We’ve all heard that famous saying “It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey.” Well, I would say that when it comes to the Inca Trail, it’s most definitely about both! Apart from the research done around when the best time to visit Machu Picchu is and what to pack, I decided to go into the Inca Trail (and Peru as a whole) with an open mind. I wanted to be surprised and also wanted to make up my own mind on whether this truly was one of the world’s greatest hikes and why it’s so popular amongst many avid travellers and adventurers.
Day One – Easy
My mind was already starting to change the second our guide Raúl and our small but friendly team of porters were picked up and driven to our first checkpoint. The sun was out, everyone was packed and we were ready to go. I like to call the initial picture you can see at the top of this post our ‘before’ shot, simply because this would be the last time in four whole days that we’d be completely clean and dry! We initially had no idea of what to expect from the journey we were about to embark on…
We were told by our guide that our first day on the Inca Trail would be the easiest. Day one was a total of 5-6 hours walking on a flat surface and gave us our final opportunity to see civilisation before we delved deeper into remote, mountainous landscapes and hidden Incan treasures.
“This isn’t too bad actually.” I kept telling myself as we continued into our first two hours of walking past tiny villages and river banks.
We stopped to take the occasional water and snack breaks as we watched our team of porters whizz ahead to setup at our first campsite. Day one was our first chance to really get to meet the porters and learn their names, and after doing so, our small and fearless team of trekkers was formed!
Day Two – The wrath of the dead woman
I don’t think any of us were really prepared to face the challenge of the infamous Dead Woman’s Pass. Raúl warned the group the night before that the second day would be the hardest. We would be climbing to the highest point of the entire trek to an altitude of 4,200m above sea level! The second day was definitely the most difficult! It involved an early start followed by a strenuous 6 hours of climbing uphill, and two hours down before reaching our campsite.
After a welcoming, hearty breakfast, we set off. We passed a variety of incredible landscapes and vegetation before eventually reaching the steps. This steep incline would lead us up to witness the incredible views from Dead Woman’s pass. As you look up at the steps, you initially can’t help but think the end-point isn’t too far away. However, I quickly realised this was far more challenging than anticipated as the breathlessness kicked in with every few steps.
When we eventually reached the top, we learnt the real meaning behind the name ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’. It’s also known as Warmiwañusca in the local Quechua language and it was given the nickname because of the shape of the mountain resembling that of a dead woman lying on her back. After another delicious lunch prepared by our porters, we continued into our two hour decent. However, the heavens opened and didn’t stop for the rest of that afternoon. I was soaked (despite wearing my rain jacket!) which is why I recommend buying yourself a waterproof poncho to put over your jacket from one of the shops or markets in Ollantaytambo beforehand.
Day Three – Cloudforests and Ancient ruins
We’d done it! We’d tackled what was a truly tough, second day on the trek. It was time for what would be less of an uphill climb but the longest day of walking on the entire trek. The group would be tackling approximately 15 km in 8 hours.
Over our daily cup of fresh Muña tea (fresh mint tea from Peru) our guide Raúl mentioned that day three was his favourite day as we would get the chance to come across the most number of ruins that he would tell us more about as we stopped to catch our breaths.
Despite day three being the longest, it was my favourite as it involved trekking through a variety of climates. We came across different scenery that we hadn’t previously seen so far, including cloudforests and terraced landscapes.
Day Four – The mighty Machu Picchu
The past three days were a mixture of emotions to say the least. With everything from “what was I thinking” to “this is incredible” running through my mind. But I was finally going to come face-to-face with one of the seven wonders of the world.
Although today was the final day, we would still be getting up as early as 3:30 am! After having a quick breakfast and trekking for two hours to the famous Sun Gate, we had the opportunity to catch the sunrise and finally our first glimpse of the iconic Machu Picchu.
Sadly our group wasn’t as fortunate as we were met with heavy rainfall and a cloud of fog. It prevented anyone from taking photos to the point that we begun to doubt whether we would actually get to see Machu Picchu! In the end, heavy rainfall and monkey stepped aside to help us. The fog was finally lifted and we were able to explore the ruins as a group. Raúl was great, giving us further background information on how they were founded and discovered.
It truly is that feeling of accomplishment and pride that makes this experience worthwhile. I know I left Peru feeling such a sense of admiration for the Incas and their legacy. Whilst it wasn’t always easy, it was an experience of lifetime that I won’t forget in a hurry.
Even if you feel like you aren’t fit to take on the four day trek, Tucan Travel offer the amazing opportunity to either do a one-day trek or to take the scenic train ride to the ruins so you don’t miss out on that all important chance to visit Machu Picchu.
So, what are you waiting for?