Inca Trail, Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail (in Peru) is one of the most popular hiking trails of the world and ends at the most popular tourist destination in South America, Machu Picchu. Traditionally held over 4 days and 3 nights it involves a 45km hike at altitudes from 2650m (8692ft) to 4200m.
The Inca Trail can only be done through a tour company, costs are about $500USD, the track is closed in February every year and in the busy months of May - August booking well in advanced is advised.
In my case, I went with Q'ente and their details are on a seperate page.
Overall I found the track hard with the added altitude problems, but as the days progressed it became more a mind thing then a fitness issue. Reasonable fitness is required but no further training really neccessary. Guides are used but in my case i carried my own clothes, snacks and sleeping bag.
Camping facilities on the trail:
Each camp site will have running cold water and some toilets. By toilets I mean holes in the ground with no lime or even water buckets to wash it down with. Bring along some scented toilet paper to hold to your nose and a torch to stop you from stepping in anything at night.
You porters will bring all the tents you need. You will usually be sharing a 2 person tent and you will need to bring along all your sleeping gear (ie sleeping bag and bed roll). The porters will also set up a dinner tent complete with tables and chairs to be comfy with.
There are numerous camping grounds along the trail and your group leader will have had one booked in advance. (hopefully).
Don't expect any showers until the last night of camping. All the trekkers stay at this camping ground and it actually has facilities. Toilets, showers, some electricity and.... a pub!! Take my advice though and don't drink at altitude (bad mistake!).
Described as an "easy trek" you really do need to train before you go!! We soon discovered that the altitude mixed with Peruvian flat (very steep hill) can really take it out of you!! Although our group had to complete the trek in 3 days instead of 4 because of permit issues (not our fault!!) and porters quitting and leaving our bags, all of us thouroughly enjoyed the challange and the views, although it would have been easier to complete in 4 days without carrying all our stuff!!
We treked for around 12 hours per day (normal is 8) past some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen. The first day we had to catch up on some of the trekking that we had missed and so trekked right through to Llulluchapampa (3740m and 1500m straight up in one afternoon) and camped for the night. The second day was physically the hardest in my life. We completed all 3 passes in one day (4200m, 3975m and 3650m). The third day for us was mostly downhill - watch your knees!! The last day is only a 3 hour trek to the Sun Gate and on to Macchu Picchu. The passport control opens at 6am so make sure your group is the first to get there and try to be the first at Macchu Picchu for sunrise (I didn't quite make it that early!!).
There are only a certain amount of people allowed on the Inca Trail at any one time and as a consequence you will need to book and get your permits early in order to get the date you want. Check with the tour operator beforehand that they have the permits.
During the trail you will (or should!!) be given 3 meals a day and lunch and dinner will usually be a 3 course hot meal!! Bring along any extra snacks thay you may need. They will provide you will boiled water for drinking. Your group will usually have porters to carry all the tents and sleeping equipment that you will need and for an extra fee you can hire a porter to carry your bag as well. The porters will also carry oxygen should you feel the effects of altitude sickness.
I beleive that the Inca Trail is definitely preferableto getting the train to Macchu Picchu (if you have the time). You see all the amazing countryside as well as accomplishing something within yourself that perhaps you didn't know you could do. Although exhausted when you get there, the ruins mean so much more.
The elevation on the Inca Trail can ascend to over 10,000 feet, and altitude sickness can be a real concern even for those who are in good physical health. Give yourself at least three days in Cuzco to acclimatize to that level of elevation before you attempt to climb further on the trail. Drink the coca de mate if you can find it. The coca leaves are not harmful, and scientific evidence or not, the locals swear by it, and I do too.
Drink lots of water before and during your climb. Give your body time to adapt before you start, and you'll be able to soak in every moment of this breathtaking trek.
In 2001, due to the damage caused by uncontrolled tourism and insufficient preservation efforts, UNESCO threatened to remove Machu Picchu's designation as a World Heritage site if measures were not taken to better preserve the ruins. In response, the Peruvian government now limits tourist permits for the Inca trail to no more than 500 per day. This may seem like quite a lot, but I've been advised by frequent visitors that you should try to get your permit at least 3 months n advance of your trip, if not sooner.
