To think I wasn’t even going to do the Inca Trail orginally. I’d fallen into the trap of listening to too many other backpackers talk about how it’s too touristy, too expensive, and not even as good as the many alternatives such as the Salkantay Trail.
Luckily, a comment from Gillian on this post started to bring me to my senses, and when my friend Adrian decided to fly out to join me for three weeks on holiday that settled it – as Gillian says, it would be a shame to travel all that way and settle for the first runner up option. Because after doing the Inca Trail, I’d have to say anything else would be a disappointment – don’t believe the naysayers, it’s worth every penny.
We were lucky to make it onto the Trail in the first place though – the company we booked with forgot to give our entnce tickets to our guide, meaning we had an agonising three hour wait at the start for them to be driven down all the way from Cusco – and the guide had already told us that if they didn’t arrive before 12.30 they’d have to start the trail without us in order to make the camp by nightfall – and we wouldn’t have got a second chance, as the tickets are for a specific day only. Luckily, the arrived with minutes to spare, and we were finally on our way.
Day one is a relatively gentle start, heading along the sacred valley. I’d heard beforehand that we’d pass some other minor Inca Ruins along the way, but I was expecting themto be pretty small. So when we rounded a corner and found ourselves looking across at the vast ruins of Llaqtapata I was stunned. They’re pretty huge in themselves, and served as a guardhouse at the start of the trail and was also used for agricultural purposes.
We reached camp around nightfall, and settled in for an early night to get a good rest as we knew the next day would be the toughest. Day two has the longest day of walking, and includes the trail’s highest point, Dead Woman’s Pass. It’s called that because it allegedly looks like a woman lying down, although to be honest other than a vaguely nipple-like bump on top of a mound, you have to really stretch your imagination to see it.
The climb itself is pretty relentless – we started climbing right at the start of the day, and just kept going and going. While not as steep or as high as several of the passes I’d tackled elsewhere in Peru, in some ways it’s tougher going, as several chunks of the trail are on original Inca stone steps, which are much more punishing on the legs than a standard slope. As we slowly slogged our way up hill, it was amazing to see our porters racing past us carrying huge packs with all our food, tents and spare gear (pack animals aren’t allowed on the trail, so everything is carried by porters). Every day they left camp after us (giving them time to pack up) and every day they had everything erected again by the time we made camp. Quite incredible.
Eventually we made the top…just in time for it to cloud over, after a beautfiful clear day. Typical. But we made the most of it by taking lots of photos of us jumping at the pass.
The third day was definitely the most special. After winding our way up to a smaller pass, and past another couple of minor ruins, we found ourselves on a narrow path that basically hangs off the side of a cliff, with sheer drops to the valley below and stunning views across the snow-capped mountains in the distance. The path passes through an Inca Tunnel in the rockface after a while, before finally reaching a ridge with incredible views down onto the Sacred Valley, the town of Aguascalientes, and the back of Machu Pichhu mountain itself. Just below the ridge sits yet another set of ruins, and when we got there we had them all to ourselves – despite the fact that 200 people a day do the trail, everyone sets off at different times and walks at different speeds, meaning it’s still pretty tranquil most of the time – giving us the time to sit down, chill out, and marvel at the views
With the toughest bit of the trail out of the way, all that remained to do was make the final descent to our last campsite, by the ruins of Winay Wayna, reward ourselves for all our hard work with a few beers, and get some sleep to prepare ourselves for a stupidly early rise the next day: we were determined to be the first people to reach Machu Picchu itself the following day…
You can see all of my pictures of the Inca Trail here.