Machu Picchu trek in summary: walking, trekking, high points (4200m), low points, steep up and down, walking stick, 'Inca toilets' (ie. nature), squating, beautiful nature, rich history, animals (llamas, alpacas, hummingbirds and more), amazing food, crazy porters (carrying up to 30kg), all four seasons, sunscreen, rain, wet shoes, baby wipe showers, ponchos, sore knees, sore back, sore feet, incredible sights...
All the guys in my room were also doing Machu Picchu. However unlike me who packed the night before, they thought it would be fun to do this the morning of and so I got woken up at 3.30am, a full hour and a half before I needed to be awake. Excellent start.
Day one was the 'easy' day, the training day. On the Inca trail flat means a little bit of up and a little bit of down, not actually flat. Good joke Edwin (one of our guides). I had decided not to hire a porter, meaning I was carrying my own pack. I really wasn't sure how this was going to go and thought I would be at the back of the group (of 16 trekkers - 6 girls and 10 guys) but surprisingly I went well and even managed to be in the front to middle groups. We saw two Inca sights along the way and got some beginning explanations from Edwin about the Inca culture. While our group was 16 trekkers and 2 guides, we also had 19 porters and 1 cook along for the ride. The porters are CRAZY. They start the trail, get to the lunch spot, cook lunch and set up a tent to for us to eat in and another for us to leave our packs. Then we start trekking again to camp for the night, they pack up at the lunch spot and walk (sometimes run) past us to get to camp and set up - coo dinner, set up dinner tent, set up our accommodation and theirs. Absolutely amazing.
Day two is the hardest day. You walk up for the best part of the day (to 4200m) and then another hour and a half down. On this day you can hire an unofficial porter and I did so. Reflecting at the end of the day, I could have carried my pack but the day was a lot more enjoyable not having to. Camping at such high altitude meant it was freezing and I was super glad to have my thermals.
Day three was the longest day, a good eight or nine hours of walking. This was the hardest day for me. In the morning I felt really sick and in the first part, an uphill stretch (with my pack) I really struggled. At the top of this peak we left a wish on top of the mountain as is an Inca tradition and this break allowed me to feel better. However going down is my least favourite part. Although not as tiring or mentally tough as up, it's physically tougher and being so clumsy, I really had to be careful so I didn't trip. On that note, I am proud to say while I had a few stumbles, I did not once actually fall over the whole trip. So going down I was pretty slow again but well worth it, cause I'm alive! A little while before lunch it started to rain. I ignored it for a while because having a poncho on while walking is really sweaty, but it soon became apparent it was only getting worse. Cue poncho and not too soon after a little hail. Fab. The poncho covered me to just above the knees. But knee down including shoes I was soaked. I was never so glad on the whole trek to arrive at the meeting spot, which this time was also lunch meaning I could take off my poncho and start to dry off. After dinner we got to meet and thank our cook and porters, which was really special. They really did make the whole experience so much easier. I cannot even begin to imagine doing the trek carrying a tent, chair and food as well.
Day four was our last day. So that our porters could pack up and make their 5.30am train back to their homes. So wake up time was 3.30am. There's nothing quite like braiding your hair in the dark and hoping it turned out okay (it did in case you were worried). After breakfast we went down to the checkpoint and faced the hour long wait for it to open. It doesn't open until 5.30am so that people aren't trekking in the dark. Once the checkpoint opened, we were on our way. The trail was still just as challenging as it had been the previous days. Just before the sun gate, there was a set of stairs that are practically vertical. Killer. Once at the sun gate we had arrived. All our hard work had paid off and we made it.
Machu Picchu in itself is amazing. To fathom that people all these hundreds of years ago built such a place with just what nature gave them is incredible. Edwin gave us a guided tour of some main sights and explained more about the culture, which is really fascinating. After that we were free to explore and we did just that.
Once we were Picchu'd out, we caught the bus down to Agua Calientes a nearby town. There we had lunch (9 hours after breakfast) and visited to thermal baths to help our very sore muscles. Then all too soon we were on the train and then the bus back to Cusco and it was all over.
Doing the Inca Trail gave Machu Picchu so much more meaning. Along the way we saw lots of Inca sights but more importantly got explanations about the Inca culture from our guides Edwin and Juan. Arriving at Machu Picchu meant so much more to me, than if I had just taken a day trip like most of the people I saw there. Those people don't know what they missed out on, but they missed so much. Also our guides and group were excellent and I can't fault a thing about the trip. Over the four days I learnt that I am a lot more mentally tough than I give myself credit for. Even when the trek was tough and was getting to me, I never once thought about stopping. I carried my 8kg(ish) pack for three of the four days and found it to be fine, so I'm physically stronger than I realise too. I can't say that it was a transcendental experience and that I'm changed forever, but I am so glad I did the trek and it really is one of my proudest moments to have done it.
My Machu Picchu tips...
1 DO IT! Totally worth every step.
2 Hire a porter for the second day at least, if not the whole trek.
3 Do not go without a walking stick.
4 Go with Peru Treks. Excellent company (who treat their porters well) who organise everything faultlessly.