Permits can be secured through a number of travel companies on the web. Price generally goes for $200 and up with an optional $50 or so plus tip for a porter to carry your gear, if you so desire. This usually includes entrance to the ruins, tents, a guide, and meals.
Disclaimer: I did not do the Inca Trail hike up to Machu Picchu. I just saw it and talked to a few people.
The picture posted with this tip is taken from the train. It is a small section of a rest stop where the various groups of guide led expedition hikes to Machu Picchu. The train actually stopped to let a few in and out. There are so many people on this trail. And there are now buildings built on the trail to sleep in, and buildings to cook and eat in. To better accomodate the hikers. But I thought the point of doing the Inca trail is to experience the sacred trail just like the Incans used to do.
That kinda takes the fun out in my eyes. You decide, and check up on the facts for yourself.
These are the first glimpses you get of Machu Picchu, and how impressive they are our party were speechless as we gazed upon the Ruins below, I had read the guide books and seen the photos, but still was not prepared?quite a spiritual moment.
If you have 3 extra days to spare, hike the Inca Trail. It's truly a privilege to follow the footsteps on ancient Incan pilgrims. Orchid is the national flower of Peru and you'll find plenty along the way. Be prepared reach maximum physical capacity on first day because you are going up almost 4,000 feet before you reach Dead Woman's Pass (highest peak of all three). The steps are steep and air is thin. So pace yourself and breathe slowly. Second day gets a little easier. Third day is difficult again for some as you descend to about 10,000 feet. We went down about 2,000 steps in a couple of hours. Machu Picchu park gate opens at 6 am, hikers line up around 5 am. It's another two hours hike until you reach Machu Picchu. It's relatively easy with the exception of a small, steep purgatory section.
You will be spoiled rotten by the porters and cooks. Respect and tip them well. It's a tough job.
I was curious about how tough a job porters on the Inca Trail had, and now I know a little better: it's TOUGH! Here's a photo of a typical porter and the load he hauls up and down the Inca Trail. This was shot at Km 82.
For further perspective, there's this: the trek takes tourists four days carrying only daypacks (and a hiking stick, which came in handier than I'd ever have expected); during the "races" that periodically happen on the trail, the fastest porters reportedly finish the route from Km 82 to Machu Picchu in 3.5 or 4 hours! Presumably that's with no load, but still amazes me beyond words.
I'll give more details elsewhere, but here's the most important tip I can think of for the Inca Trail: be in good shape! Day 1, one of the easier days, found me out of breath a few times, and my girlfriend, who is in good shape but didn't really train much for the hike, badly out of breath a few times on the steep uphill portions, of which there are about six on Day 1 (we started from Km 77 in Chillca, so we had a few more than usual). So my advice is to err on the side of overtraining rather than undertraining. Still, most should be able to handle it, and we'll both be back in a couple of years to tackle the hike again!
The main goal of the trail is to visit Machu Picchu, arriving to this sanctuary along the old trail used by the incas. So the 4th day is the most exciting, as you wake up early in the morning to arrive in time to see sunrise over Machu Picchu.
Then you enter the place and have all morning to explore the area.
After lunch you have the train back to Cuzco from the nearby village of Aguas Calientes, and you arrive to Cuzco at about 21:00h.
These are the first ruins you see in the trail. You don't really visit them, as you see them from a hill, but you can admire the agriculture terraces and the inca buildings down there, in the junction of the 2 rivers...
Right after crossing the bridge over the Urubamba comes the first hard slope. Not really hard, but as is the first one is quite challenging. They say if you pass this OK, you are ready for the trekking. It only takes 5-10 minutes.
Our guide told us that a month ago, a 70 years old man suffered here from a heart attack, and they had to take him back to Cuzco!
Here is where the trekking really begins. There is a railway station here, so you can reach this point by train from Cuzco.
Here you find a tickets control, and after crossing the bridge over the Urubamba river, you enter the National Park and start the trekking.