Existing Member?

South America 2015

The Inka Trail to Machu Picchu

PERU | Monday, 17 August 2015 | Views [2141]

The Inka Trail to Machu Picchu

Day 1 (16km)
A 3am alarm is never welcome but there was an a feeling of anticipation in the air, maybe even nervousness about the conditions ahead but we were up and about, unlike the temperature. It was around the 1-2 degree mark as we waited outside for the bus. The first stop was Ollyantaytambo, around two and a half hours from Cusco. This is where all the bags are weighed and transferred to the team of porters who carry all the equipment for the trip. They are truly super human, carrying all the luggage, tents, entire kitchen, tables and chairs, food, water, toilet and anything else required. The porters have a 20kg per person carry limit, in total our group of 10 required 16 porters. Each hiker is allowed a 9kg limit, this includes sleeping bags and thermarest mattresses at 3.5 kgs for both, so around 5.5kgs is left for clothing, toiletries and equipment. There's a small shop for last minute snacks and supplies, we both purchased the most essential item, hiking sticks. Juanita going for dual extendable poles while Jorje opted for a traditional wooden number. All sticks must have rubber stoppers on the bottom to be allowed in the park. Ollyantaytambo is also the trail head, from here we walked.
We had been joined by Dave and Alison from the UK and their kids, Conner 18 and Ellie 16. Our guide Fernando and assistant Mario finalising the group and we were off. Passports and tickets shown and over the bridge into the national park. The start of the trek is only about 2600m above sea level but the first hill proved you could still feel the altitude. We followed the Urabumba river to Sallapunku and got our first glimpse of Inkan ruins, some farm terracing on the other side of the river. The sun had come out by this point and we were stripping off layers, down to t-shirts again. The next Inka site was Wilkarakay, more impressive and we got to walk through the remains of the small village. We thought this was pretty cool, having no idea what laid ahead. Lunch was about 5kms away but from here we had started to climb. The fog and mist had also started to roll in, leaving our picturesque views nothing more than white all around us.
The local families along the trail sell drinks and snacks and the use of their toilets to supplement their income, which can come in very handy as we found out, they also turned out to be the best facilities on the trail. We reached the campsite at around 12 o'clock. Lunch was our first look at what our chef was capable of with limited resources and limited time on the side of a mountain. Turns out he was capable of quite alot ! We could write about the quality of the food at every individual break we had but lets just say the food was incredible the whole trip. Three courses at every stop and we struggled to finish every meal, even with the amount of mountain we covered and energy burnt there was more than enough. Lunch was a corn and bread starter, chicken and vegetable soup followed by grilled trout. Combined with unlimited tea, coffee and hot chocolate, yum. 
During the lunch break we discussed the rest of the day. Some hiking groups stay at this campsite for the evening, others continue hiking the afternoon to the next campsite. So their trek is usually an easy day 1, followed by an easy day two then a killer day three and day four. We were going with a different tactic, smash out days one and two then have half days on three and four. This meant one thing, for the rest of the day we were going uphill, through the next campsite located one-third up the mountain and on to a further campsite two-thirds the way up the highest pass of the trek. Only 5kms in distance but a whopping climb in altitude of 1150m. It was expected to take us around 5 hours. At that point the heavens opened-up and cold rain started to fall. Ponchos on and onwards !
Fernando had advised us the first third to Tres Piedras would be mostly sloped incline with the second third mostly stone steps, we weren't sure which we were looking forward to less. We trudged on into the fog, the walk was just under 3km. Taking about an hour and a half, not bad going, we had a 15 min break, took a few deep breaths and a stretch, then began hiking the steps. Fernando had described the stair section as his least favourite part. Yep.
Add to the fact we were now at 3,400 meters the altitude started to take effect. Many breaks were taken to regain our breath and the pace slowed considerably. Coca candies helped but we were starting to think the last campsite might have been a good place to call it a day. Bear in mind that the second third was a bit over 2kms in distance. Two and a half hours in and a broken Jorje called a stop to proceedings for a picnic. We were literally walking 30 or 40 steps and taking a rest. The poncho was laid out and snacks and water had. We were shattered. After 5 mins of sitting still the cold had set in and we were stiffening up, the rain started again and spurred us to continue on hiking. Little did we know the campsite of Llulluchapampa was around the next corner, literally 20 more steps and we had made it. It was just before 6pm and starting to get dark. That was a hell of a first day. Dry warm clothes and dinner can cure any ailment and it did, tea and soup before crumbed chicken schnitzels, vegies and rice. Into the tent and rug up as much as possible. Llulluchapampa sits at 3750m above sea level, it was freezing !
