Peru, South America: Inca Trail
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is located in the Andres mountain range. Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian History Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World after an online popular vote and when your there you will see why.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is on many peoples bucket lists. The trail is 4 days long. There are many steps. The highest pass (Dead Woman’s Pass) is 4,200 meters above sea level. The trail is only as hard as you make it.
After the long week of sitting on a bus travelling from Lima to Cusco. It’s now to start our trek, the whole reason we travelled to Peru
We started our day at 5am. A short mini bus drive from Cusco to the small town of Ollantaytambo which is the final chance for you to get anything you may need for your trek. But lets be honest, if you don’t have what you need by now, you're not very well prepared. After a little bite to eat we head on to the start of the trail.
We arrived at Piscacucho KM 82, which is 2,600 meters above sea level, where we get our first chance to meet our porters and guides. This is also the place where all the bags get weighed so make sure the bags you are giving your porter is under 15kgs. If its over, you will have to carry it yourself.
When it comes to the Inca Trail its fascinating to find out there are a lot of rules and regulations around how tour companies work. For example: each tour company must have one and a half porters for each guest on the trek plus a cook and one or two guides.
Also each porter is only allowed to carry a total maximum of 30kgs of weight on their back, that includes sharing the load for guest tents, the dining tent, the cook stove and gas bottle, tables and chairs plus whatever the guests have given (within the 15kg limit) the porters to carry. The other treks I’ve been on, Everest Base Camp and Kilimanjaro, they only had 1 porter per guest and additional porters to carry tents and kitchen setups. Determining the number of porters wasn’t really worked out until we got to KM 82. This made it hard for us to work out how much money we required to take so as to tip each porter and the cook at the end of the trek.
Once we were ready, we heading down to the entry with all our National Park paperwork and our passports checked, we were finally off for our first day of gentle walking.
The temperature was hot, but not uncomfortable. We all walked along at our own pace. Slow. There was four of us in our group. My dad, myself and two young Belgium girls.
There are many groups along the way. Group sizes ranging from 2 - 40. But our small group of 4 was amazing.
The beginning of the Inca Trail at Piscacucho KM 82.
Initially the trail passes through many local villages. Most have some sort of stall for you to buy Coke, water, lollies & chips. So there is no need to worry if you forget to bring your own snacks or addition bottle for your daily water.
Water along the track, other than the local stalls that you will see for the first day and a half, is boiled by your cook. So you can do one of two things. Uses plastic bottles and get them filled in the evening and they will be ready for the next day or you can fill up an aluminium bottle and use it as a hot water bottle to sleep with, to keep you warm throughout the night. Your water will be to drink cool enough by the morning. We didn’t use water purifying tablets, but if you want to take it a step further you're welcome to use them. I personally hate the taste.
Day one of your trek is all about relaxing, not pushing yourself, finding your walking pace (Don’t let your guide set the pace for you) and looking at the amazing Inca sites along the way. Like Willkarakay & Q’Entimarka (Patallaqta) to just name two. So be sure to take a camera.
The first night is in a small village called Tres Piedra (Three White Stones), which is 3,350 meters above sea level, located at the bottom of the valley we will need to walk up the next day to the to the famous Abra Warmwañuska (Dead Woman’s Pass).
Your probably wondering why is called Dead Woman’s Pass? Is it because a woman dead on the pass? No. The silhouette of the mountain resembles a supine woman, not because you'll be a dead woman (or man) by the time you reach the top.
The view of Dead Woman's Pass from our first nights camp site.
We were up early the next day and soon after breakfast were back on the track to start toughest day of the trek. The path consisted on many steps. The best thing to help you with them are trekking poles. Not just knee savers for going down hills but also great to help you up the Inca steps.
As this day is the hardest everyone will walk at a slow and steady pace. My dad and I keep telling each other when we see people running past us as if it were a race: "Its the journey and not the destination at matters the most."
This day we did the climb to the high pass. It was a very hot day and with little shade to hide in there was nothing much you could do other than focus on getting to the top. The climb to the top from our campsite took around 4 hours.
Once you make it to the top and you look down the valley from which you have just climbed out of, you look back with a smile on your "out of breath" face and say to yourself "You did it”. Abra Warmwañuska (Dead Woman’s Pass) is the highest pass on the trek sitting at 4,200 meters above sea level, so be sure to take a few photos, sit back and reflect upon the massive achievement you have just completed before heading down into the valley on the other side.
The view down the valley from Dead Woman's Pass.
On the way down into the valley toward where lunch was setup, we were advised that we would be camping the night at this location also. Our guide didn’t want to have us walking through a coming storm as the second half of the day was going to be up a steep, slippy, stone path, which wouldn’t be nice for us. Plus, with the weather slowing us down, we would have expected to arrive into the camp site after 6pm, which the guides don’t like doing as it is becoming too dark.
So, once we got to the lunch camp we had a free afternoon from about 2:30pm, to rest and have a little walk around the camp site to see what other groups are doing. The camp site was fairly small with only 2 toilet blocks to use. With around 300 people at the same site trying to use the same toilets there are long waiting lines. Using toilets on the Inca Trail are a cultural experience in itself so lets just say you would only use them if you really had to.
