“I’m not going to say I survived, I’m going to say I thrived.
– Megan Price, Bridesmaids”
The Inca Trail in Peru is a 26.5 mile, 4-day pilgrimage, to reach the most famous of Inca ruins: Machu Picchu. You trek through cloud forests and alpine terrain passing many Inca ruins along the way.
Day 1 – Loving Life.
I’m feeling good. I’m excited about the hike. The few bits of incline don’t bother me at all. A lot of the path is exposed and you begin by walking alongside the Urubamba River, which you won’t see again until the last day of the hike. Be prepared to dodge lots of donkey and horse shit this day.
Day 2 – Fuck you stairs
This is the most difficult day of the hike. From the campsite we begin the almost 3,000 ft. ascent to the infamous Dead Woman’s Pass. The entire 4 hours is all incline in the form of stairs. Besides dealing with the actual physical part of the hike, you have the altitude to deal with. Chewing coca leaves and taking Diamox (altitude sickness medicine) did not help me and for most of the hike, I walked with a throbbing headache. I would hike a few steps, then would have to take a break. Try doing that for a couple of hours. I don’t know what my motivation was, but somehow I made it to the top. I guess no matter what, I knew I would have to finish. At the top, I immediately warned my friend, Marian, and our guide, Irving, to give me a few minutes. I was no longer loving life. In fact, I just wanted to cut a bitch.
After a break and a few pictures, we hike 2 hours down to our lunch site. After 6 hours of hiking, going to the bathroom was difficult. Weak thighs, unaccustomed to being used, threatened the possibility of collapsing in the cess pool that waited below. My thighs violently shaking, didn’t help with my aim either. This is when my hiking poles would have been the most useful.
Feeling utterly exhausted and disgusting, I reached our lunch spot, sat on a chair and started to cry. I have never been so tired.
After lunch, we hike another 4 hours to our campsite.
Day 3 – If I see another stair…
It’s a leisurely day. There is little incline on this leg of the hike and lots of Inca sites. Irving provides us with more information on the Inca culture. We get to our campsite by the early afternoon so that we get enough rest for the big day tomorrow.
Day 4 – In Desperate Need of a Shower
We wake up at 3am, have a light breakfast and quickly head to wait in line for the Sun Gate. We arrive a little after 3:30am. There are about 40 hikers ahead of us. The gates don’t open until 5:30am. Luckily for us, our friends that we met on the first day of the hike, get in line right behind us and we pass the time together laughing and playing Shithead. Once the gates open, we are instructed to hike as fast as possible to get to the Sun Gate in order to avoid the crowds.
5:30am comes along and Marian and I jet through. We yell “Ski faster!” to one other while imitating cross country skiing motions. 2 hours later we arrive at the Sun Gate, giving us our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. All I could think of was “FINALLY.” It was an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment that quickly followed with hunger,exhaustion and the need to go to the bathroom.
Irving gives us a 2-hour guided tour around Machu Picchu. He’s so knowledgeable and the information he provides is interesting, but we are so tired it’s hard to keep our eyes open. As soon as he leaves to let us explore on our own, Marian and I go to the nearest room, lay out our ponchos, and take a nap. I highly recommend the industrial section of Machu Picchu for this. We weren’t bothered for at least half an hour.
After a little nap, we explore for another 40 minutes. We are tired, but very appreciative to be there. We will probably never visit Machu Picchu again, so we want to soak it all in. In reality, we are ready to go.
In conclusion, that shit was hard. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I would not do the hike again, but I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about doing it. It definitely was a challenge, physically and mentally, but the views along the way are muy increible. I don’t think I would have appreciated Machu Picchu, as much, if I did not hike to it.
There are no showers and only squat toilets along the Inca Trail. Bring supplies for your whore baths. Baby wipes and toilet paper are essential.
If the company you choose offers air mattresses and hiking sticks, RENT THEM. They make a huge difference after a long day of hiking and the poles reduce the impact on your legs, knees, ankles, and feet.
Book your hike at least 6 months in advance. To do this you will need to pay a deposit and have a valid passport. It’s a popular hike and each day only 500 permits are issued. That number includes hikers, porters, chefs, and guides. A guide is required for the Inca Trail, so you have to pick from the dozens of companies that offer the trek.
Porter Treatment: There are a few things you want to look at when choosing a company, but besides what is included in the package, I feel how a company treats its porters is very telling. We went with Llama Path, which was recommended to me by a friend. Llama Path is one of the few companies that provides its porters jackets, pants, hats, and hiking boots. They are also one of the highest paying companies for porters. They have been in business for over 10 years, are very professional and reliable, plus one of the owners was once a porter himself.
Your glamping (glamorous camping) experience wouldn’t be the same if you didn’t have these hard-working guys carrying 60 pounds of equipment on their back (more if the company doesn’t comply to Peru’s Porter Law), while running ahead of you to set up your tent and to ensure you have a hot meal ready at your arrival. I was really impressed with the meals. They were delicious and also beautifully presented. When you do arrive (hours after them) they actually clap and cheer for you! I always felt like I didn’t deserve it because come on, they really deserve the applause. Although we didn’t speak each other’s language very well, we were able to share some laughs. Throughout the hike, I lovingly called them my papi chulos.
Tipping: Be prepared to tip your porters, chefs, and your guides. They deserve it.
Exercise! Train at least a month before by hiking for long periods of time. Try to hike trails with steep inclines.
Make sure you have extra batteries for your cameras. There are no electrical outlets available.
Passport Stamps: Remember the experience with the coveted Inca Trail passport stamp provided at the start of the trail. Machu Picchu also offers a souvenir stamp.
Recommended Companies: Llama Path, G Adventures, and Intrepid Travel