We’ve only ever had a handful of bucket list items that we had to fulfil before having kids – this was definitely one of them. Having only booked our flights to South America 4.5 months in advance, we were in a bit of a panic when we found out that the Inca Trail needed to be booked at least 6 months ahead. So after emailing 15 tour operators and being told all places were fully booked out, we were beginning to lose hope until we received one from Llama Path who happened to have 2 spots available within our date range. We immediately jumped at the chance, paid our deposit and had finally locked in the Inca Trail.
Day 1 – 29th April 2016
We awoke at 3.30am full of excitement – today was going to be the start of our journey to Macchu Picchu. By 4.30am we arrived at the small square in Cusco where we met our fellow group members: 3 Americans, 1 French, 2 South Africans and 2 Italians. It was a good group of people varying from 25 to about 65. Twenty minutes into the journey we arrived at the the porter’s house. This house was built by the company specifically for the porters to live, workout and learn English – the best part of it all, they live here rent free. Our guide Marco proudly spoke of the importance of the porters living and working conditions and the efforts the company has gone through to ensure they remain as ethical as possible.
After a short buffet breakfast, we hopped on the bus again and headed to the start of the trail where we had our passports checked and lined up for the traditional group photo in front of the ‘Inca Trail’ sign. It was a beautifully sunny day with clear blue skies following us along the entire route. The trail was mostly flat to begin with as we walked along the river enjoying stunning views of mountains and forests. As the day progressed, the track became steadily more inclined and the heat began to soar. We were all huffing and puffing and sought a few seconds of respite from the sun anytime we stumbled upon a bit of shade. We reached our lunch spot at the peak of the heat and found the porters had already set up a dining tent for us to enjoy our lunch in. We were served a huge meal that went down an absolute treat. The walk after lunch was both an uphill battle with our bloated stomachs and the hill before us, but after a couple of hours we finally arrived at the campsite, had dinner and our exhausted bodies were in bed by 7.30pm
Day 2 – 30th April 2016
Sleeping on the thin foam mattress last night was not an easy task. I tossed and turned all night looking for a comfortable position, but no matter which way I turned, the ground would somehow build up enough pressure on my bony prominences to make me turn again. Jason on the other hand, slept like a log.
Today was always going to be the hardest day; we had 2 mountains to ascend and descend so I was certainly not looking forward to it.
We left camp by about 6.30am and thankfully the sun had already risen meaning we didn’t need to walk under torchlight. It was a cold misty morning so the weather for the day looked bleak. We walked uphill for 4 hours to the peak aptly known as ‘Dead Woman’s Pass.’ I found this particularly difficult due to my lack of fitness and ended up walking with a woman named Kim from San Francisco whilst Jason walked with her husband Mitch. This was a great fit as are paces matched each other’s more than we did our partners. As we got closer to the peak, effects of the altitude became more obvious. We became more breathless and our paces slowed right down. When we finally reached the top, the clouds parted and we were given a brief window to enjoy the spectacular views. We couldn’t stay up there for too long as the wind started to pick up, so made our descent 2 hours downhill to our lunch spot.
After lunch we ascended another peak, but this time for only 2 hours. We expected it to be a lot easier than the first mountain of the day, but instead the steps here were much steeper and therefore much more difficult to negotiate. Along the journey we passed an ancient Inca site which was a cylindrical building used as a post for chuskis (message runners) to deliver news from one area to the next using an abacus-like device. These chuskis had their tongues cut off in case they were captured they would not be able to pass on any confidential information to the enemy.
Following this we descended for another 1.5 hours and were met by a much larger Inca Site which was shrouded in fog by the time we arrived. I was very tempted to skip it as the steps to get up there were steep and narrow, but I’m glad we did, it was certainly very unique. By the time we arrived at camp we were exhausted and the sun was already beginning to set. It became dark and cold very quickly and because we were quite elevated, we knew it was gonna be a cold night. After another delicious dinner, we were back in the tents at 7.30pm.
Day 3 – 1st May 2016
Last night was absolutely freezing – we really underestimated how cold it was going to be. Jason someone managed to sleep through but I was tossing and turning from left to right trying to maintain a foetal position in my snug sleeping bag as much as I could. Marion (French lady) had a particularly horrible night with an upset stomach and ended up in tears in the middle of the night. The rest of the group certainly felt the cold with most people getting only 3-4 hours sleep out of a total 10hrs we has to rest. What did work in our favour though, was knowing that we had a relatively easy and short day ahead of us.
We set out at 7am with 10mins of steep uphill and the rest downhill. It was cold in the morning with thick fog obstructing our views of the valleys. Fortunately as the day progressed, the fog cleared and we were blessed with clear views of glaciers, rivers, mountains and ancient Incan ruins.
We passed archaeological sites including terraces where the Incas grew their crops particularly their most prized plant, the coca leaves which have medicinal properties and when combined with a local flower had anaesthetic properties.This part of the tour was interesting as our guide Marco explained the success and eventual downfall of the Incan people and the significance of the Inca trail. The Incan people initially came from Lake Titicaca and conquered the western coast of South America from Columbia all the way down into Chile and Argentina. They were wise astronomers and foretold that the Spanish would come and wipe out their civilisation. Knowing this, the King organised his main defence refuge high up in the mountains of Machu Picchu, where they would have the higher ground. Here the elite farmers, astronomers, doctors and wise men were gathered to rule and discuss the future of the Incan civilisation.
Because there was no automatic inheritance of power, the Inca trail was designed to test the nobel men and used as part of a trial for future kings. Even ruling kings of countries needed to walk this narrow 42km route as a pilgrimage once per year.
Unfortunately for the Incan people, the Spaniard’s main weapon was the introduction of smallpox which wiped out half the population alone. Furthermore the Spanish introduced wine and beer to the Incas as a gift which was tainted with poison. These factors plus a civil war between brothers trying to fight for kingship lead to the destruction of the Incan civilisation.
Day 4 – 2nd May 2016
This was thr final day. We woke up at 2.45am and by 3am the entire group were packed and ready to go. With our head torches on, we set off marching with excitement and gusto. After about 2 minutes of walking we arrived …at gate control, which wasn’t opening till 5.30am. We were the first group to arrive and within a few minutes all the other groups arrived and by 4am the line was about 300 metres long. At 5.30am the gates opened and we sprinted through walking as fast as we could in the hope that we would reach the Sun Gate before sunrise. The first 30mins were easy with very slight rolling terrain. I did break a sweat from the pace we were going at. The last 15 minutes were a steep uphill, so much so that we were actually using our hands to climb it. By this stage I was really out of puff and slowed down significantly. We could see that the sun had already risen which meant we could now take our time. We eventually arrived at the Sun Gate with a clear view of Macchu Picchu in the distance. It was an incredible feeling to finally get there and know that the hard work and poor sleep was totally worth it. It was another hour’s walk to get to the site. When we arrived, there were hoards of tourists who had arrived by train (cheaters). This did make us feel special though, knowing that we were the select few that were able to experience this journey as the Incans did.
Overall we had an incredible journey and would highly recommend it to anyone who can walk! It is something that helps you disconnect from the world for a few days, challenges you both mentally and physically but offers an incredible reward at the end. I would also highly recommend Llama Path who were excellent across the entire trip and who are one of the few companies who put porter’s wellbeing as a main priority.
USD$650 per person
Optional – USD$150 for full porter (14kgs)
Till next time
Ann & Jason xo