The Inca Trail is one of the most popular treks in the word, so popular that we had to book it 4 months in advance to secure a spot. Some people love it, some hate it; but everyone admits that overall it is the most authentic way to arrive at Machu Picchu given that it follows the same pilgrimage route that the Incas constructed and followed on a their religious journey to the temples of Machu Picchu.
Is the Inca Trail a victim of its own success? Yes. Is it crowded? Yes at the camps, though surprisingly not on the trail. Is it worth it? In the end this is a personal call, but we say that it is. Completing the trek is a S. America rite of passage, for there is no trail with more ancient ruins along the way, and at the end you arrive at beautiful Machu Picchu from above at sunrise. In our view, putting up with dirty toilets and cramped campgrounds is worth the price of admission. All other “trails to Machu Picchu” only take you to the nearest town where you take a bus up to the site like all other tourists, not the most inspiring first approach to Machu Picchu after days of hiking.
Words of advice to potential hikers, spend the night before (and after) in Ollantaytambo (bus pick-up at 8:15 versus 4:45am in Cusco, and train stops in Ollanta on the way back anyways making it a much shorter transport day). Also, we highly recommend getting tickets for an extra day at Machu Picchu after the trail, and spending a night in Aguas Calientes where you can soak in the hot springs after the long hike. Arriving at Machu Picchu after 4 days hiking, you just don’t have the enthusiasm required to fully appreciate the granduer of the site (we felt much better the next day after beer, pizza and a shower), plus you can also climb Mt Machu Picchu or Huana Picchu for nice views over the ruins.
Here we start at KM 82 on the train tracks between Cusco and Aguas Calientes (town at base of Machu Picchu). The train line was built in the 1920s.
Our group included 14 hikers, 2 guides, a chef and 17 porters to carry all our equipment (we’ve never hiked with so much luxury!).
The porters carry all kinds of stuff strapped to their backs in huge bundles. We felt a little bad about it, but they are able to supplement their farming jobs with the income from working as porters. Look at the size of those packs! There were full on tables, chairs, gas fired kitchens and a full array of cutlery in those bags. Made the camps very comfortable though.
We start at the Urubamba River and work our way up into the mountains climbing over 3 passes, the tallest at 13,776′ high!
The trail gets more scenic each passing day, with day 3 being the most scenic.
Here is a view of the first Incan ruins we visited, a large site with terraces and old ruined buildings.
Our guide showing us our plan for the day.
Here is our entire group porters, cooks and all.
Our chef even baked us a cake on the 3rd day for dessert after lunch! Didn’t want to start hiking again after that meal.
Lewis is taking a rest at the top of the pass.
We made it to the top of Dead Women’s Pass at 13,776′. Named after a mummy they found in this area, or perhaps for the shape of one of the rock formations.
Our guide was very spiritual, he talked a lot about the spiritual beliefs of the Andean people (including some far out trips on San Pedro Cactus and Ayahuasca teas, both hallucination drugs popular in the area). I respect all people’s spiritual beliefs, though admittingly some of them sounded a little wacky. Especially the parts about the geodesic points and magnetic centers of energy. Coca leaves are a big thing in the Andes, so we did a little ceremony with 3 coca leaves each representing a wish for our family, community and self. It was a charming little ceremony at a beautiful spot on the trail.
Lots of cool flowers on the trail, especially neat orchids as we got to lower elevations.
This was a really neat Inca ruin site with spectacular views over the valley below.
Walking on Incan paved walkways was pretty cool.
There were even 3 caves that we passed thru.
Bonnie made a friend at the 3rd pass.
The final ruins before Machu Picchu were these large agricultural terraces called Winay Winay where food was grown to feed the population of Machu Picchu.
Incan terracing is a sight to behold.
This is the prettiest orchid we spied on the trail, it looks like something out of a storybook.
Another cool orchid.
This orchid grew fairly common.
Overlooking the site of Machu Picchu at sunrise from the Sun Gate.
Here we all are. We made it the 26 miles with quite a lot of elevation gain.
For those interested, here is the elevation profile for the trail.