4-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
July 26, 2011 § 3 Comments
The classic 4-day hike through the jungles of Peru follows a trail originally created by the Incas 500 years ago. The trek isn’t easy. Aside from walking 6-8 hours per day and sleeping in tents, it involves multi-hour-long stretches of continuous uphill steps, scary cliff-side paths, and a constant battle with shortness of breath and headaches due to the 13,000 ft altitude. Days on the trail may be wet and slippery, nights in the tent are freezing, and you are cut off from modern conveniences like running water and electricity. But you eat well, see amazing scenery, and on the final day you cross through the last mountain pass and behold the lost city of Machu Picchu.
The Inca Trail was special for Kasey and me because both of our families flew down to Peru to join us. It also marked the first time (after six years!) that our parents met. We’d been warned against this because “there is strange energy on the Inca Trail”, but we figured that exhausted and showerless in a remote jungle is the best setting for family bonding. Kasey’s brother Ethan and my sister Angela also came along, so there were 8 of us total in the group.
Helping us along on the trail was our 14-member staff. Yes, 14 people devoted solely to us!: 1 guide, 2 cooks, and 11 porters. So many porters are required in order to carry all the tents, camping gear, food supplies, etc. The porters are actually amazing. Each morning they pack up the camp site after we leave, then run past us along the trail in order to set up the next site before we arrive. They do this carrying huge packs that are about the size of a person.
Equally impressive as the porters were our parents, who in their 50s were about double the age of the median hiker. All four completed the trail with high spirits and no injuries. My mom asked that ‘Inca Trail completion’ be marked on her gravestone.
Even for the kids the trail wasn’t easy. I had a fever on the 2nd day (the hardest day, almost all uphill) and had to coax my delirious mind and body to take every step. On the 3rd day it rained the whole time which made going downhill on the 2-foot-high original Inca steps dangerously slippery. Just about everyone in our group slipped and fell on the hard rock multiple times.
At night we slept in two-person tents. Temperatures were in the low 40s but the mummy-style sleeping bags kept us warm. In the morning the porters woke us up around 5-6am with cups of hot tea at our tents. For lunch and dinner the porters ran ahead to set up the food tent, which was just large enough to seat all 8 of us at the table and chairs that the porters also carried. The food — usually soup, meat with rice, and simple dessert — was hearty and tasty, though admittedly after walking all day long anything probably tastes amazing. Dusk set in usually during dinner, as did the cold, and without lights we went to sleep shortly afterwards.
As for facilities, there wasn’t much. There were no showers and there were only squat toilets (exception: 3rd night at Winay Wayna campsite). No place to charge your iPhone, though we left all our electronics back at our hotels in Cuzco anyway. No stores along the trail but there were two or three spots where local villagers took advantage of the lack of supply and sold small snacks and beverages at nice markups. We couldn’t drink the water from the streams but the cook boiled enough water each morning to fill our bottles for the full day.
After walking through rain for the whole 3rd day, we were lucky that it was nice and sunny for our 4th and final day. We awoke before dawn at 4:00am and within a few hours reached the Sun Gate, the final mountain pass where we were wowed by our first breathtaking view of Machu Picchu, miles away in the valley below. The feeling of accomplishment and awe would later bring tears to our eyes as we recounted our journey. Once in the site, our guide José gave us a 2-hour tour explaining its history, much of which is only theory. The Spanish conquistadors from the 1500s never discovered Machu Picchu and it wasn’t actually known to the modern world until an American found it overgrown with plants in 1911.
Overall the Inca Trail was a great time, great exercise, and a great place for our families to meet. We’ve posted our full 109-picture album here.