I’m sitting at the departure gate as I write this, after one whirlwind week in Peru, wishing I could stay for longer. To say it’s been magical would be nothing short of an understatement. Llamas, glorious mountain hikes, panoramic train rides, luxurious cuisines, and amazing people all made this an incredible trip. Put it on your bucket list NOW.
We planned our trip many months ago with one goal in mind – the infamous Inca Trail. And it didn’t disappoint.
It was pretty daunting when trying to plan it, though, not knowing which company to use, which trail to do, and what the experience would even be like – so I’ve broken it down here for you, our experiences et al.
Llamapath is one of the leading tour operators in the area and is what we used – this is NOT a sponsored post, I REALLY do highly recommend them. So step one, book your tour – and of course the question hits, 2-day or 4-day trek?
We did the 2-day trek given we only had a week to pack everything in, and my being the slightly injured of the two. If you want the outdoor camping experience – it is as basic as you can imagine – then go for the 4-day, but prepare yourself, bring the appropriate gear, and be ready for a very very very very very intense hike. The 2-day hike is a shorter version with the same intensity.
Here’s how our 2 days played themselves out :
After spending a day in Cusco (see my guide to the Inca Capital here) acclimatizing to the altitude – this is not to be scoffed at, you need time to get used to the lack of oxygen – we met the group at 5am to drive to Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Kilometer 104 – this is not a legitimate stop on the train, and only tour groups are let off here. And here’s where you start your hike!
It’s a 4-hour hike up the trail and be prepared, it is very intense. Steep steps, and lots of them, line the path. You’ll have occasional bits leaning downhill and some flat terrain that deludes you into thinking the worst is over, but the uphill continues all the way. Take moments to rest and if you’re getting breathless, STOP. This isn’t you being weak, but really it’s the altitude hitting you hard – you’re at almost 2500 metres.
One of the best moments on this section of the hike is when you can see Wiñay Wayna in the distance – you’re almost there! It’s about 30 minutes further from there and you’ve got the best views waiting for you at the end of that hike, so yes, it’s totally worth it.
Wiñay Wayna is the archaeological site of the ancient Inca crop laboratories, each terrace representing a new altitude at which they tested the most resilient seeds – all those thousands of varieties of potatoes, and vegetables you know? Yes, a ton of them were discovered here. Legend has it that the pilgrimage to Wiñay Wayna was made by many hopping to be ‘enlightened’ in order to return home almost God-like.
After a quick lunch near the site (say hi to the llamas!), head on further on an easy – compared to the previous part of the hike – stroll almost to the Sun Gate. It’s about an hour away and is fairly flat, with a few uphill climbs scattered through it. The last twenty minutes become intense, and in your final push to the gate you have two incredibly steep mountains of rocks to climb up – all steps, but very steep with one of them nearly vertical. The view at the top, however, is spectacular.
This is your first glimpse of Machu Picchu and the Machu Picchu Mountain in the distance. Regardless of the sun or clouds, your pictures will be beautiful, and the clouds heighten the mystique of the much-talked-about ruins.
You’re at the final hour of your hike… walk downhill to the viewing point for the ruins for the most instagrammed point in Peru. The downhill hike is hard on the knees so don’t speed walk down the rocks – it’s your last hour, savour the achievement, you’re literally almost there. Stop at points on the downhill hike to admire the view of Machu Picchu approaching you.
As you walk onto the open green space directly overlooking the Inca site, you hear the stories and are in total awe. Feast your eyes on this and take all the pictures you can before heading down to Aguas Calientes for the night – you’ll be back tomorrow exploring the city of ruins and learning all about it’s history and taking the ultimate llama selfies (it is a true art)… but for now, grab a Pisco Sour.