The Inca Trail is a 40-km (25 mile) hike, with 3 high passes to be crossed, one of which reaches an elevation of 4200m (13776 ft).
Our first day started off very early leaving the hotel at 6 am with our guide Umberto. We were supposed to have a total of five people in our group but unfortunately two got very ill the night before so they were unable to make it, an extremely unfortunate set of circumstances for them. So then there were three! We had mixed emotions about haveing such a small group, but when we saw a neighbouring group of 48 people with 56 porters we realized that a small number gave us the 5 star treatment.
It was a three hour bus ride through the Sacred Valley to the small Andean town of Ollantaytambo, which overlooks the beautiful Urubamba River Valley. This is where we stopped to meet our porters and gather all the supplies they needed for our 4 day trek. Because we were supposed to have five people we ended up with 11 porters for the three of us! We felt VERY spoiled but knew that if the extra 4 porters didn´t come on the trip they would not receive their salary.
This first day was the easiest (in comparison to the other days!) with a 4 hour hike to our first camping site, Wayllabamba. Our porters each had loads of 25kg and flew by us during our entire four days of trekking. These guys were amazing! We even stopped to have lunch half way and they had everything ready to go by the time we got there. Full tent to eat in, table, chairs, beds to take a quick rest before continuing on. The food was always good and lunch and dinner always started with a homemade Peruvian soup. Over the four days we had, fish, chicken, spaghetti, pancakes, pasta, and even a cake on our last day! Truly impressive to bake over an open flame.
The second day we both weren't sure what to expect. We had heard it was the hardest day and it was all uphill, Umberto was not lying! Starting at 7am it was a five hour hike up to Warmiwañusca, or Dead Woman's Pass. At 4198 m (13769 ft) above sea level, this pass is the highest point of the trek. The first three hours were stairs and in the rain forest, absolutely beautiful scenery. We did not have lunch this day, instead our guide Umberto wanted us to do the full day and have lunch and dinner at the campsite. Three hours into the hike we had a break in an open area where we could see our destination, Dead Woman´s Pass. The last two hours were extremely deceiving. At first glance it seemed like an easy hour hike and we would reach our destination, but instead it was a grueling two hours up and up with very thin air, it seemed like it would never end.
After reaching the top 4198m we had a chance to enjoy the amazing landscape (see the photo album as words cannot do it justice). After a short break it was a two hour decent down steep stairs... I´m still not sure which direction is more painful, up or down. We arrived at our second campsite, Paqaymayo, which is nestled on the side of the mountain at 3,200 meters. Needless to say after 11 km´s of straight up and down it was a very early night!
All three of us were looking forward to day three because of the many archeological sights we were going to see along the way. Our final destination of Machu Picchu was always in our minds but some of the ruins along the way were just as spectacular. On day 1 we walked past two ruins, Salapunku and Llactapata. Day 2 we stayed near the ruin of Wayllabamba. Day 3 we saw Runkuraqay, Sayacmarca, and Phuyupatamarca.
Sore and tired, we started again early at 7am. With another assent in our sights we set out to summit again at Runkuraqay Pass at 3800m. After an hour and a half climb from our camp at 3200m we were treated to another spectacular view of whitecap Andes Mountains and valleys. The third day was 16 km´s of steep climbs and sharp descents through the mountains to arrive at our final campsite, which was in Winaywaynaonly only two hours away from Machu Picchu. We were now located in the range that borders the Amazon rain forest so the lanscape had changed from mountainous and dry to very lush and moist.
The final campsite had an old hostel and a restaurant where cold beer and hot showers could be bought. We opted for a very cold shower but thoroughly enjoyed a cold beer after our long three days, we definitely earned it! Our guide Umberto took the three of us to a hidden ruins very close to our campsite in Winaywayna. Not many people visit the ruins because of fatigue after the long 16 km´s but it worth every step! The ruins were the most spectacular we´d seen and resembled a small Machu Picchu. For what its worth, Umberto thought these ruins were more beautiful than Machu Picchu itself! Check out the photos in our album.
Our final day started the earliest arriving at Intipunku before sunrise. The weather was the worst we´d had yet, solid rain with a sticky humidity. A two hour hike in the dark to the Sungate was strenuous because all our muscles were sore and not interested in working any more. As we approached to the Sungate our anticipation and excitement grew, we climbed over the pass to see our prize at the end of the trek, the glorious Machu Picchu! BUT to our disappointment it was clouded over and the visibilty was terrrible. After three days of beautiful sunny weather we reach our destination and it was cloudy and raining!! Umberto was quick to tell us, ´just wait 5 minutes´, you´ll see. So we waited. We took off our ponchos, coats and sure enough within minutes the clouds parted, the sun came out, and there it was...Machu Picchu. It was like the Gods heard our prayers instantly!
Thinking back to our four day hike it was a truly amazing accomplishment for both of us. Years ago it was a dream, and that morning it became a reality! I don´t think this is the forum to be enlightening you on the history of Machpicchu and the Incan empire, but we would encourage you to take a moment to learn about this lost city and its remarkable history and architecture. And put it on your list of things to accomplish before you die... it is definitely one of the best things that we have ever done together!