Machu Picchu – the dream of many travellers. Surrounded by valleys, the lush jungle and a visit to a bunch of fairly well preserved ruins makes the inca trail trek a wonderful once in a lifetime experience. Read about my trek to Machu Picchu, the small ups and downs and dream yourself away to this magnificent place.
The imperfect start
We are all standing with a full backpack and a good pair of hiking boots outside our hostel when the sun is about to hit the streets in Cusco. We are waiting for the minibus which is going to take us to Ollantaytambo from where we a starting the trek. However, the van is more than late.
After an uncomfortable amount of pre-dawn waiting even our guide, Simba, loses his patience. He finds a taxi and soon after we are all heading towards the minibus, where we meet the last two members of the group. We are a small group of six – Me, the married couple – Stephen and Sam, the two Dutch – Mariann, me and Simba. Immediately after our arrival in Ollantaytambo we are attacked by an army of Peruvian sellers. We decide to buy a walking stick, probably our best decision so far. After breakfast we head to the car, but this time Simba is accompanied by a woman. Her name is Luciana. Luciana is a Brazilian girl who has been left behind by her group, a nice addition to our small group.
The beginning of the Inca trail
Then we drive to the starting point of the Inca trail, KM 82. We spend some time repacking our backpacks. Most of us have just a small backpack with the most basic things, but Luciana is prepared for anything and has packed everything! Seriously her bag for 4 days is bigger than the one I brought for 6 months of travelling! We then head down to the beginning of the trek
We walk along the Urubamba River. We are surrounded by snow-covered mountains, calming green fields and we soon see the first Incan ruins of many to come. Simba tell us about the Incans and the plants close to the path, how they are used and what makes them special. Once we stop to pray to the Pachamama for good luck on our journey. We all receive three coca leafs, which we show to the mountains while we repeat a few words in Quechua. We put the coca leafs into our passports so they will stay intact until we reach the top of the mountain where we are going to sacrifice them.
Nearly five hours has passed when we reach the camp. The porters have put up our tents and is nearly done with this evening’s dinner. They are awesome. They are always the first to get up and the last to go to bed. They leave the camp later than the rest of the group and they are the first at the new campsites. On top of that, they carry 28 kilos of equipment every single day!
The toughest day of the Inca trail
The guides wake us early in the morning. They serve us a cup of coca tea, which I hardly have time to drink because we have to pack our things immediately! After packing our things we are served a wonderful breakfast. We have been warned that this day is going to be the toughest one of the whole trek.
Shortly after beginning the trek the oldest group member, Mariann has to stop. She gets ill and has to return to Ollantaytambo, so Simba walks back with her to make all the arrangements. The rest of us continues onward. We walk in the lush jungle, where we meet a small deer. We “climb” huge stairs and walk under the boiling sun. Along the way we climb a lot of stairs, those are the worse part, I am the last one in the group every time we have to climb stairs. After a small break half way up the mountain we have renewed energy.
Every time we stop for a break porters walk by cheering: “Vamos, vamos” (“Let’s go, let’s go”). It often look like we are just about to reach the top (4225 m), but every time we walk around the corner we have to walk way further. People are getting more and more exhausted the closer we get to the top. A girl asks me: “Why did we pay for this? God, I hate myself!” – I feel this almost every time I trek…
Reaching the top
Finally after 4 hours and 40 minutes I reach the top. I am the first one in my group to arrive. The view is breathtaking. I take a break to relax and enjoy the view while waiting for the rest of the group. Surrounded by other trekking groups we all cheer in unison for the rest of our group members to join us at the top. Except for the Americans – they keep cheering for “USA, USA, USA” – pretty annoying and a shame for all the non-American trekkers arriving to the top.
