Hiking the Inca trial is different to other treks to Machu Picchu (MP) namely because you are following almost exactly the same route the Incas walked 400 years ago on their way from Cusco to MP. Due to this, on the way you pass many archaeological sites built by the Incas as rest stops or visitor areas and also walk on paths the Incas built themselves- this begs the question as to why the stairs on the trails are so big when Incas were so little! People are unsure as to why MP was built given its inaccessibility, but some guess it was a ‘Kings Retreat’ or a place where one could be closer to the 4 elements (Earth, Sun, Water and Wind) for worship. Experts guess that soon after the Spanish landed the Incas abandoned Machu Picchu in order to keep it hidden but others believe it could have been abandoned long before this. Either way the Spanish were never to uncover the ‘Lost City of the Incas’, although this was not through lack of trying.
So we got picked up for our trip of a life time at the delicious time of 4.30am and although this was the norm throughout the rest of the trail the first day was definitely the hardest. We had a 3 hour ride from Cusco to the start of the Inca trail where we had breakfast at a spot with incredible views. Here we met our porters, our guide (Sabi) and the couple we were doing the trip with Carlos and Emily. Our porters were amazing; most of them have grown up in rural villages and so are accustomed to long walks with a heavy load. Their bags were literally bigger than them, and at times they would run up and down the mountains fully loaded – they were incredibly fit. What was even more impressive was that one of the guys was 65 years old. Sabi was hilarious but not necessarily intentionally so- he was the biggest fan of his own jokes and him laughing made us laugh. He was a really good guide and had lots of knowledge about both the flora and fauna and archaeological sites. Carlos and Emily were also a lovely couple, they provided good company in the evenings and were a similar level of fitness to us which was great.
Then the trek began at kilometre 82. When this used to be a common trail for the Incas and not for tourists like ourselves it would start back in Cusco (the Inca capital) and so they would have an extra 82km to walk- those guys were in good shape. Thank god they have made it a bit easier for tourists! The walk started of pretty easy but soon it started to climb providing breath-taking views of the valley below. On route we saw an archaeological site notable for its serpentine shape. In Incan culture this was particularly significant as it represented one of the main subdivions of the world, the underworld, with puma and condor representing mother nature and the sky respectively.
Despite the porters starting the trail an hour or so later they soon overtook us so that when we arrived to our beautiful lunch spot by a river everything was ready and waiting. We were treated to a fresh juice while we rested in the sun for a while. We then retired to our dining tent where we were served fresh soup followed by a buffet style lunch and tea to finish. After a quick siesta we hit the trail again whilst the porters packed down camp – it was luxury. We did feel a bit guilty at how hard the guys were working but we soon got used to it after a couple of days and for the porters it was just another day in the office.
After a fairly hard walk in the afternoon we passed through a couple of small villages where we had the chance to taste ChiCha (local drink made by fermenting corn but contains no alcohol – the Incas and now the locals use it for energy on the trails). This was to be the last civilisation we would see until the end of the trek.
When we arrived to our camping spot for the night (another lush view) our tents were already put up for us and the Chef was hard at work preparing the evening feast. We took the opportunity to change our clothes and freshen up – personal bowls of hot water and flannels were provided. Whilst waiting for dinner a lady from the nearby village rocked up with a donkey loaded with Cervezas and chocolate bars which we treated ourselves to.
Dinner was epic. Started with a amuse bouche of fresh avocado, potatoes cheese and lime juice. This was swiftly followed by a hot pumpkin soup and another buffet style main meal consisting of chiken stirfry, alpaca steaks, trout, veggie options and salad. How they cook this with only 2 stove rings in a tiny tent is beyond us. They even whipped out a pizza on one occasion.
With our bellies full we headed to our tents to call it a night, although we did stop by the campsite ‘toilets’ which were actually a hole in the ground with a mound of shit tissues in the corner as no bins were provided…Nice!
Our wake up call came at 5:30am on the second morning – a lie in…The porters ´knocked´on our tent and provided us with a steaming hot cup of coco tea as well as a bowl of hot water and towels to freshen up – insane…This was the procedure everyday- if only we could take the porters everywhere with us.
We were treated to a slap up breakfast of warm porridge, fresh fruit, pancakes, omelettes and juices, definitely one of the best breakkies we have had, beats sharing a bowl of muesli out of a tea cup.
This day was by far the most challenging, we had 8 hours of walking ahead of us, traversing over mountains and climbing thousands of stairs eventually reaching the highest point on the trail named Dead Woman´s Pass (or Gringo killer-4200m). Here the porters joined us for more coca tea and a sandwich. We then descended to a lunch spot over looking a waterfall before climbing the second high pass – it was exhausting- the altitude really took effect. It was lucky we had walking poles as the sheer size and number of ´stairs´ is a sure way to wreck one´s knees.
