Okay, some advice if you are doing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – take some wet wipes! You will have no access to a shower for four days, and the wet wipes will make you feel like a new person!
The Inca Trail in Peru is one of the world’s signature trails - one of Adventure Travel’s ‘top 5’ South American attractions.
What most people don’t realise is that the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is just a tiny fragment in a much bigger network of trails. The Incas built a highly advanced network of nearly 40,000 thousand kilometers to connect the distant corners of their vast empire that stretched from Quito in Ecuador down to Santiago in Chile and east to Mendoza in Argentina.
At 43km long, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is both awe-inspiring and arduous – physically challenging and steep in places, but within the ability of most reasonably fit people. With three passes to be crossed, one of which reaches an elevation of 4200m (13,776 ft), the trail snakes through mountain scenery, subtropical jungle and of course Inca paving stones, ruins and tunnels.
Sam takes on the Inca Trail.
Our trek departed from Ollantaytambo, a quaint village set on the Urubamba River amid snow-covered mountains; and from there, we set forth to walk in the ancient footsteps of the Incas!
Our amazing local crew of porters, a cook and guide looked after us for the duration of the hike – and I can tell you, the food was amazing!! Porters carried most of the gear, so we only needed a daypack with water, rain gear, snacks (which are provided daily), a camera, etc. As we walked the trail that linked this ancient empire, we admired breathtaking views at every step from high plateau areas to dense cloud forest. Depending on the season, you can see a great variety of flora, including miniature and large orchids, and fiery rhododendron bushes.
At night, we slept in two-man dome tents, which the porters magically put up before we walked into camp –we were then greeted by clapping and cheering – a lovely welcoming committee at the end of each day of walking!
Dead Women's Pass and the Urubamba Valley.
On the second day, we climbed the long steep path to Warmiwañusca, or Dead Woman’s Pass. At 4198 m (13769 ft) above sea level, it is the highest point of the trek. On clear days, there is a view of the snow-capped Cordillera Vilcabamba. The trail goes through some beautiful cloud forest on the gentle climb to the third pass, with a causeway and a tunnel, both original Inca constructions.
You are at the mercy of the weather, but on a good day you can be rewarded for all your huffing and puffing with a beautiful view of the Urubamba Valley below. Soon you reach the serene ruins of Phuyupatamarca, or the 'Town above the Clouds', at about 3650 m (11972 ft) above sea level. You can camp there, or if you still have some energy, or an hour and a half further along close to Wiñay Wayna (Forever Young) ruins, a grandiose terraced hillside site, with panoramic views of the valley below and just a short hike from Machu Picchu.
Arrival to Machu Picchu, climbing the steps to the Sun Gate.
For dinner that night the porters baked us a ‘congratulations’ cake as a finale! I have no idea what was in it – but it tasted amazing – and I will forever wonder how they made a cake without an oven or any facilities.
On the final day of the hike we climbed the steps to the Sun Gate overlooking the peaks that surround Machu Picchu. When the morning is clear, there is no way to describe the feeling of the first views of Machu Picchu, as the mist rises off the mountains early in the morning and the famous site appears in front of you.
Machu Picchu is both the best and the least known of the Inca ruins. It is not mentioned in any of the chronicles of the Spanish conquistadors and archaeologists today can do no more than speculate on its function. The local Quechua farmers in the area knew of Machu Picchu for centuries, but it was not until an 11-year-old boy led the American historian Hiram Bingham (who was in search of Vilcabamba) to the site on July 24, 1911, that the rest of the world became aware of its existence. At that time the site was covered in thick vegetation, and Bingham and his team returned in 1912 and 1915 to clear the growth.
Over the years, much work has been done on excavating and studying the site. Despite these efforts, many unanswered questions remain.
On the last day of the Inca Trail, after spending time in Machu Picchu, you travel down to Aguas Calientes and board your train back to Ollantaytambo, the journey is approximately 1 ½ hours. From there you are transferred by private van back to Cuzco, this transfer is approximately 2 hours.
(TIP: Book a massage with Yin Yang Plus in Cuzco for the day after the Inca Trail! USD25 for 1 hour. They will even come around to your hotel the day you get back from the Trail….this is a fully legitimate massage service, nothing dodgy).
Sam’s tips for Walking the Inca Trail
• Bring an Ipod. Days 2 and 3 are long and on day 2 you may need the encouragement to make the long climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass. Your Ipod may be a life saver …
• Always carry loo paper with you! As you go further into the trek the less desirable the toilets become. You may be tempted to go off trek, so be prepared!
• Coco Tea and more Coco Tea! This fantastic natural little treasure will help you with the altitude and is really refreshing. Make sure you start each day with a cup.
• Hire Tramping Poles! You may think you don’t need them but they will get you up those vertical and high Inca stairs!
• Prepare for the cold! Night 2 is chilly, and you will want a good night’s sleep for day 3. Keep warm and you will sleep well.
• Always keep a Rain Poncho handy! Weather is changeable and while trekking you don’t have access to your luggage. Keep a poncho in your day pack at all times