We take a group picture and the top and I start walking again while the rest of the group catch their breath. We have to descent to 3660 m. The trip down takes us past unstable and rocky stone stairs plus beautiful waterfalls nestled in the glorious mountains. I arrive at the camp 45 minutes ahead of the estimated time, where I am meet by a bunch of surprised porters. They did not expect to see anyone this early and haven’t prepared any tea for my arrival, they almost feel ashamed by that, but I don’t care. I just find my mp3 player and start listening to music in the warm Andean sun. The rest of the group arrive an hour later an we all sit down and relax
Simba has decided that we can sleep half an hour later today. Which means that we are eating breakfast while all of the other groups are leaving the camp. So we pretty much have the trek to ourselves. A guide like Simba is precious on a trek like this. His knowledge about the Incas and the surrounding nature is massive. He loves his job and is a true people’s person.
Today is one of the most beautiful paths of the entire trek. The trail leads through the jungle, past reflective lakes and is enshrouded in a constant wall of mist covered mountains. After passing a small mountain lake we reach the top- Pachamama. To sacrifices our coca leaves to the mountain we place them under an individual pile of rocks. We say a few words in Quechua, which should be enough to bring us luck tomorrow and continue the journey along the path. When we arrive at the lunch site we see the other groups packing their stuff and walk further.
Alone on the Inca trail
After lunch we continue further on, but Simba can see that I am not really up for being social and don’t really want to wait much for the rest of the group. So he allows me to walk in my own pace so I have the trail to myself. Occasionally, I met a porter otherwise it is just me. I have just been given a few instructions like walk to the right when someone wants to pass you and wait for us at these places. At some point I actually catch up with another group, but it is a place where I have to wait for my group. Simba shows us around the ruins and tells us how they build it “earthquake-proof”.
We have almost finished the trek for today when we are facing a crossroad. We can take the original path to the camp or a quicker one. I decide to take the original path as the only one in the group. Simba gives the others a few instructions and continue the trek with me. We walk by some Incan terraces and walk right next to a few lamas while watching the sunset. Simba entertains with stories from all his treks to Machu Picchu; from the one time where the whole journey turned into a marathon to the time where he was trailed the entire time by a curious lama. When we reach the camp it is time for dinner before an early bedtime.
Reaching Machu Picchu!
It is the final day of the trek and we are awakened extra early. I had a horrible night. I couldn’t sleep because the tent was precariously perched on a small bump, which meant that I kept falling into Luciana during the night. However it was very short, because we got up at 3.30 am – before any of the other groups. After breakfast we quickly pack our things and head to the checkpoint. We are the third group there, but it wouldn’t open before 5.30 am so we had to wait for a while to pass it. As soon as the gate opens everyone’s permit is checked and we are free to go. After an hour of walking the path with deep drop-offs and a trip up knee-high stairs we reach Inti-Punku (The sun door), where we get the first glimpses of Machu Picchu.
We walk down to Machu Picchu where we can get a few photos before we have to go to the last checkpoint to officially enter the ruins and meet Mariann again. The city oozes of history and mystique. I can almost sense the Incan people when we walk among the rustic buildings and through the stone terraces. Our tour through the ruins exceeds our expectations. The beautiful morning sun, the high verdant green mountains and the playful Urubamba River encircles elegantly this unique city, making it all a fantastic meeting with the past. We take it in, let the mystique soak into our veins, breath in the thin mountain air, and feel the weight and journey of the last three days wash over us before we head back to Cuzco one amazing memory richer.
There are plenty of tour operators trekking to Machu Picchu, so there is plenty to choose from. Do a bit of research first and find the company that suits you. I went with The Bamba Experience, which I really enjoyed since our group was small and the guide was really good. The Inca trail is the most famous trek to Machu Picchu, but there are plenty of other treks to do like the Salkantay trek, which is famous for being the most beautiful one nature wise, or the Inca jungle trek, which includes mountain biking and river rafting. If you’re flexible and don’t mind which trail you are on it is easy to book a tour after showing up in Cuzco. However, if you are certain that you want to go on the Inca trail then book in advance. There are only 500 walking permits for the trail, which means that there are only about 220 tourists on the trail a day, meaning spots are limited. Please note, it is not possible to do the Inca trail in February due to rain and renovation of the path.
What to bring:
Decent clothes and a good pair of trekking boots, passport, blister patches, a water bottle (the ones in metal keeps the water cold longer), water purification tablets (a bottle of 0.5 l water on the trek might cost $6) and a rain cover.