Hiking the Inca Trail

By Nomadic Matt | Published September 1st, 2010

the inca trail stepsThis is a guest post from Gillian from One Giant Step

Hiking to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail remains the highlight of my year traveling. It’s that amazing. Standing 4200 meters high on the mountains, looking out over the peaks of the Andes, and knowing that I hiked to get there, filled me with joy and awe. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I won’t lie though, it took some work but it was totally worth it.

Day 1
They broke us in easy on the first day with a gentle start along a wide path that passed through the Sacred Valley. Described as ‘Inca Flat’, the trail starts alongside the Urubamba River and meanders through the trees and scrub brush, slowly gaining altitude.

Our guide, Marco, stopped us at various points along the way to tell us the history of, not only the trail and the ruins along the trail, but also of the Incan people and their struggle to survive. Marco was passionate about his ancestors story and, as time went on, we realized that he was not just telling us stories that come from guidebooks but that his knowledge was much deeper. He had not only spent time at university studying but had also spent time in the mountains with the Incan descendants and so had a unique perspective on the area.

Day 2
We awake at 5am to the sounds of hustle and bustle outside. As I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, a porter appeared with hot tea and another brought a bowl of hot water and soap for me to wash up with. I drank my tea, washed up and packed up the few things I was responsible (the porters dismantle and carry everything except your personal belongings).
the inca trail steps
It was cold as we set out on the days hike – frost clung to the sides of the trail and I could see my breath with every labored exhale. We were already feeling the altitude and still had more than a thousand meters ahead of us. We quickly climbed above the tree line and were rewarded with the stunning views of mountains and valleys that would be our companion for the rest of the day. The climb to Dead Woman’s Pass was relentless. Up and up and up and up along the ancient Inca pathway made up of enormous stone steps. My heart was beating wildly, my lungs were tight and seemingly too small for the task and my legs felt like cement as I tried to lift them over and over again up onto the next step.

Then it was down the other side – a 600M drop along a beautiful stone pathway cutting down into the valley below. If I thought this was going to be the easy part, I was wrong. Controlling those floppy, leadened legs was an exercise in concentration. The afternoon saw us climb another 400M before dropping into another valley that was more jungle than scrub. We crossed the valley to find our campsite overlooking a set of astrological ruins. Fog set in just as the light faded lending an eerie feel to the landscape but also providing some insulating warmth. After 16KM of hiking through two passes, it didn’t take much of the special ‘rum tea’ to send us all off to a restful night’s sleep.

Day 3
As much as Day 2 is about climbing, Day 3 is about descent – overall we drop almost 800M. I’m not sure which is more difficult but I know that my legs were more sore after a day of going down than they were after Day 2. This is where the walking stick I had been carrying all along really proved its worth! We dropped backed down the tree line, entering into jungle like scenery and could start to understand how Machu Picchu was hidden by jungle for so many years.

We shared camp that night as other groups joined up at the campsite before entrance to the site. We enjoyed much needed showers and beer before a late dinner and early bedtime. Tomorrow would take us to the Sun Gate and our first glimpses of the lost city.
in front of machu picchu
Day 4
Reaching the Sun Gate was amazing. Looking through it to the sight of Machu Picchu below made all the difficulties of the trek disappear. Sitting on a plateau below, the site looked just as beautiful and mysterious as I had expected.

Wandering around Machu Picchu for the rest of the day I was left in awe as to how the ancient Incans could have built such a formidable city with no modern machinery. The ingenuity and precision was astounding and the level of detail amazing. The buildings and stonework are stunning displays of form, function and astounding astronomical and geographic knowledge. Stones are placed, or carved, to match exactly with the sun’s winter and summer solstice positions or to line up along the ordinal geographic lines. Seeing a rock carved into the shape of the Incan Cross and then shown how the points match up with a compass, I was amazed at the knowledge that the Incans must have had. The whole city and the mountain backdrop took my breathe away.

Gillian believes that we are all only One Giant Step from making our dreams come true. She, and her partner Jason, left home in 2009 for a one year trip around the world. She writes about their experiences and adventures at One-Giant-Step.com

comments 18 Comments

So awesome!!! I wish that I had had the time to do when I was there.

kitty

That is really terrific experience on hiking for relax.So wonderful !

Sounds like such an amazing trip. Thanks for sharing.

This post makes me really excited to go in October. I did choose to just show up and do one of the smaller trails and hopefully it’s just as good.

@Ayngelina: I’m sure that any of the trails in the region will be as magical as the Inca Trail. The whole area is awash in history and beauty and awe. Enjoy! I can’t wait to read about it.

NomadicMatt

I’m jealous! Take me with you!

Wow that sounds like quite an adventure. I can totally see why it’s the highlight of your traveling year.

This just made me even more anxious to get there. I’ve succeeded in making a trip to Mayan sites in Mexico and to Iguazu in Argentina but I’ve been dreaming for sometime now of making this Inca journey. A little more difficult from Europe but… some day….

Nice write up, I just published a guide to the Inca Trail myself, – you wait for a bus then 3 come along at the same time – it’s got a few pointers about the alternative trails and tips on fitness/etiquette/porters. Hopefully it’ll be useful to someone…

Quick note that for people doing the classic trek – booking months in advance is recommended. Alternative trails are less booked up. And if you don’t have enough time to book the trek you can always hop on a train to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu.

Wow, Incan descendants! Now that’s pretty cool.

It really must be something else to be able to see that! Great post I plan on heading there next year in May or so

Sounds like your guide was the perfect asset to your journey. I find that it’s often not only the beautiful places you see but also the people you meet that make your experience that much more meaningful.

Sounds amazing! I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now. Thanks for the write-up :)

Terri Traveler

I always wonder what life would have been like living in that city, with such a spectacular view around you every day. Were there loads of tourists? I hate visiting ancient sites filled with modern people. Spoils the mood :)

NP

Beautiful post! I’ve been wanting to do this for quite awhile now. Hopefully next year!

tasha

I was wondering what company you booked your trip under. Its so impossible to find blogs about how to get to the point that your going to hike to machu picchu, and they only say how the actual hike is, not the travel process/cost analysis to get there

My daughter and I are doing the IncaTrail this year. Can’t wait!!! I did it 11 years ago.

Lisa

Hi Matt, I was wondering, which company did you hike with?

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