Just a little introduction to the Inca Trail:
Definitely not an easy trek at all those high elevations and all that up and down (or as our guide Yoel likes to call them “Inca Flats”).
With Alpaca Expeditions, we didn’t have to worry about setting up our tents, carrying our sleeping bags or food – we could just focus on hiking and surviving until the next rest stop and enjoying the view or listening to the stories/history behind the Incan Civilization.
Since we were pretty new to hiking, we decided to rent the sleeping bag, sleeping pad and hiking poles with Alpaca. Our group was divided on the hiking poles: it helped with balance and navigating down steep steps for some; allowed others to pick up speed and move faster and acted as a hindrance to others (especially going uphill).
Preparation for Inca Trail
We arrived back in Cusco after our Sacred Valley day trip late and got a brief overview of the Inca Trail by our guide Yoel at the Alpaca Expeditions Headquarters. He ran us through the basics and told us about things to pack and things to leave behind. We were a group of 6 and there was another group of 2 joining our tour – so our group would be picked up second from our hostel after the other group was picked up (meaning they had a 4:30 am pickup time and we would get picked up at 5 am). Then we were going to drive to KM 82 (the start point for the Inca Trail), however, we were informed that the village was undergoing some renovations and we would have to hike an extra 3 km to the Checkpoint. After the briefing session, we went back to our hostel and pretty much passed out from exhaustion until the next morning.
After navigating through the construction in the town of Piskacucho (they dug up all the roads to put pipes underground), we reached the Checkpoint for the beginning of our adventure!
Success! We survived Day 1 of non-stop uphill hiking. After this, we have the uphill trek to Dead Woman’s pass 4200 m/13,779 ft and then the downhill journey to Machu Picchu. Going uphill is hard, but I think we kept a manageable pace with lots of little breaks. (My friend had an incident with her shoe along the way- see here).
Day 2 is definitely the hardest and longest day, we have a 16 km journey first uphill to reach Dead Woman’s Pass then we go up and down until we reach our camp at Choquicocha.
We survived Dead Woman’s Pass! The view was stunning, but it was freezing cold at the top. And then we had to go down the other side of the mountain where there were super chilly updrafts – at this point, I layered up like crazy then put my down jacket on as well as my insulated gloves and toque for the trip downhill. Here was probably where the hiking poles finally came in handy for me – the steps were rather uneven and the poles helped give me confidence going downhill. Also, here was where we finally saw the difference in skill level between us and the porters – they tackled these steps so gracefully and so quickly that they were an inspiration to us. I mean these guys carry 25 kg on their backs and they were practically running down these treacherous steps! Crazy!
We had some other incidents on Day 2 – I had TD (refer to Medication section), my other friend was suffering from nausea due to Altitude Sickness (despite taking Diamox) and another hurt her leg somewhere along the way (we found out later she tore her leg muscle) – but we reached camp and tried to get through it. It’s difficult being out in nature and not having readily available medical attention, but we struggled and got through it.
The steps were steep but not as bad as the second day. It was rather foggy when we set out early in the morning, but we were all feeling a little better after resting early the night before (and taking our medication).
We took a more leisurely pace to Intipata and we actually saw llamas living in the ruins for the first time! Apparently they sleep in their own poo at night to keep them warm (I learned this after I pet the llama – but that’s what hand sanitizer is for!).
One of the best parts about doing the Inca Trail was the fact that we got to see all these amazing ruins without the huge crowds! It’s amazing that the condition of the ruins was kept in such nice shape and it’s also awe-inspiring to think that they just built these amazing structures into the mountains. It boggles the mind a little considering all the work that must have gone into these sites.
A little surprise after we got back from Wiñay Wayna, our Chef Leonardo baked us a CAKE! It was fantastic and such a huge surprise considering there was no oven at the campsite. Mad props to Leonardo for all the delicious food – I can’t rave about it enough – every meal (including snacks) was fantastic and there was always something for everyone. Also, the porters were great setting up our tents and stuff and they were so conscious of our needs – from setting up the washbasins with warm water to preparing coca tea for us first thing in the morning. I’ve never felt so pampered and so well taken care of on a tour; it really felt like we were glamping (glamourous camping) than camping and hiking.
We were up at 3 am so that we could line up at the Checkpoint entrance that leads to the Sun Gate. After some patient waiting, we got there and started our trek to the Sun Gate.
We waited for the clouds to clear up at the Sun Gate and then got some great shots –> next up was the Gringos Killer. Yoel did warn us that the Gringos Killer was a steep set of rocks that almost make it feel like you’re rock climbing. In this case, I found that my hiking poles were impeding me, but some people climbed up using their poles. The rocks were narrow and in some cases it was hard to get a foothold, but once we reached the top – it was a pretty stunning view.
We’ve arrived!!! Machu Picchu was amazing! The pictures don’t even do it justice – there was so much to see and explore. We got the tour of the Inca King’s estate and then we saw the other group off since they got tickets to Huayna Picchu (which they said was the scariest part of the whole Inca Trail – apparently in some places there’s only a rope to help pull you up to the top, but the view was really cool at the top). We relaxed, soaked up the sun, explored around and got bit by mosquitoes. After that, we caught the bus down to Agua Caliente, where we met up with our tour group, guide and got to eat Guinea pig.
Then we took the train back to Ollantaytambo and the bus back to Cusco.
And that was our EPIC Inca Trail Journey! 🙂