Day 2 ( 13km )
Its pretty hard to get Jorje out of bed at the best of times, it was 6am, but seeings as though it had rained all night and dropped to minus 9 degrees, there had been no pee breaks. Not getting up was no longer an option. It was also Juanita's birthday ! Early morning presents were given and smiles all round despite the chilly temperature.
Our porters brought hot chocolate and tea to the tent, before a breakfast of pancakes with hot mango and more tea and hot chocolate in the dining tent. The rain persisted as we geared up and got ready for the toughest and highest part of the trek, a summit affectionately named Abra Warmiwanusca, or 'Dead Woman's Pass'. There is no dead women there, just the mountain tops that look like the profile of a dead woman. We set off around 7am. More and more steps and a lot of deep breathing and we eventually made it an hour and a half later. 4200m above sea level, highest point of the trek. We stopped for photos and snacks thinking the hardest bit was done. Our lunch break was all downhill from here, in fact an altitude drop of 800m to 3600m at Pacaymayo. Easy. 
Not so easy, about 20m down the path we caught the wind that the mountain had been shielding us from. Sudden drop in temperature, cold chills and just for fun it started snowing ! Our bodies don't move so well in the cold, walking down 2 foot high stone steps now covered in water, ice and snow and it was tough going. Of course it didn't help watching the porters run past us casually jogging with our camp on their back, but it did take another 3 hours to get to the lunch spot.
Soup and tea again defrosted us before a hot meal. About an hours break in those conditions and the legs seize up nicely, just before an hours climb to the next pass at Abra Runkurakay. At Runkurakay there is some amazing Inkan ruins at 3800m before a steep, steep climb to the pass. There is also an Inkan built reservoir on the side just for good measure. We stopped for a break and some shelter under a tree at the top, the rain had got heavier and we needed chocolate and museli bars. We shared the chocolates with some of our passing porters who smiled heartily. 
Again it seemed harder going downhill than up in the afternoon. Constant drizzle made it slow going but it was a very picturesque section. We stopped by ruins at Sayacmarca then pushed on. Eventually we came to a fork in the path, either 20mins to camp or uphill to the ruins of Conchamarca. Well, we're only here once, so up stairs we went. What a view, built into the side of a cliff Conchamarca just kept going, every time you found a wall and looked over there was another level of terracing curving around the mountain. We spent about half an hour exploring before heading down the steps and onwards to camp at Chaquicocha. Arrived about 4:30pm and we were three quarters of the way to Machu Picchu. 
Juanita had been struggling for most of the day with a bad tummyache and decided to skip dinner in order to stay in her sleeping bag. Skipping dinner was OK but not dessert. Jorje had had some secret meetings with the chef and Fernando throughout the duration of the trek and organised a birthday cake for Juanita. Granted the cake had to be taken to the tent to coax her out, then the group sung happy birthday and the blowing out of the one candle Jorje had smuggled up the mountain. I'm sure the extra present helped put a smile on Juanita's face as well, after being told for 2 days Jorje hadn't brought it along on the trek. Juanita made an incredibly unselfish birthday wish for clear weather for the rest of the trek. After another chilli night we woke the next morning to blue skies, top work Juanita !
Day 3 ( 10km )
During the previous evening's dinner we had negotiated a sleep-in seeing that it was a planned half day of trekking. Well played team, the extra 2 hours sleep helping us all recover and be ready to face the day. With most of the clouds gone and our bellies full of omelette and sausages for breakfast, we started to climb to our first meeting point, the third highest pass on the trek called Abra Phuyupatamarca ( Please don't ask us to pronounce any of these names ). The ruins here were stunning. The sun was out and we could see the entire mountain range and the valley below, it was starting to look like a postcard, it seemed the closer we got to the end the more beautiful it was getting. Fernando stopped us all for a history lesson and took some pics, we thanked Juanita for the great weather and moved on down hill again. This downhill wasn't so bad with plenty of andulating ground, some caves and tunnels to go through and amazing views the whole way. Saying that, the 7kms to Winay Wayna still took around three hours, but it was in 3 hours of glorious sunshine.
Nothing can quite prepare you for walking into Winay Wayna. After cold, rain, snow, pain, altitude sickness, blisters and general hurting, coming out of jungle onto the convex terraces is just an incredible sight. Overlooking the river for the first time since seeing it on day one. At this point we just sat and took it in, with Dave, Alison and Fernando next to us we just sat in silence and enjoyed the view. The size of the ruins is pretty amazing in itself but it just seems perfectly made and has a powerful spiritual feel about the place. We stayed for about an hour before walking down the terraces and on to camp where lunch was ready and waiting. Mmmm tea and soup.
