of ruins and had some awesome weather - sunshine combined with mist coming off the mountains. We had lunch on top of the 2nd pass of the day where Bec got chased by a Llama that didn’t appreciate her posing next to it. The day culminated at the campsite below Wiñay Wayna ruins - some huge agricultural terraces built into the hillside overlooking the valley and Urubamba River below.
Same routine for the 3rd and last night, except here before going to bed we said thanks and goodbye to the porters and chefs who would head down to Aguas Callientes town early the next morning to catch the train home whilst we went on to Machu Picchu.
The last morning we woke up at 3am for a super quick breakfast before heading to the checkpoint for the last 5km of trail. Here the gates to the trail aren’t opened until 5:30am which is around first light to prevent accidents. Apparently most years people get too excited and whilst pushing past each other on the narrow path sometimes fall off the cliff. The gates finally opened after what seemed like an aeon, and we were off. We had to trudge super slow in single file as we weren’t just limited by the slowest person in our group but the slowest in every group due to the limited overtaking areas. Luckily the scenery was awesome and it was pretty easy to walk slowly.
Eventually through rain we got to the Sun Gate and were treated to the view we had walked 4 days to see - Machu Picchu! We all took photos in the drizzle before the clouds came up about 5 minutes later and blocked out everything! Luckily we weren’t in the last group… Onwards downhill for 30 minutes with a few information breaks from Raul and we had arrived. It was about 7:30 at this stage, but we had to wait around until about 9:30 for the last member of the group to arrive before the tour could begin. Annoyingly we had to wait outside the ruins to enter as a group, which was made even more annoying due to the pouring rain and $7AUD coffees. Ronald the amazingly patient assistant guide eventually arrived with the last member of our team and the tour began. We got the shortened version due to everyone being wet and freezing, but Raul covered all of the most important and interesting sites in this beautiful ancient city. We then were able to explore the ruins on our own and take all the photos we wanted.
Eventually we got tired of being wet and jumped on the bus down to Aguas Callientes, the town below Machu Picchu. We got a tasty pizza lunch and eventually headed off to the hot springs of which the town is named after for a well needed break and beer. We relaxed around town until jumping onto the 6pm train back to Ollantaytambo and got on the bus back to Cusco. We got back there around 10:30 and checked back into the hostel before sleeping like babies.
We had such an awesome time thanks to Peru Treks and met so many awesome people in our group that made it even more fun. Thanks to everyone! You know who you all are! La Familia!
1 day rest in Cusco before Sammy leaves us flying to Lima before the UK. 3 months has flown by.
Next stop - Huacachina
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An Aussie who loves travelling, hiking, trail running and pretty much any activity you can do outdoors.