Machu Picchu Inca Trail – Cusco, Peru

Machu Picchu Inca Trail

We have started the trail at km 82. After crossing Vilcanota River, we follow the trail at the right. First leg of the trail is passing small villages and Inca ruins at Llactapata. The first camp is at Wayllambamba. The second day which is the most challenging as we climb to the highest pass of the trail “Dead Woman’s Pass” ( Abra de Huarmihuanusca) at 4200 m.  It is said the name comes from a legend about a young Inca Princess who was sacrificed and buried there. According to our guide Huan, the name is from the shape of the pass which suggests a woman lying down. A steep descent follows to the second campsite Pacamayo at 3600 m. From Pacamayo camp the trail climbs to Inca ruins, Runcu Raccay. From the second pass Abru de Runkuracay, the trail descends Inca paving steps and passes Inca ruins, Sayacmarca (“Inaccessible town”) and Phuyupatamarca (“Town in the Clouds”). The walk passes through Inca Tunnel and magnificent cloud forests full of flowers, hanging moss, ferns and orchids. The last camp is at Winay Wayna (“Forever Young”). At 5:30 we start walking, reaching the Sun Gate (Intipunku) after a steep flight of 50 steps around 7:00 o’clock to watch first rays of sun shining over Machu Picchu. A magical end of the trek, Machu Picchu is a perfect symbiosis between ancient ruins and stunning landscape.

CAMINO INCA (as narrated by my daughter)

Day 1- the beginning…

After six months of anticipation the first day of the Inca Trail had arrived. The walk started at Ollanytambo, the hub that everyone travels through to get to Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world. There we caught a glimpse of the luxurious way to travel, the train…we however were taking the other way, a way that involved walking all day, sleeping in tents and no hot showers.

Camino Inca day 1

The landscape was new and exciting, we followed a path along the river for a little while, and parts of the trail had stunning views of the Cordillera Urubamba and the snow capped peak of Veronica.

The weather was unpredictable to say the least. As we began our journey it started to rain, we all stopped to put our rain ponchos on, ensuring they covered our bags so that our clothes would remain dry for the cold night ahead. However, ten minutes later the sun came out and all of a sudden we were hot, wearing way too many layers and had to stop to shed all the clothes we frantically had just put on. This continued throughout most of the first day and I was hoping this routine was not a preview of what the weather had in store for the next few days. However, thankfully Pachamama (the Andean goddess known as mother earth) smiled down on us and the weather for the remaining days was superb, apparently a rare event.

Before half way through the first day was even through we had managed to spot some goats on rocks just meters from where we were walking, had four seasons in one day and saw our first Inca archaeological site.

Halfway through the day we stopped for lunch. We got to the site for lunch and were treated with a feast. Throughout the three days my admiration for the crew, the cook and porters, would continue to grow. The food was amazing, some of the best cuisine I had eaten in all of Peru and cooked with camp fire equipment, plus there was always an abundance, which is rare in Peru where they often eat and serve small portions.

The first day of the trek was relatively easy, with a few inclines, which became to be commonly known to us as Inca flat, to ease us in and serve as training for the days to follow.

Camino Inca day 2

After lunch we continued walking to our camping site, which was situated in a small village of Wayllabamba. The tents were all neatly set up in front of a stunning view. It was time to crack a Cerveza, whilst we could still buy such necessary commodities, enjoy the view and set up the beds.

We were all prepared to hit the sack early in preparation for the most challenging day of the trek, however the day before had been Peru’s independence day, and the partying continued on in the Wayllabamba village. All the books I had read before I can had informed me that Peruvians enjoyed a good fiesta!

Day 2- the ascend….

We were awoken with refreshments brought to us ‘in bed.’ Nothing like starting a challenging climb with Coca leaf tea, the Peruvian’s trusted source to assist with altitude sickness.

After a delicious breakfast of crepes with Nutella it was time to begin the hardest day of the trail. It was three hours of walking, Inca flat, through steepening woods and spectacular terrain. Then following was an hour and half steep climb to the highest pass of the trail- Dead Woman’s Pass.

Dead Woman's Pass

Surprisingly, it was not as challenging as I had envisioned. With so much spectacular scenery and things along the way to distract me I wasn’t thinking about how hard the climb was. Plus at the top we were rewarded with magnificent panoramic views of mountains and snow capped peaks.

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And so the saying goes…what goes up must go down. We were about to begin the descend, which was commonly referred to as the gringo killer. This was harder than I had anticipated, the steps were large and it required an inordinate amount of concentration, which also meant I didn’t have the luxury to be distracted by the beauty that surrounded me, and the downward path seemed to continue endlessly. As I struggled and contemplated how long till I reached the end, the porters carrying 25 kg or more were running past me, down the steps in their sandals!

When the end was finally reached, we arrived at our campsite which was already set up, with the view even more superb than the last! After some food and debriefing the hardest day had been completed.

Day 3 – jungle and rainbows…

Camino Inca

As we began our trek on the third day, the trail continued to surpass expectations.  It was this day that it began to truly feel as if we were walking along the trail of the Incas, with the paving being for the most part original. We were also lucky enough to visit a few more archaeological Inca sites along the path.

The terrain and scenery on this day was more jungle-like with all sorts of unique plants being viewed along the way. The path began to descend into magnificent cloud-forest full of hanging mosses, tree ferns and flowers, where we also passed through an Inca tunnel, carved into the rock. However, towards the end of the day we saw the return of the gringo killer, with thousands of steps.

On this day we were also offered the option to go a long way, which reportedly had a spectacular view, or the alternative short way to the campsite. For me this was a no brainer, carpe diem…when else was I going to be in Peru. So I took the long way which involved trekking to some Inca terraces.

The terraces were impressive but the view was like nothing I had seen before, the terraces overlooked a large valley and we were lucky to capture a rainbow over it too.

This was our last night and we had to bid our farewells to the cook and the porters. The cook had made a delicious cake as a surprise, there were no ovens or any way of carrying or delivering a cake to the campsite, this cake was made with patience and a true passion for cooking. It took three hours to cook!

Day 4- the culmination…Machu Picchu

Today we woke up early with a 4:30 in the morning start in order to get to Macchu Pichu before the sunrise.  There was only another hour and a half to walk and within an hour the first rays of sun were streaming through.

The trail contoured a mountainside, coming to cloud-forest before an almost vertical flight of 50 steps (where some trekkers almost literally had to get on their hands and knees and crawl) leading up to Intipunku, the Sun Gate. Here we got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu in all its glory. It was amazing seeing the enormity of it, staring down at the site really gave me an appreciation for what was truly a wonder. We were lucky as other travellers have reported it is often very foggy at the Sun Gate and it can be hard to see Machu Picchu. We watched the sun rise over Machu Picchu before trekking towards it to explore.

Machu Picchu

When we got to Machu Picchu I was still in awe of it, amazing to think of its vastness and how the Incas must have built this carrying the rocks through the mountainside, when I just managed to trek on a paved path with a measly 10 kg back pack. Within an hour the site was packed with tourists who arrived via the train and it made me realise how glad I was that I visited Machu Picchu this way, as although the wonder was awe inspiring, I expected it to be the climax but it was the journey and the amazing sites I saw along the way that really had me flawed.

Exploring the ruins