Conquering the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Is hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu on your travel “bucket list?” It’s been on the top of ours since we were teenagers. An adventure so popular it needs to be booked SIX months in advance, we couldn’t wait to get to Peru to finally experience the magic that is Machu Picchu.
PREPPING FOR OUR TREK
Let me start by saying, it’s no cakewalk. You don’t have to be an Ironman triathlete to complete the four-day Inca Trail trek, but it’s a good idea to be in shape. The distance isn’t why paramedics are pulling out their oxygen tanks for trekkers on day two, it’s the altitude. The altitude is a killer, and that’s what makes this trek such a challenging, but rewarding experience. This was the biggest trek of ours since we hiked the Himalayas in January.
At the start of this trek, we felt a mix of excitement and determination. This would be one of Oren’s biggest challenges since being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in Nepal (a few weeks after the Himalayas). We packed more than enough energy bars and glucose gels to keep Oren’s blood sugar in check, but the trek is a mental game as well. Luckily for me, Oren was playing to win.
THE INCA TRAIL BEGINS
We decided to go with SAS Travel for our trek, an organization that got rave reviews from Oren’s sister and our other friends who completed the trail before. (We highly recommend SAS Travel to anyone thinking about doing this trek.) Our first day of trekking began with a 3am wake-up call at our awesome accommodation in Cusco, Milhouse Hostel. We met our group of 15 trekkers, two guides and 18 porters a few hours later at the starting point. We learned that the perferred term for porters on the Inca trail is “chaske.” Why did we have 18 chaskes? They’re only (?!?!) allowed to carry 25 kg and these guys were carrying our tents and sleeping pads, food for four days, chairs, tables, and a portion of our supplies. When you have 15 trekkers, you need a lot of chaskes. Believe me, chaske = Superman.
CONQUERING DEAD WOMAN’S PASS
“Packs on!” yelled our guide, Mike. And we were off. Mike liked to call Day 1, “Warm Up.” I’m not sure many of us agreed with him that day after completing the 14 km. But, then we got to Day 2 and realized why that name was fitting. Our second day on the trail was extremely difficult. Not only did we hike 12 km, we climbed to 4,200 meters or almost 14,000 feet. It’s called “Dead Woman’s Pass.” Go figure. The scenery was amazing. Our group started coming together as a family, cheering each other on, communicating when one of us needed an extra minute to catch our breath. The view from the summit was amazing!
GIVING THANKS TO PACHA MAMA
The Peruvian people are very connected to Mother Earth, or Pacha Mama. They give thanks often to the land around them and instead of destroying it, and they focus on respecting it and sharing those beliefs with others. That’s why the Inca Trail is a very spiritual experience as well. At the summit, we held a ceremony, giving thanks and honoring the land around us. Although we were exhausted after the second day, the altitude and the cold weather made it a bit difficult to relax at night. That, and the fact that Mike told everyone ghost stories, so no one wanted to leave their tent in the middle of the night to walk 10 minutes to use the bathroom. But, in my opinion, after a night at MBC in the Himalayas, nothing is ever going to be colder than that. I passed out right away.
The third day wasn’t the most difficult, but it was definitely the longest. We left early in the morning before the sun came up and didn’t arrive at camp until after dark. But, we stopped at archaeological sites along the way and kept reminding ourselves that Machu Picchu was only a day away. Energy-wise, Oren and I were feeling great. I love physical challenges, so I was loving the trek. It rained in the afternoon, but it’s nothing that a poncho didn’t solve. Note: If you plan on hiking the Inca Trail, DO NOT forget a poncho. Just in case.
At night, we enjoyed another great meal with a surprise dessert. Our chef cooked us an awesome cake to celebrate two things: 1) our upcoming visit to Machu Picchu, and 2) Francois’s birthday! Yup, one of the awesome dudes in our group celebrated his birthday the night before finishing the Inca Trail. All week long, the food along the trail was REALLY good. We may have been sleeping in tents and smelled because we had no shower, but our food was almost gourmet.
MACHU PICCHU AT LAST
We all basically fell into bed knowing that at 3:30am, we’d be waking up to see what we had been waiting for all along. The fourth day was so rewarding. We hiked the final 2 km of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and entered the site from above. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. We just shook our heads as we watched the groups of tourists who had simply hopped on the train to get there walking around the site in high heels. Here we were: tired, dirty, and dusty. There’s nothing wrong with taking a train to see Machu Picchu, but there’s nothing more rewarding than hiking four days, following the actual Inca Trail to get there. Mike gave us a fantastic tour of the site and we took a million photos. (Editor’s note: Cassie is exaggerating with “a million photos,” but not by much.)
Instead of going home on the fourth day, we elected to stay an extra day near the site. The next morning, we woke up early and hiked Huayna Picchu Mountain (the mountain next to Macchu Picchu). It gave us a great view, overlooking the famous site. If you have the time (and the energy), stay an extra day to hike Huayna Picchu. It’s worth it. After our five day adventure, we hopped on the train for a 3 1/2 hr ride back to Cusco. We checked Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail off of our bucket list, but we also took away an experience that we will NEVER forget.
Have we convinced you yet?