The next morning the storm clouds has passed and the sky was a beautiful clear blue. We got ready to do our longest day of walking. This was due to the poor weather the previous afternoon.
The morning climb wasn’t to bad as there were historical sites like Runkuraqay, to look and hear about the history of the place from our guide while marvelling at the beautiful view across the valley.
Beautiful view from Runkuraqay ruins in the early morning.
At the top of Pass 2, at 3,950 meters above sea level, we got a short break to walk around an historic site without our packs. This was good after walking up hill for about a hour and a half to get there. But the break was short lived as we had to move on down the step stone stairs to the Sayacmarka and Qonchamarka ruins.
Sayacmarka is the biggest ruin that we has seen so far on the trek. There are two parts to the construction: a temple of the sun and a residential half. The site was originally build by the Colla, the biggest enemy of the Incas before they became kings of the Peruvian highlands. The Qonchamarka site functioned as the farm for this small city where only 200 people could live.
Within the city walls of the Sayacmarka ruins.
By the time we reached lunch site it was 10:30am! Just a tad early for lunch since we had only had breakfast a few hours again.
When you're on the trek you are very well fed. Breakfast and Dinner is normally a 3 course meal the same with lunch some days. Other days you have a small packed lunch with a sandwich, fruit and a drink. So having lunch at 10:30am and it being a 3 course meal so soon after a 3 course breakfast was a little much for me.
After lunch, we were back on the trail again, but this time it was on the original stone paths of the Inca Trail. Original the whole Inca Trail was made out of stone. But over the years it was destroyed. The path winds along the edge of mountains and ever so slightly heading us up to the final pass of our trip; Pass 3.
At the top of Pass 3 you can look down into the valley below and can see the town of Aquas Clalientes, at the base of Machu Picchu. The town we would be staying in after visiting Machu Picchu the next day.
For many people this is where they had lunch. But for us it was a short break then back on the trail as we climbed down to our final camp site, Wiñaywayna.
But before we get to camp, we decided to take the long route to check out the Wiñaywayna ruins, which were built for Inca agricultural purposes, located on the side of a steep hill. The site consists of upper and lower house complexes connected by a staircase and fountain structures.
The Wiñaywayna camp site was to hold over 500 people on our final night. This camp site is the entrance into the World Heritage Site. The government only issues 500 entry tickets each day from this entrance so we needed to wait until the next morning to complete the final 2 hours of our trek to Machu Picchu.
Our final day started with a 3am wake up so as to line up at the entry gate, to be among the first 60 people through. The gates to the Machu Picchu World Heritage Site open at 5:30am. As you go through the gate your National Park tickets are checked and we walked through the gates on our way to our final destination.
This last stretch is probably the fastest we have walked because we would like to try and get to the Sun Gate that overlooks Machu Picchu before sunrise so we can get the first pictures looking down into Machu Picchu before the crowds of people flock into the Heritage site by the bus service.
Disappointingly, when we arrived at the Sun Gate, the clouds closed in and the rain started to fall The view was completely white. There was no chance of us getting the much talked about sunrise photo over Machu Picchu.
The disappointing view from Sun Gate over Machu Picchu.
There was no point in waiting around just to look at a white cloud curtain and getting wet from the rain, so we continued to walk down into Machu Picchu. The clouds lingered around and made the morning uncomfortable. This put a dampener on the end of our 4 days of trekking to this amazing wonder of the world.
A little advice: If Machu Picchu is clouded in when you arrive in the morning. Be sure to wait around till after 10:30am as the clouds will lift.
Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views. Its exact former use remains a mystery.
The complex of palaces and plazas, temples and homes may have been built as a ceremonial site, a military stronghold, or a retreat for ruling elites—its dramatic location is certainly well suited for any of those purposes.
The Inca’s achievements and skills are all the more impressive in light of the knowledge they lacked. When Machu Picchu was built some 500 years ago the Inca had no iron, no steel, and no wheels. Their tremendous effort apparently benefited relatively few people—some experts maintain that fewer than a thousand individuals lived here.
The World Heritage listed Machu Picchu.
This site is a must see when travelling through Peru and an item to put on the top of your bucket list.
BONUS: WAYNA PICCHU
Wayna Picchu is the mountain that sits behind Machu Picchu at 2682 meters above sea level. If you’re looking at doing this short hike you will need to book well ahead of time as there is only 400 spots available each day. There are two session one at 7am and 10am. The hike is only a 45min to an hour up hill walk and it contains a lot of steps so if your not a lover of climbing stairs to a spectacular view then you might want to give this a miss.
The sensational view from the top of Wayna Picchu looking over Machu Picchu.
Entry Ticket to Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu can be purchased at ticketmachupicchu.com
Travel Agent: Monica Tours Peru - monicatoursperu.com
Tour Company: Sky Peru - skyperu.com
Airline: LANTAM Airlines - latam.com
Train: PeruRail - perurail.com