I had booked my place on the Inca Trail well in advance and had chosen to go with SAS travel. On arrival in Cusco I visited their office to confirm that I would like a porter to carry my bag for me. The porters can carry a maximum of 9kg of your equipment, including the sleeping bag and ground mat which I also hired. A few days before the departure date, the trek operator held an evening briefing, so we could meet our guides and the other people in our group. The guides ran through the complete 4 day Inca Trailwith our group in detail and left us with no illusions about how difficult and challenging the trail would be.
We had an early start on day one of the Inca trail. The bus took us from a meeting place in Cusco to Ollantaytambo where we had a comfort break before travelling to km68 where we had another break for breakfast. The food was delicious, and as explained to us, the meals throughout the trek are calculated carefully to ensure that each person had the correct amount of carbohydrates and sugars they needed at the right time of the day to help them complete the trail.
At km68 we set off on the Inca Trail, passing immediately though the first check point of the trail, where we were able to get our passports stamped. The first section of the trail was flat and not too taxing, and we were warned to be aware of the porters walking by and try to keep to the left, so the porters could pass us easily.
These porters are amazing. They carried all the food, (including trays of eggs), water, tents, baggage, tables, stools, cooking equipment and crockery and mostly in sandals. They don’t really walk either, it’s more of a trot, which I was astounding to see, especially when I had been struggling just to walk due to the altitude. Our porters rushed ahead to set up lunch for us. They erect a food tent with tables and stools inside and had lunch almost ready by the time we arrived. After lunch we set off whilst the porters pack up. They soon overtook us again to reach the camp site ahead of us. They set up all the tents and began to prepare dinner just as we arrived.
The campsite was located on some old Inca terraces with a toilet block next to the river. A local came along with some beer for sale, which some of the group welcomed with gusto. The guides entertained us with games and stories after dinner before we headed off to our tents for some sleep.
The Andes are extremely cold at night, and despite wearing a hat, gloves and scarf to bed, I was still cold. We were woken in our tents by our guides with a warm cup of coca tea in the morning and after a quick wet wipe wash we went to the food tent for hot porridge, and pancakes for breakfast.
Day two was the most challenging, as we climbed over the infamous “Dead Womans Pass”, a 4200m pass. The guides were fantastic. One stayed at the front of the group and the other at the back. I am not the fittest of people so I was far behind the front runners, but my guide offered help and encouragement, even offering to carry my day pack for me, which was full of water! I have to admit day two almost broke me! Eventually I made it and on the other side of the pass, after a speedy decent, lunch was a welcome break. The afternoon saw us climb two more passes, which seemed so easy in comparison to the mornings walking.
Close to our next campsite, there were some small Inca ruins to explore, but I chose to carry on to the camp ahead of my walking companions and porters from other tour groups helped me find my way to my tent. That evening the sky was clear and the stars were so dramatically vivid and colourful. It was so magical.
With day three came some early morning mist which burnt off quickly with the sun. The hiking was generally a decent towards our last camp. I remember this section of the trail being the most picturesque, as the path levelled out a little (although as our guide constantly reminded us – this is the Andes, there is no “flat”!) and wound round the edge of the cliffs, overlooking a vast valley. The scale of the view was only realised when a helicopter appeared below us and looked tiny, but also we could tell it was high above the valley floor. This section of the trail was more forested than the previous sections, and so magical and remote, it wouldn’t have surprised me if I saw a few hobbits running by.
The last evenings camp site boasted hot showers (for the price of a few soles), a food hall and small bar where all the tour groups ate and relaxed before the early start the next morning. Our group also had a presentation with our porters and we were introduced and showed our appreciation to them all. A short walk from this camp site is the wonderful Incan citadel of Wiñay Wayna. It’s truly stunning and despite the number of groups at this camp site, we were the only ones to visit this site.
A very early rise the following morning allowed us to get to the check point before it opened. Once it had opened at 5.30am, all the groups were keen to be the first to get to the Sun Gate, and weather permitting would get their first glance of Machu Picchu. The path here was narrow and didn’t allow for much overtaking, so there was some pressure to walk quickly until there was space enough to pass or be passed. My lasting memory of this two hour trek is the set of steps leading up to the Sun Gate. I felt like I needed the skills of Spiderman to get up them! Steep and uneven doesn’t describe them, but it was wonderful to reach the top for that magnificent view.
After a short track down to Machu Picchu we passed through the final check point and had our passports stamped again. After a quick snack, our guides took us on a tour of the whole site, explaining the beliefs, hierarchy and expectations of Inca’s in their everyday lives. The location of Machu Picchu is outstanding, and the views from this mountains are phenomenal. You can’t even imagine how the Inca’s managed such a feat of engineering. Some of the braver members of our group took up the challenge to climb Huayna Picchu (there is a limit to the number of people who are able to climb this famous mountain which is the back drop to the classic Machu Picchu postcard.) Other parts of the site include the moon temple and the extremely precarious looking Inca bridge.
Around lunchtime we took a shuttle bus from the front of the luxurious Sanctuary Lodge Hotel adjacent to the citadel, down the zig zag road to the town of Aguas Caliantes below. After a buffet lunch in a local restaurant we had several hours to kill before we caught the train back to Ollantaytambo. Some of the group visited the hot springs from which Aguas Calientes gets its name, and the rest of us investigated the market place.
The train journey back from Aguas Calientes was in the dark, but entertainment was provided by the on board staff. I can’t explain this experience; you’ll have to take the trip to find out! At Ollantaytambo, we exchanged the train for a bus to take us back to Cusco town centre.
That evening we celebrated completing the Inca trail by meeting in Paddys Irish bar on Plaza de Armas for a few well deserved local beers!
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