“Some trips we take to reach a destination, others we take for the pleasure of the journey itself. Peru’s Inca Trail is perhaps the world’s greatest hike because it combines the best of both types of travel: a four day walk to the spectacular lost city of Machu Picchu that winds through the zone where the snowcapped Andes Mountains crash into the lush Amazon jungle, creating some of the world’s most dramatic and beautiful terrain.” – Mark Adams, Author, Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time.
DAY 1: CUSCO-WAYLLABAMBA:
Distance: 7.45 miles / 12km
Time: 5-6 hours
Maximum altitude: 9,850 feet / 3,000m
After over 6 months of anticipation, the day finally came for our Inca trail hike to Machu Picchu. We were picked up from our lodging in Cusco at 5am, when we met the rest of our group and drove to Ollantaytambo for breakfast and to purchase snacks and water. A short drive to the official checkpoint, where the porters organized the bags, we got our passports stamped, and then officially started the trail!
The morning passes really fast as you take in the incredible landscape and get to know your fellow hikers. We were fortunate to have a small group - 6 of us: Kris and I, our friend Pallavi, Diana and Fabian from Mexico, and Alejandro from Argentina. Along with us was a small army - 9 porters, our chef Mateo, and our guide, Elvis.
Day 1 is relatively easy (in hindsight!), covering about 12 kms but not too much gain in elevation. We started the hike along the river, already wowed by the views and the landscape around. Elvis, our guide, set a steady pace and we reached our lunch camp in a few hours. The Infocusco porters and chef, who sprinted ahead of us, greeted us with applause, fresh juice, and a fully set up lunch tent! As we were to realize, this would be the norm every day.
I felt a pang of guilt as we reached our tent - the setup dining tent and stools seemed extravagant, considering the porters had to carry everything for us. After a lunch stop, we continued on while the porters packed everything up and still managed to walk faster than us and pass us on the trail, although they were each carrying over 50 pounds!
Day 1 continued on with varying terrains, amazing mountains, and a couple of Inca ruins. One of the highlights was passing the Inca site of Llactapata - an amoeba shaped site carved into the mountain valley. Elvis was great at giving us the history of the trail and the ruins we encountered, and teaching us about the Inca culture.
Day 1 selfie. As the days got harder, we had no energy for selfies. Plus, we looked like a mess.
The afternoon was more challenging as we had a 1000 foot ascent in two hours, with some very vertical stretches. We continued as a group though, from the next day we would break up and follow our own pace, so it was nice to hike together.
When we reached our campsite right before sunset, our tents were set up (I tell you, the porters are incredible!), and we were greeted with hot tea, hot water to freshen up, and a hot 3 course dinner.
Around the dinner table, conversation turned to Day 2, which is supposed to be the killer day. We went to bed around 8pm, hoping to get a full night’s sleep and wake up at 5 to start the most challenging portion of the trail.