The walk was also broken up by two more archaeological sights- the most impressive of which was an old Incan fortress perched high on a hill which happened to overlook our evenings camp spot. Unfortunately it started raining at this point so the waterproof trousers, rain jacket and ponchos came on ready for the damp walk to our homes for the night.
This is meant to be the easiest day as it only takes 5 hours to complete and is mostly downhill however its turned out to be tough. We were starting to get pretty knackered from the lack of sleep and continuous walking and to add to this some of the steps down were literally half Grace’s height. To make matters worse it was also our rainiest day making the path treacherous.
It was one of the prettiest days though. We descended through cloud forest to rainforest to bamboo forest, we saw a cool lake, an Incan tunnel carved into the mountain side and a llama and their 6 day old baby- sooooo cute. He seemed like an excited toddler, jumping from rock to rock but always checking mum wasn’t too far away.
We also saw another two archaeological sites- one of which was the most impressive we had seen to date- Wina Wayna. This overlooked a waterfall and the river, had a beautiful ‘balcony’ and a fascinating water supply system. It was also one of the most beautiful.
After dinner that evening the chef served up a celebratory cake and Cervesa’s as it was our last night. This was impressive for two reasons; one because all he had to cook it on was stove rings and two because he made it wheat free. Hamazing!!! It tasted fit as well. We took this opportunity to say our thanks and goodbyes to all the porters and have an early night for the epic day ahead of us.
Day 4- the big day!-
Today we woke up at 3am- pretty sure this isn’t even considered the morning! This was in order to beat the crowds to Machu Picchu by being the first group to the check point. This opens at 5.30 which means we had more than a 2 hour wait there. Despite the unsociable hour the chef and porters still managed to fix us a huge brekkie before we headed out. Thank goodness considering the amount of energy we expelled on the final leg of our journey.
When the gate opened we couldn’t help but walk quickly (closer to a jog) even up the almost vertical stairs to get to Sungate. Sungate is one of the classic viewing points of the lost city of the Incas (Machu Picchu- MP) but unfortunately our struggle was a bit pointless. When we arrived there MP was covered in cloud, big shame although it did add to the mystery. We decided not to wait around for it to clear- it didn’t look hopeful- and continued on.
It was another hour till we hit MP but luckily by this point the clouds had cleared and we were rewarded with some amazing views. The site is absolutely massive, with over a thousand terraces, buildings spreading as far as the eye can see and huge mountains looming in the background- it’s not hard to see why it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Incan architecture was incredible, the buildings and temples were built with such precision they have withstood numerous earthquakes and other natural disasters that many modern buildings did not. Part of the reason for this was that the walls were built at a slight angle and the stones used were cut to perfection meaning little/no mortar was needed.
The city was home to 4 temples (sun, earth, water and wind), a sacrificial stone, The Kings Palace, a celestial mirror and a stone compass – with near perfect precision. It was also home to a number of friendly llamas just to add to the mix.
However viewing the wonder was not all that it should have been; we had not seen cars, modern buildings or more than a select few people in the last 4 days and so turning up to touristy MP was somewhat of a shock to the system. There was a continuous stream of buses pulling up outside, an overpriced restaurant, gift shop and even a hotel nearby, not to mention the thousands and thousands of tourists coming to the site. When an official started whistling us to move on as we had spent too long looking at one area it was all a bit much.
After our tour around MP we said our goodbyes to Carlos, Emily and Sabi and spent some time chilling at some of the less crowded spots and taking the typical postcard photos. When we had felt we had taken it all in, we took the bus out of MP to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes.
Here we had a great lunch with views of the river, visited the thermal baths, despite a huge storm, as our achy muscles were well in need of a soak and watched a film before getting a very early night’s sleep – lush.
The next morning we headed out to Ollantaytambo on train. This was a pretty cool ride through the forest and overlooking the river. The train even had a clear roof so you could see the high mountains and sky as you travelled- posh! When we got there we chilled out in the square for a while, sampled some of the street food (chicken kebabs with Aji sauce and churros) and then went to visit the archaeological site this area is famous for. The site is pretty impressive and it as it was not a busy as MP we got to see it in our own time which was great. The only problem was that it was situated on a hill so we inevitably had to do some climbing- not fun the day after finishing the Inca trial.
We then had a lovely lunch on a balcony in a restaurant in the square before our bus back to Cusco where we had a huge night out to celebrate our endeavours – good times…