Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu — Trek Report

The Inca Trail… Wow!
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was an unforgettable experience.

Day 1 of Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

On Day 1 of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, we started at about 1 p.m.  It was fairly easy, a gentle climb on a dirt path. We ended at 5.

Scenery from hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu on Day 1
Inca Trail

That night, there was a small village surrounding our campsite. We played with puppies less than two months old, I befriended a cute grey cat, we had a wonderful dinner, and then it began to rain. Boo.

We had a sheltered area where we’d eaten, but we couldn’t stay there afterwards because that’s where the porters were sleeping. So, off to our tents by about 8. I was alone in mine, so I just read for a few hours; no way I could sleep yet.

Day 2 of Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Next morning, we were awoken around 5:30. That’s ok, the first thing David, one of the porters, did when I unzipped my tent was hand me a cup of coca tea. Since then, I drink tea (smiley face).

Day 2 of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was set to be our most difficult day. I had hired a porter for Day 2, as did everyone else. Necessary step since our bags weighed about 25 pounds. We carried them the other days, though, and it was quite a feat on Day 3! On Day 2, we just had day packs under 10 pounds.

We vacated the campsite just before 7 and were told that we would be reaching the next site at 2 that afternoon. There would be a 5-hour ascent and a 2-hour descent.

The day before, I’d befriended some Dutch guys travelling together: Frank, Brunold, and Anne. We hiked at a similar pace and tended to group together.

Well, as we were leaving that morning, we were informed that our first rest stop would be in two hours and that everyone should wait there. The four of us reached the spot about half an hour early; we waited for the rest of the group for 45 minutes but none showed, so one of our guides, Pavel, told us we could go on.

View from the highest mountain pass while hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu on Day 2.
Arriving at the pass at 4,200 metres. (Photo courtesy of Brunold Klappe)

Our next major stop along the Inca Trail was at the first and highest mountain pass. 4,200 metres! It took us around three hours to get there, more or less. We waited twenty minutes, but Pavel was once more the only one from our group to show up, so on we went.

I really enjoyed going downhill; it made breathing a lot easier, although it takes a toll on your knees, especially those steep, uneven Inca steps! In either case, we were at the campsite at 12:30 p.m. — an hour and a half early!

We even tried to do more hiking in the afternoon but couldn’t find any other trails… But, just as I turned around to return to the campsite, I saw a deer jump across the Inca Trail!

The rest of Day 2 was tons of fun. We played cards (hearts) and ate like royalty. The food made me think it was a luxury excursion, but sleeping in the tents was real camping, only thin mats. No rain this time, but it was freakin’ cold!

Day 3 of Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

We woke up around the same time on Day 3, which would comprise of a mix of ascents and descents. We actually climbed two other mountain passes that day.

Hiking down a set of stairs on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Photo courtesy of Brunold Klappe

We left the site at 6:45 a.m. after having cake for breakfast — it was the cook’s birthday so he baked two cakes on the Inca Trail! What skill! We were told prior to departure that we’d reach the next and last campsite at 5 p.m.

Along the way that day, we visited three smaller Inca ruins, one of which was quite large, and we had a very long lunch. There was more descent than ascent that day, despite going over two mountain passes.

Inca ruins seen while hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Day 3.
Inca Ruins

By far our longest day of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I was at our destination only 30 minutes early this time (winky face). We were all very happy to reach this last campsite as it had hot showers — and a bar! We all had a bit of fun that night, but not too much as we expected our earliest wake-up call yet on the morrow.

Day 4 of Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

We arose at 3:30 a.m. on Day 4 and left shortly after 5. This would be our last day of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. At first, the trail was jam-packed with people trying to get to Intipunku, the Sun Gate, in time to see the sunrise over Machu Picchu. With a bit of persistence, we were able to bypass the crowds.

Unfortunately, it rained all morning and when we got to Intipunku, it was so foggy we couldn’t see a thing. In fact, for the next hour down to the ruins, we couldn’t catch a glimpse of them and we entered Machu Picchu unawares, only noticing when we were on a walled terrace. There were wild llamas grazing almost everywhere!

We zigzagged our way down to the entrance to deposit our backpacks and have a second breakfast while waiting for the rest of our group to arrive.

At last, we went on a two-and-a-half-hour guided tour of the ruins. Afterwards, it was a 20-minute walk back to the park entrance and restaurant. We had elevensies while waiting for the fog to clear.

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Day 4: Finally seeing Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu

It kind of did, so Anne, Frank, Brunold, and I hiked up to Huayna Picchu, another ruin overlooking Machu Picchu from atop another mountain. After a 30-minute climb, we spent about 15 minutes at Huayna Picchu to take photos of Machu Picchu. We actually saw the clouds lifting and thinning as we arrived at the summit!

When we got back down to the gate to Huayna Picchu, the guards there were surprised to see us back so soon, and told us we’d done the hike rather quickly. They teased me that I could work at Machu Picchu. They would treat me like a queen and of course we’d get married. Hmm, not my first barbecue!

That was all the time we had at the ruins — we needed to get to Aguas Calientes to catch our train back to Cusco.

We opted to take the bus. Enough downwards stairs!

A bit of confusion with the bus from Ollantaytambo, where the train stopped, to return to Cusco, but we were back at our hostels by 8 p.m. I passed out long before midnight.

"Nomad" victory tattoo in celebration of successfully hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

To celebrate my success hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I got the Nomad tattoo I’ve been wanting on my upper right arm yesterday and I love it!

Update: Find out about the inspiration behind this tattoo and others in Meaningful Brand Icons From Unique Tattoos.