It’s funny now as I look back at my previous post about whether I should or shouldn’t do the Inca Trail, because I now realize how silly it was of me to even question it. It was the same thing with going to the Galapagos Islands: it’s a lot of money, but travel is the “only thing you buy that makes you richer.” And with my Inca Trek, I’ve never before felt just how true this quote is.
I just arrived back from an intense, almost 50km journey through the Peruvian Cordillera Mountains along an ancient Inca Trail to arrive at one of the most amazing, beautiful, and incredible ruins left for humanity to wonder about. This trek was such an incredible experience. Not only do you hike along the actual pilgrimage trail, you also get to be one of the few tourists exploring the other ruins along the way. Only 500 people a day are allowed to start the trail; that means 200 tourists and 300 porters to carry food, supplies and tents.
The four day trek has early mornings (as early as 3a.m.) but the company I went with was absolutely incredible. When was the last time you went camping and whipped up quinoa porridge, trout stuffed with cheese, or stuffed chili-peppers? Because that is exactly what we were served in our dining room tent for meals. The food was gourmet. I don’t even eat that good when I go out for a fancy meal. The porters were wonderful and brought us hot coca tea for our early morning wake-up calls as well as buckets of hot water in the morning and evening to clean and freshen up with. They also managed to carry 25kg of supplies while we only trekked with our personal items, sleeping bag, and roll mat. For the 8 of us that were on the tour, we had 11 porters and one guide. More than one porter per person.
I chose to hike the trail in the rainy season. This comes with some benefits and some drawbacks, the obvious drawback being rain and the biggest benefit being fewer people to trek along-side. We were very fortunate and only had one day that rained, and we were in good spirits regardless because the next day we would be arriving at Machu Picchu and it was our last day of hiking. The amount of coca we chewed probably helped keep us happy as well. Our guide was awesome and didn’t rush us, which meant most groups passed ahead of us while we were able to enjoy the scenery without being jostled by other trekkers pushing past on the narrow path. Being around so few people also helped add to the mysticism and magic that the Inca trail creates. And, as an added bonus, this also meant we were privy to some unreal wildlife, including an oso anteojos (speckled baby bear) that was hanging out in a tree right off the path.
Not only is the trek an incredible personal journey, it also became somewhat spiritual as we learned about the Inca’s and their beliefs and observed and wandered amongst some of their sacred temples and ruins. On our last night we had a little ceremony in the rain on the last major ruin before Machu Picchu, asking Pachamamma (essentially Mother Earth) to provide sunshine for our next day and safe journeys for all travelers heading to Machu Picchu. And it appeared she listened as the sun came out for our final day.
The day we arrived at Machu Picchu we were up at 3 a.m. to wait for the gates to open at 5:30 am. We then trekked for an hour and a half to arrive at the Sun Gate, which was unfortunately misted over in thick clouds. We weren’t even able to see Machu Picchu mountain or the ruins below. However, as we made our way down the path, we watched the ruins slowly become visible through the clouds and it was almost more magical watching them appear through the mist than all at once. What an anticipatory culmination to the end of an arduous hike.
This trek was even more special because I was able to meet my parents at Machu Picchu. They had flown down to Peru two weeks previously and after leaving them for a few days to hike the trail, they were waiting for me when I arrived to the control gate and we were able to explore the ruins together. Sometimes traveling alone means not being able to share experiences and journey’s with others in the same way as someone who was there with you, so having my parents there to share such a special day was more than I could have hoped for.
We took our time with a guided tour and then I left for an intense, hour long hike up a mountain called Huayna Picchu. It’s one of the most famous as it’s the mountain that backs Machu Picchu ruins and is in all the photographs you usually see. It was nothing but stairs to the top and was incredibly steep but worth every grueling step up. Often steps had just been chiseled into the rock and there was a cable or rope to help pull yourself up (I’m a bit masochistic, so this was my kind of hike.) There were viewpoints along the way, as well as temples and terraces (I have no idea how they got the rocks up there to build them) and the summit was really just a few sharp boulders stacked on top of the mountain you could precariously perch on. The view of Machu Picchu below was breathtaking as Huayna Picchu is at 2693 m above sea level, a little less than 400 meters above the ruins. I have to throw out props and thanks to the guy who almost committed suicide balancing on the rocks just to take my picture. Out of all of Machu Picchu, climbing Huayna Picchu might just be my favorite highlight of the day.
After, I spent the rest of the day with my parents exploring the ruins, enjoying the amazing weather and sunshine, and I even was “lucky” enough to be chased by one of the llamas that roam around the ruins at their own leisure. Picture me running through Machu Picchu screaming as a llama chases me, mom takes pictures, and Dad is just rolling his eyes. It’s quite funny now, but I was legitimately scared at the time, especially if you know how much I dislike being chased. Plus, llamas can be pretty aggressive, and they spit.
Overall, the entire experience of trekking to Machu Picchu was one that I will never forget. It was challenging, inspiring, rewarding and most of all taught me about an incredible culture that lived so long ago. I know I was on the fence about spending a very large sum of money on only four days of my life – but it was worth every penny and such an amazing memory to keep forever.