Hiking to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail is truly amazing. Standing 4000 meters high on the mountains, looking out over the Andes, and knowing that I hiked to get there, humbled me and filled me with pride at the same time. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I won’t lie though, it took work but it was worth it.
Day 1 – 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 you slowly gain altitude.
Our guide stopped us at various points along the way to tell us the history of not only the trail and the ruins, but also of the Incan people and their will to survive. He was passionate about his ancestors’ story and, as time went on, we realized that he was not just telling us stories but that his knowledge was much deeper. He didn’t spend time studying in school about the Inca but had spent time in the mountains with Incan descendants. Therefore, had a unique perspective on the area.
Day 2 – Woke up at 5:45 AM to the sounds of outside. As I was stretching to start my day, a porter appeared with hot coca mate and another brought a bowl of hot water and soap for me to wash up with. I drank my mate, washed up and packed up the few things I was responsible for (the porters carry everything except your personal belongings).
It was cold as we set out – frosty, and could see my breath with every exhale. We were 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 exhausting. My heart was beating wildly, 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 600 m drop along a beautiful stone pathway. If I thought this was going to be the easy part, I was wrong. Controlling those floppy legs was an exercise in concentration. In the afternoon we climbed another 400 m before dropping into another valley that was more jungle. We crossed the valley to find our campsite overlooking a set of astrological ruins. Fog set in just as the light faded providing some insulating warmth. After 16 km of hiking through two passes, it didn’t take much of the special ‘rum tea’ to send us all off to a well-earned night’s sleep.
Day 3 – Day 2 is about climbing, Day 3 is about descent – overall we drop almost 800 m. I’m not sure which is more difficult but I know that my legs were more sore after a day of going down. This is where the walking stick I had been carrying all along really proved its worth! We dropped, entered the jungle and we 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. We enjoyed much needed showers and beer before dinner and early bedtime. Tomorrow would take us to the Sun Gate and our first glimpses of the Incan city.
Day 4 – Reaching the Sun Gate was incredible. Looking through it to the sight of Machu Picchu below made all the difficulties of the trek disappear. 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 an incredible 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 with astounding astronomical and geographic knowledge. Stones are placed to match exactly with the sun’s winter and summer solstice or to line up with the ordinal geographic lines. Seeing a rock carved into the shape of the Chakana (Andean Cross) and then show how the points match up with a compass, was truly mind-blowing.
The knowledge that the Incans must have had! The whole city and the mountain backdrop took my breath away.