The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

I arrived in Cusco by bus from Bolivia with a few days to spare before embarking on our Inca Trail trek where we would spend three full days walking through the Andes mountains until we reached Machu Picchu. I wasn’t expecting much from Cusco thinking it would be a ‘nothing’ town- a mere gateway to the Inca trail. However, I couldn’t have been more mistaken- it’s a stunning place with fantastic Spanish architecture, a huge plaza, fabulous restaurants and cool party hostels!


We booked our Inca trail trip months in advance with G adventures,  it wasn’t the cheapest company, but they do seem to treat their employees a lot more fairly than many others, for example they provide good training, wages, equipment, profits are invested into the local communities and people are encouraged to tip. They were named ‘best Inca Trail Tour Operator’ by the regional direction of foreign trade and tourism of Cusco in Peru and reviews were overwhelmingly positive. Some tour operators cut costs and as a result don’t pay or treat their employees fairly so it is important to consider the ethical stance of your operator as well as the cost. 

So what is the Inca trail? It is one of the original trails the Incas walked to access the ancient site of Machu Picchu. We took the section Ollentaytambo to Machu Picchu – a site thought to have been built for the Inca Emperors around 1450. Hidden in the Andes mountains, it was abandoned by the Incas, remained untouched by the Spanish invaders and in 1911 it was rediscovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham. However, many mysteries remain unexplained about its creation- how did the Inca people transport the rock to build it? How did they cut the stone? Even today nobody is 100% sure adding further intrigue to this ancient wonder. 

Today it is one of the seven new wonders of the world and a UNESCO heritage site. Visitors on the Inca trail are strictly limited, and you can only walk it with a special permit and designated guide/s. Be warned tours book up months in advance, we met many disappointed travellers who assumed they’d be able to sign up when they arrived. Don’t make that mistake, however, if you don’t manage to get on the Inca trail, there are other options such as the Lares trek, Salkantay trek or you can skip the treks altogether (but don’t!) and get a train up to the site. 

So what did our trek entail…

Day one was fairly relaxed. We visited some sights and viewpoints in the beautiful Sacred Valley, and to some local tribes who showed us how they make their fabrics, for example using insects and plants to dye the cloth. It was very  interesting and this day gives you time to acclimatise to the altitude- just walking up a few steps can leave you gasping for breath in these high altitudes. You do need to take your time to adapt. 


The next day we woke up early and set off on the official Inca trail. Word of advice – take or hire walking sticks/poles- you won’t regret this decision!! The trail undulates, you walk up and down, and some of the downhill sections are harder than the uphill sections! I was struggling to breathe as I walked uphill, and I really had to take my time.



Day two was physically the most challenging day where we would climb to the highest point of the trail- to the famous’dead woman’s pass’ at 4200m above sea level! 

It really wasn’t easy- with rain, fog, high altitude leaving you short of breath and a lot of uphill walking. The porters really are incredible- they literally sprint past carrying all of our bags, tents and equipment so that by the time you arrive they have everything set up and a hot meal on the go! It is quite scary watching them run on the tiny slippery footpaths though!! Especially on the downhill sections, some of which are literally by the mountain edge.


Although this day was by far physically the most challenging as you climb 1200m uphill with steep steps and high altitude, you are given plenty of time to complete the trek, mostly at your own pace and there’s time to rest. After reaching the highest point (ah that sense of achievement is second to none) The last hour and a half is then downhill, haha don’t be fooled- it’s very challenging as it is literally on a mountain edge and the paths were extremely slippery as it had been raining! Many people did fall over. I managed to stay upright but I was soaking wet and freezing when I arrived to the campsite – so I quickly changed and was ready for food and a hot chocolate!! I was very proud of myself for accomplishing this difficult challenge – it was the hardest physical challenge I have ever completed. The porters were proud of us too- we had a cake!! A cake on the Inca trail!!! 😀👌


The next day was my favourite- I really could enjoy this day- we walked through some of the most incredible and beautiful scenery- through the amazing Andeas mountains, and cloud rainforests. Absolutely surreal and stunning.


The last day we woke up at 3.30am for our final section, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – to see the amazing Machu Picchu. We had to queue at a checkpoint and then walk for two hours until we reached Sungate temple – the picture postcard view. Unfortunately for us it was thick cloud/fog/rain… typical!! We could literally see nothing in front of us. I can’t lie – I was so disappointed! After all we had hiked for three solid days, camping with few clothes and amenities! Where was our reward?! 
Well we couldn’t wait all day for the fog to clear so after waiting for about an hour we eventually set off. Suddenly our guide started running and shouting excitedly. At first I had no idea what was happening but started running as well! The fog had started to lift (ever so slightly) and the mystery of Machu Picchu was slowly being revealed to us. 


The whole experience did feel very magical and mysterious. We got to the site, and had time to explore the ancient city. The beauty and wonder of Machu Picchu was definitely enhanced by doing the Inca trail hike and the surrounding sights to get there – if I had simply taken the train up I’m not sure how impressed I would have been. However, the Inca trail in itself was absolutely incredible and it is really is one of my most treasured memories. I can one hundred percent recommend it.


We then got food, a two hour train ride and a bus back to our hotel in Cusco (ahh a hot shower never felt so good!) After our night at the nice hotel we were back to hostel life, luckily there are lots of great hostels in Cusco- I stayed at four different hostels during my time here and loved all of them. Most have a great social scene and you will meet some fantastic people with interesting stories. There’s also many great bars and fab nightlife and cafes/restaurants here, and we even sampled the famous local dish of.. guinea pig- never again it was absolutely disgusting although is considered a delicacy in this part of the world!!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About The Author

Dubai Dreamer

Hi, I live and work in Dubai. I enjoy getting out and about and seeing what Dubai has to offer, travelling in my holidays and spare time – prepare for blog posts about this, and cooking vegetarian recipes. I am passionate about travel and animals.

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