Hiking the Inka Trail was pretty freaking awesome.
In my preparation for Peru I knew that I wanted to do a trek, and I knew that I wanted to see Machu Picchu. More people than not recommended that I NOT do the actual, Inka Trail trek, due to crowds and other annoyances, and instead do one of the alternative treks. I considered their opinions, briefly, but in the end felt like the actual Inka Trail trek would be a really great way to see the area and arrive at Machu Picchu. Hence, we did the classic Inka Trail 4 day trek.
I will talk about Cusco and the Sacred Valley in my next post, but I should mention that FIVE of my family members arrived last Sunday (almost two weeks ago now… whoops!) to join me for 10 days: Grandmother, Mom, Aunt Margaret, Aunt Debbie, and Uncle Bob! Party time! We spent three days in Cusco before four of us (Mom, Aunt Margaret, Uncle Bob, and myself) started our trek. Our group was small and, besides the four of us, only had one other person: Roland! We were very fortunate to have a patient, hilarious, and fun addition to our group – and hopefully we didn’t drive him crazy with our weird family-ness.
We set out from kilometer 82 (as measured from Cusco) to begin our trek. The days weren’t very long in kilometers, I think they were 9 km, 11 km, 16 km, and 6 km. What they lacked in distance, they definitely made up for in altitude gain and loss! WOW were there a lot of steps – and WOW do I never need to climb another staircase in my life. Just like I don’t need to ride another bus in my life. I won’t go into the gritty details of each and every day, but I really liked the progression of scenery we saw from the beginning to the end: we started in the mountains, which felt somewhat generic (although that is an awful thing to say because they truly were spectacular, I just can’t describe them in any great detail besides big and green), and ended at the edge of the jungle. Each pass we went over made it clear that we were getting closer to the jungle – everything got more green, more dense, and more wet!
The food on the trek was incredible. Our cook, Samuel, was clearly a talented chef and amazed us each day with his combination of flavors and his beautiful presentation! We weren’t expecting such luxury on a backpacking trip – and I don’t think I will ever have that sort of luxury again! We ate like kings (and queens) and were mystified by the cake he cooked in a pressure cooker… I plan to look up how to do this ASAP. Along with the cook we had our group of porters who carried our tents and group gear, as well as some of our personal gear. The porters generally come from villages up in the mountains, many of them only speak Quetchua, and it is AMAZING how quickly they run – yes, literally run – up the mountains. I wish we could have spent more time talking with the porters and getting to know them – I have a feeling they have an interesting story to tell – but unfortunately they kept a bit to themselves and, when I did make a small effort to talk, seemed very shy. Also, not all of them speak Spanish.
We enjoyed our first three days of trekking, even including Dead Woman Pass – 4,000 feet up in the morning and then at least 2,000 down to our campsite – and had a fairly regular schedule of waking up at 5 or 5:30 and going to bed around 8 pm. What a wonderful life. I could easily go to bed at 8 pm for the rest of my life – and it makes a 5 am wake up really easy! Our final day required a 3:30 wake up – not as easy – in order to get in line (weird) to leave the campsite and head to the Sun Gate and into Machu Picchu. We couldn’t leave the campsite until 5:30, so we waited in line with the rest of the trekkers until our group could go, then marched in line with everyone else up to the Sun Gate where, apparently, you can see Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, it was a VERY foggy morning and we could literally see nothing. See the following picture:
We were eager to get to Machu Picchu and skipped down the trail ahead of every other group (yes I know it isn’t a race, but we were first!) to arrive at Machu Picchu around 7:15, when we met up with Aunt Debbie and Grandmother who had taken the train up to Aguas Calientes the night before and bussed up to meet us in the morning. Aunt Margaret, Uncle Bob, Roland, and I all desperately wanted to climb Huayna Picchu (the tall rocky mound behind Machu Pichu in every classic Machu Picchu picture), and knew that since only 400 people can climb it per day we had to rush over to (hopefully) get a spot to climb! Luckily it was a cloudy, rainy morning and not very many people wanted to climb it in the first shift (7 am, but they let people trickle in for a few hours), but the 10 am shift was already full. We were allowed to go at 8:45 and somehow managed our way up more stairs (and sketchy ones at that) and were glad we did! It was still a bit foggy and rainy, but the clouds would part and blow by to give us a great view of Machu Picchu from above. In addition to just climbing up really high, there are more ruins at the top of Huayna Picchu which are also pretty cool to see.
By the time we descended from Huayna Picchu the fog had lifted a slight bit, so we could actually start to see the grandeur of Machu Picchu – and it really is grand. It is HUGE! We hiked around a bit looking for the others, then went to see the Inka Bridge (which sadly was not quite as cool as I had hoped), and returned to a beautiful sunny view of Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu and Huchuy Picchu in the background! The weather turned out to be perfect, and I’m glad we were able to see it both in fog and sun.
We were exhausted, and had seen about a million other ruins on the trek to Machu Picchu, so we didn’t feel the need to explore every nook and cranny of Machu Picchu. We headed down to Aguas Calientes to have lunch and relax before our train left to take us back to Cusco. Aguas Calientes is clearly a tourist town, but is charming in its own little way. The river, Urubamba, which flows through town was RAGING – I don’t think I have ever seen water that big. I don’t think you could have gone through the section in town in any sort of water craft – it was THAT big and tumultuous.
Our trip back was uneventful – we rode the train to Ollantaytambo before getting on a bus back to Cusco. Upon our arrival in Cusco we all wanted to shower and go to bed, but alas, we had no water in our hotel. So we went to bed dirty (and in my case a bit peeved about it) and had to wait until morning to shower. Not cool. Our hotel staff told us that the neighborhood we were in doesn’t have water at night (although sometimes we did), and I know that Cusco has serious water issues, but it just seemed really strange to me that other hotels DID have water at night. We should have moved after the very first night, but it was a nice hotel overall.
Many people complain that the classic Inka Trail trek is too crowded with people, and I won’t deny that it has a lot of people, but it really didn’t bother me. It was kind of fun to see the same people every day and build a sort of camaraderie with them – you have to if you’re hiking up and down so many grueling steps! This is not a hike for weanies, you definitely need to have some sort of physical fitness level to do it, but at the same time it was doable – perhaps just requiring much more time for some. The mountains are littered with ruins like Machu PIcchu (only smaller), all of which our guide, Edwin, told us the history of. It was really an educational experience and a fun way to arrive at Machu Picchu with a bit of background.
I am really glad we did the trek, and really grateful our group was small and compatible! Roland, who is German, was a great companion for all of us and he and Uncle Bob certainly brought enough humor to the trip to keep us all entertained. I can’t imagine how it would be to do the trail in a group of 16 (as many people do), but I bet it loses a bit of the personal aspects we had in our small group. I am not sure I ever need to do the Inka Trail again, but I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to do a trek and see Machu Picchu!
I will post more on Cusco and the Sacred Valley soon – sorry for being so far behind! I go home in FOUR DAYS (weird)! Everyone besides Aunt Margaret has gone home, and we are now in Paracas and heading up to Lima tomorrow for our last few days.