Whatever the opposite of outdoorsy and active is.. that’s what I am! The Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu was without a doubt the most difficult and challenging thing either of us has ever done, and we’re glad we checked it off our bucket list. If you’re asking whether it was worth all the blood, sweat and tears during the hike… Why not just take the train, right? The views alone were completely worth it. And then there’s the added bonus of having a sense of accomplishment when you finally reach Machu Picchu. Those other guys who took the train? Cheaters!
The busiest season for this hike is March & April. We happened to go in early August, which is the turn of the season from dry to rainy. We got extremely lucky and had perfect weather the entire hike. They allow 200 travelers on the Inca Trail a day accompanied by 250 porters. You pass by the same people every day (or they pass you, in our case), so you get to know the other hikers while suffering together.
On the first day, we were picked up from Cusco in the early morning 5-6AM, made a quick stop in Ollantaytambo for breakfast, and then started our hike along the Vilcanota River. The first day was approximately 6 hours and was the easiest day. You will be able to tell by the number of photos we took that day. As the days got progressively harder, the photos became more and more scarce. haha
DAY 1: CUSCO-WAYLLABAMBA:
Distance: 7.45 miles / 12km
Estimated time: 5-6 hours
Maximum altitude: 9,850 feet / 3,000m
Views of the snow-capped peak of Veronica (5860 m)
An elevation chart of our four day hike to Machu Picchu. Can you tell the second day is going to be a *****?!
It was a struggle for us, but the porters were carrying over double the weight we carried and were sprinting up and down the mountains. These guys were our heroes!
I’m not sure how Matthew stayed so joyful while carrying a 50+ lb pack, but he was definitely an inspiration to us all.
The people who didn’t quite make it to Machu Picchu. At least that’s what they told us.
Our lunch spot! Llactapata:
Our guided tour with Info Cusco had the best food. The most gourmet camp food we’ve ever had!
We passed by another ruin, but this was our first ruins in clear view!
The third ruins we saw:
Setting up for our first night of sleep in Wayllabamba
DAY 2: WAYLLABAMBA – WARMIWAÑUSCA – PACAYMAYO:
Distance: 6.83 miles / 11km
Estimated time: 6 – 7hours
Maximum altitude: 13,799 feet / 4,200m
You are on a crazy climb for 3 hours and go along Dead Woman’s Pass until you get to the highest point of the entire Inca Trail. Then it’s another 3 or so hours descending to the campsite.
Look at all the llamas and alpacas!
Here are porters traveling up Dead Woman’s Pass. We needed to save all our energy to survive this part, so we took these photos after we reached the top! It was rough. Just imagine climbing stairs for three hours straight. It was nice that even from half an hour down, you can hear people cheering others on this portion.
What goes up, must come down:
This is just before the part where I broke down. I felt really wobbly. My legs were no longer working on the downhill portion. I wanted to die at that point than finish the rest of the trail. After beating a bush with my hiking stick and crying it out for half an hour, I got all the crazy out, so we can start back up again.. haha
We made it!!! After lots of tears… and shedding some blood (Jacob had a nosebleed).
DAY 3: PACAYMAYO – Puya Patamarka – WIÑAY HUAYNA:
Distance: 9.93 miles / 16km
Estimated time: 8 hours
Maximum altitude: 12,664 feet / 3,860m
Frost on our tent!
Time to start hiking.
Took about one hour to reach the ruins of Runkurakay. Here’s the view looking down at the campsite where we slept.
Part of the Runkurakay Ruins:
Then we reached the ruins of Sayacmarca, “ Town in a Steep Place”. It was only accessible through a steep and narrow stone staircase, which was scary going up. Most travelers left their packs at the bottom before climbing up.
Quick stop in Chaquiqocha for lunch:
Trying on the porter packs:
The tunnel of love, a tunnel formed by a soil slide adapted by the Incas.
Arriving in Phuyupatamarca (“Cloud-level Town”) Inca Ruins:
Almost done! Intipata, ““Sun Terraces”. The last ruins of the 3rd day.
We had to rough it for a few nights, but we had the best views from our tent!
The chef made us a anniversary cake since it happened to be our second year anniversary that day! It was really sweet of them.
DAY 4: WIÑAY HUAYNA – Machu Picchu:
Distance: 2.48 miles / 4km
Estimated time: 2 hours
Maximum altitude: 8,923 feet / 2,720m
The final section of the trail was from Huinay Huayna to Intipunku. We woke up at 5 AM and waited for the gate to open. The majority of the hike was easy except for a small portion of stairs where you’re on hands and knees. We liked calling that portion the monkey stairs. We didn’t take many photos on the last day, just because we were in a rush to get done. Once we arrived to the area that was overlooking Machu Picchu, we could take a breather. We were so happy to be finally looking upon our finish line!
For more photos, you can see them on our facebook page. Next up, exploring Machu Picchu. You can find more tips on what to pack and other useful info, what to do in Cusco & where to stay while acclimating to the elevation in our previous posts.