Today was the day! I was a little nervous about the four day Inca trail hike to Machu Picchu because I’d never hiked for four days straight, it was very high altitude, and I’d been very sick with a fever for the last week and a half, so I had no idea how it was going to go.
You get picked up in Cuzco before dawn to join your hiking group (eight people in mine) and then drive a three hours to where the Inca trail hike starts in Ollaytantambo. It was more of a walk at the beginning, so it was easy. We had to bust out the bug spray because we were getting attacked by mosquitoes. Before the hike, I was completely ignorant to the fact that Machu Picchu and part of the Inca Trail are in the jungle.
We walked for a few hours to our first campsite. The amount of food provided on the hike was awesome. We were getting fed three course meals. I was worried about the food situation because I find that tours starve you and when they do feed you, it’s the shittiest food, which is not cool, especially when you have no other options for food and you’re hiking seven to eight hours per day. But I was not disappointed or left hungry!
We went to bed at 7:30pm. I’m pretty sure I’ve never gone to bed that early in my life.
We got up at 5:30am. The second day is considered the most difficult and feared day of hiking because the majority of the hike is uphill and very steep for 7-8 hours or more (depending on how fast you are) and the elevation reaches over 4000m. Everyone was nervous and dreading it, but I decided to not let it intimidate me. Elevation and uphill be damned, I was going to crush this thing.
I put my iPod on, got in the zone and crushed it, I did. It’s all about attitude.
After hours of hiking uphill, we reached the downhill part. Downhill was also challenging, with really steep and sketchy steps. It was quicker than hiking uphill, but it was more challenging for your legs and safety, in my opinion. I prayed I wouldn’t fall and twist my knee or ankle. I can’t imagine what you’d do if you got seriously injured on the hike because I don’t know how anyone could rescue you.
Another guy in my group and I were the only ones without hiking boots; I just had regular running shoes. And I was the only one without a walking stick. Walking sticks were highly recommended and everyone thought I was making a big mistake by not bringing one because it’s supposed to help with the downhill and your knees, but I had no interest in carrying that thing for four days and I’m not 80 years old. I do not regret my decision, but it’s personal preference.
Another early night to bed. We were at 4200m, so I froze my ass off and barely slept. I had four pairs of socks on, three of which were knee high and made of alpaca wool, and I had gloves on my hands, but my hands and feet were still freezing. It was the end of January, which was their “warmer” season.
All the girls froze last night and it had rained so everything got wet, which made it extra cold.
The third day of hiking was the longest day, in terms of distance and time, but it was mostly downhill. It was also the prettiest day, in terms of scenery.
It ended up being the most difficult day for me due to all the downhill because my toes kept smashing into the front of my shoes, which was extremely painful. Then it started pouring rain and we got drenched, even with ponchos. It became the day that would never end.
Early to bed again because we had to be up at 3:30am the next morning.
We got up at 3:30am and walked for 10 minutes to the gate of the trail that led to the Sungate and Machu Picchu, where we were first in line to wait until 5:30am when it opened.
When they let us through the gate at 5:30am, I sprinted past everyone. I wanted to be one of the first so I could get the best photos. It was about an hour and a half hike. At the end, you climb the steep stairs to the sungate, where you get the amazing view of Machu Picchu.
Four days of hiking for this. Fuck yes.
So amazing. I’d wanted to see Machu Picchu since I was a kid and I’d made my own diorama of Machu Picchu out of rocks.
We went to a viewpoint of Machu Picchu, where our guide started to tell us the history of Machu Picchu. It was interesting, but we sat there for so long and I could see Machu Picchu filling with tourists. The weather was very volatile- one minute you couldn’t see Machu Picchu because it was covered by fog, then ten minutes later, it would clear up. I was getting antsy because I felt like we were missing out on some great photo opportunities. I was pissed off because we got up at an ungodly hour to be the first to Machu Picchu, but that very small window of time before hundreds of tourists arrived was unnecessarily squandered.
There were sooo many people there. It was a shock to be in civilization again and around so many people after barely seeing anyone for three days. The people looked all fresh to death with nice clothes, hair and makeup. Those of us who actually hiked to Machu Picchu felt a little bitter towards those people because we were filthy and looked like crap and we had earned Machu Picchu, damn it!
I visited Huayna Picchu, the mountain beside Machu Picchu. The permit to visit is about an extra $80US and it has to be booked in advance when you book your hike. Many people opted out, but I figured if you’re right there, you might as well see it.
The hike up Huayna Picchu was insane and extremely steep! At the top, you could see the bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu, so you could see that it’s shaped like a condor.
I headed back to Machu Picchu where I probably should’ve explored some more, but the amount of tourists was such a turn-off and it made it difficult to get around and get proper photos, so I left. That was really disappointing.
The group headed to Aguas Calientes, the nearby town. Aguas Calientes is extremely touristy and expensive, so I was glad I opted out of staying the night. I had my first warm shower in days with hand soap. It was glorious!
We took the train and then a bus back to Cuzco and got dumped in the town square at 11:30pm.
Need to know:
Hiking the Inca trail is extremely overpriced (about $700-800US for 4 days/3 nights) and you have to book really far in advance, especially during high season (June-August) when you have to book almost a year in advance. I went at the end of January, during the wet and low season and only booked a few weeks in advance. If these aren’t options for you, there are many other ways to get to Machu Picchu- you can hike Salkantay or do the Jungle Trek. And if hiking isn’t your thing, you can take the train or bus.
The cheapest possible way to do Machu Picchu is to buy your permit for Machu Picchu in Cuzco, then take a bus from Cuzco to the train and walk along the train tracks.
Take some time to acclimatize to the altitude in Cuzco before the hike.
I hiked at the end of January, during the low and wet season, which a lot of people say is not preferable, but it was way “warmer” than the high and dry season in June-August. High season is also their winter, so the low temperature will be around freezing. I prefer warmer rain to dry and freezing.
It really helps to be fit before the hike.
The Inca trail is closed in February.
There are showers available on day two and three of the hike, but they’re ice cold.
I’m really glad I did the Inca trail hike because it was a great experience that I’ll never forget.