Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Last fall, my bestie and world travel partner Lindsay and I spontaneously booked an 8-day trip to Peru. This would be our second trip with the company Under30Experiences that specializes in group travel for young adults. If you’re wary about navigating a foreign country alone or don’t have the time to plan the logistics of a trip, I could not recommend Under30 enough. I won’t run you through the complete itinerary because you can visit their site for that but in this post I will speak to my experience hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

If you are going to visit Machu Picchu and you’re relatively outdoorsy and physically fit, I  will tell you right now to HIKE THE TRAIL.

It was one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done. I had very little hiking experience but others in our group who were more experienced (and in better shape) said that they found it to be challenging as well. That said, these 4 days of sore muscles and awe-inspiring views were some of the most rewarding of my life.

Planning Tip: Under30 took care of all the planning for us and hired an excellent tour operator. (Shoutout to Crossover Peru Tours!) Whatever you decide to do, you should start planning for your trip early because you’ll need to reserve your trail permits well in advance. For example, our permits for May 2017 were booked back in November 2016.

OLLANTAYTAMBO

We spent the night before the hike in Ollantaytambo which is the nearest town to the start of the trail. We did a quick warmup hike up the Sun Temple and spent most of the evening preparing our packs and duffel bags for the next 4 days.

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Looking down at Ollantaytambo from the Sun Temple.

INCA TRAIL

Day 1: GENTLE

We took a bus to the start of Inca Trail at KM 82. The path started out nice and gentle. Make note of the flat, dirt trail in the photos below. We will not be seeing this again after Day 1.

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This first day was my introduction to the superhumans known as Porters. The porters carried giant packs filled with our belongings, food, tents, etc…and ran from stop to stop in order to take care of us feeble hikers. I could dedicate an entire post to these hardworking and magnificent gentlemen but you’re not here to listen to me fangirl.

We also had a chef in our group who prepared 3-course meals that belonged in 5-star restaurants. I didn’t have a single bite of food the entire trip that didn’t make me say “mmmmmmahgawd.”

Toilet Tip: There were a few stops along the way on Day 1 where you can use the restroom for 1 Sol. Day 1 is also when you’ll be introduced to Peruvian campsite toilets, what our group lovingly referred to as “squatty potties.” By Day 2 I was no longer partaking in “squatty potties” and preferred to take care of business outside as Mother Nature intended.

Day 2: UP

Bright and early on Day 2, the porters came around to our tents saying, “Buenos Dias Señorita.” I felt like a princess as they smiled and handed me a cup of hot tea. (Did I mention how amazing Porters are?)

We had a lovely breakfast and got an early start on the hardest day of the trail. Day 2 was straight up up up to the highest altitude of the hike. Aptly named Dead Woman’s Pass tops out around 14,000 ft and gets its name, not from almost killing out-of-shape hikers like myself, but from the shape of the pass. I made it to the top, one step at a time, gasping for air as dragged my body up the mountain with my walking sticks.

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What goes up, must come down so we haggardly descended to lunch. After lunch, we were told we had to go up again. I think our guides sensed that we were on the verge of a revolt so they hurried us along by telling us that there was no time to waste if we wanted to make to to our campsite by dark. We were rewarded with a magnificent sunset over snowcapped and cloud-covered mountains as we practically crawled into our tents to sleep.

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Campsite on Day 2

Day 3: LOVELY

Day 3 was mostly downhill but still fairly challenging. Not only was I super sore from climbing the day before, going down took an entirely new set of leg muscles. I spent a lot of time looking down to be sure I didn’t walk off a cliff but every time I stopped to look up the view had changed and each moment was more breathtaking than the last.

We only hiked for half the day on Day 3 and stopped at our campsite around lunch. This was no ordinary campsite. We were perched on the side of a steep mountain. The opening of my tent was inches from the edge of a huge drop off.

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A few of us checked out some ruins that were a short walk from the campsite and we also attempted to wash our hair in the freezing campsite water. It was a bold move but the biodegradable all-purpose soap wasn’t great as a shampoo and my hair stayed wet until the next morning.

Day 4: THE HOME STRETCH

We woke up at 3:00 a.m. so our porters could pack up everything and catch a train. It was very chilly as we waited in the darkness by the entrance of the trail to Machu Picchu. We hiked with headlamps for a while and made it to the Sun Gate around dawn to watch as the clouds lifted from Machu Picchu.

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Sun is barely up and this tired looking girl already hiked to Machu Picchu.

I had such a sense of accomplishment when we finally reached our destination but after spending days surrounded by mountains with only my hiking mates and the sound of my own footsteps and breath, the crowds at Machu Picchu were a little overwhelming. I can see why the government is starting to regulate it so heavily.

Once we had a look around, we hopped on a bus to head down the mountain to Aguas Calientes. From there, we caught the train back to where it all began in Ollantaytambo.

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The saying “the journey is the reward” is exactly how I would describe the hike to Machu Picchu. There isn’t a specific moment I can point to that made this trip so incredible. It was the porters, the weather, the food, the company, the trail, the mountains, the ruins, the air, the entire country of Peru…it was everything!

I feel like I left out so many details but I didn’t want this post to become a novel. If you have any questions at all, leave me a comment!

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5 thoughts on “Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

  1. Bonus Tip: If you learn one thing from this post it’s this: “Machu” means “Old” and “Picchu” means “Steep Mountains.” BUT you must pronounce the first “c” in Picchu like “pick-chu” or you are saying “Old Penis” instead of “Old Steep Mountains.” You’re welcome.

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