After lunch we decided to check out more ruins about 10 mins away at Intipata. Almost an exact copy of Winay Wayna except the terraces are con-caved in the curve of the valley. We walked the terraces and said hi to some local llamas who were mowing the lawn. Getting really adventurous we saw a waterfall off in the distance and followed the paths around the mountain for a look. Again, well worth it, a beautiful 20-30m waterfall flowing into the valley below. The walk back up the many terraces to camp wasn't as much fun, being all up hill, but we got there and got ready for dinner ( peppered steak ) and our briefing on day 4. The good news was the weather would hold and we had a clear day for Machu Picchu. The bad news was the wake up time ! 
Day 4 ( 6km )
There's a checkpoint before going further on the path to Machu Picchu, it opens at 5:30am, but trekkers want to be first in line at the checkpoint so that they are the first to arrive at the Sun Gate for the sunrise over Machu Picchu city, and don't get stuck behind slow hikers as the path is the narrowest, mostly single file. And so start queueing around 2:30am, what the !!
We weren't that crazy but we were up at 3am, pancakes with nutella eased the pain, and in the queue by 4am. We were lucky enough to be close enough to the front to secure a bench to sit on for the next hour and a half. Again it was chilly but the excitement in the air kept us going, cheers rang out as the office opened and through we went. It was still pitch black so hiking by torch light. It's only an hour to Intupunku or the 'Sun Gate' as it's known. We made good time, leaving behind the slow-pokes. Juanita was still struggling with tummy pains but soldiered on like true trooper. The last hurdle is a set of stairs up into Intupunku, lovingly known as 'The Gringo Killers'. Those Inkas really did enjoy making you earn it.
Up the last of the stairs and through the arch of the Sun Gate, the sun was rising and the first look at Machu Picchu, not a cloud in the sky and a perfect view of the city below. Truly as breathtaking as those bloody stairs. Only about ten people had made it there before us. We picked a peaceful spot on the edge of the Sun Gate to take it all in and lit another candle for Penny Nan, we think she enjoyed the view. 
It's about 45 more minutes down the hill from the Sun Gate to the edge of Machu Picchu city, stopping at every view point as we got closer, the morning sun making the stones glow, it's really quite surreal. Some day tourists who had started at Machu Picchu were passing us on their way up to the Sun Gate, they seemed devastated when we told them it was 40minutes more. Pretty fair to say that when you've been walking for 4 days to get to the same point, the sympathy was running fairly low !
The good thing about hiking in from the top down and the early start is that you arrive in the city before the entrance gates for the general public have opened, meaning you can get photos of the empty ruins before the crowds swarm over it. We had made it ! Juanita only just but we were there all the same !
We re-grouped at the tourist entrance and had a second breakfast at the cafe. Once all of our group had arrived back together, Fernando took us on a 2 hour tour of the city, showing us all the different areas and what the were used for, answering our questions, and being photographer for us. You can't really describe the city, I'm sure the photos won't do it justice either but it's an amazing place. No one really knows what its purpose was, science revealing the terraces and farming could only support about 80 people. Suggestions are that it was a summer palace for royalty, a last resort fortress against invaders, and a high place in the mountains to communicate with the stars and aliens amongst others. Any which way, it was abandoned before the Spanish arrived. Amazingly there are still rock piles in storage rooms and a functioning quarry which suggests it wasn't finished being built when the Inka's left. It's one of those places you really have to see for yourself to try to begin to understand why it was built.
After a few hours in the city we said our farewell and boarded the bus to Machu Picchu town for lunch. With a couple of hours to kill before our train back to Cusco, we decided that massages were the best option for our tired bodies. We followed that with beers and pisco sours on the train. 
All-in-all an incredible experience, we did it tough as always but it came good in the end. Massive thank you to Enigma tours, particularly Fernando for being an awesome guide. Thanks to all of our group as well, it makes such a difference when you have friendly like-minded people around you, especially with a sense of humour in some pretty trying conditions. Another bucket list item ticked off.


Add your comments

(If you have a travel question, get your Answers here)

In order to avoid spam on these blogs, please enter the code you see in the image. Comments identified as spam will be deleted.



Travel Answers about Peru

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.