Machu Picchu had been on our bucket list for years so it was really a dream come true to get to complete the 4 day Inca Trek ending in Machu Picchu. While you can take a train directly to Machu Picchu as a day trip, we felt that the ultimate experience would be to hike along the original Inca trails, viewing various ruins before exploring Machu Picchu. Sergei’s parents were able to join us for this adventure which was really a family vacation of a lifetime. What we found surprising was that the Inca trail was the highlight of the 4 day trip. We thought it would be Machu Picchu, but it was such an amazing experience to walk on the original trail through various climates and elevations. Each day was different from the last, and we trekked through villages, high altitude trails, jungles, and agricultural areas. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Machu Picchu itself was overly crowded with tourists, as about 3,000 people enter the ruins every day beginning at 6am. Because it is a heritage site you need to do the Inca trail with a guide, we opted for Wayki Trek which absolutely exceeded our expectations.
We had an early start with a 6am pick-up from our Airbnb and made our first stop in Ollantaytambo for a quick breakfast before picking up the rest of our group (3 lovely Australians.) We were outnumbered, as there was 7 of us on the tour and the company had 1 guide, 1 chef and 10 porters for our group. From there we drove to the trailhead. Once at the trailhead we had an opportunity to get our day packs ready and add any last minute items to our duffle bags. The porters carried the duffle bags with all of our gear that we didn’t need during the day.
After a quick stop in the visitors center to learn about the native plants and animals (spectacled bears!) we started our trek at 10:30am. As soon as we started we were treated to some rain. Our guide told us, as is Quechua custom, to smile and it would bring the sunshine (unfortunately it did not work for the first two days.) Although it was raining our spirits were high, as Seattlites a little rain never deters us.
This was the easiest day of hiking, our guide described it as “Andean flat” which is a joke, it is more accurately described as an undulating trail with many ups and downs.
We made our way through villages, and ultimately to the ruins of Llaqtapata.
After checking out the ruins, we hiked down into a village where our porters and chef were busy creating our first lunch. We were not sure what to expect with the provided meals. When we backpack on our own we usually have instant oatmeal for breakfast, Larabars and nuts for lunch, and a dehydrated Mountain House meal for dinner, so our expectations were pretty low. We started with an appetizer which can most accurately be described as guacamole with eggs and cheese, then we had quinoa soup, and for the main course we had a lupine dish (similar to hummus), rice, and fresh trout and pineapple for dessert. After the group was beyond full we packed up and had another 3 miles of walking to go. The extra, extra servings of lupine were quickly regretted, but it was just so good we couldn’t help ourselves. We made it into camp and were pleased to find our tents were all set up for us.
After changing into clean and warm clothes, we headed up to our meal tent for some popcorn, cookies, tea and coffee before dinner. Surprisingly, we had no problem eating our tea time snacks and a three course dinner. After a delicious dinner we headed into a sleep coma which was perfect because we had a 5am wake up to start our next day of hiking.
It rained most of the night, but when we woke up we had a respite from the rain so we could pack and and eat breakfast without too much trouble. We knew this was going to be a difficult hiking day as we had to cross Dead Woman’s Pass so we went a little overboard on the pancake breakfast. (No regrets.) Dead Woman’s Pass is Warmiwañuscca in Quechua, it is so named as the mountain looks like the profile of a woman lying on her back. We were to hike over her neck. We started our hike just after 6am and it was an immediate uphill out of camp. Our camp elevation was at 9,542 ft and we had to climb 4,283 ft to reach the top of the pass at 13,825 ft. Our mantra, as always was, “slow and steady.” We had some coca tea that morning and had some coca and muña (Andean mint) candies to help with the adverse effects of the altitude. We reached the summit just before 10am.
Shortly after we made it to the top it started pouring. Descending on the opposite of the pass we were pushed back by the wind and rain. After waiting a little while we were able to descend with just a strong wind. The entire path down was made of stone steps which were slippery from the rain so we took a very long time making our way down. This allowed us to take in the new scenery and new plants along the way.
This was by far our favorite day. It was our longest day of trekking but it was well worth it as we crossed various jungle climates. The first order of business was to do a small hike up to Runku Raqay Pass.
For the first time we really felt like we were hiking through the rainforest/jungle. It was a bit rainy for most of the morning, which felt appropriate as we walked through lush forest and bamboo.
Along the way on the trail we walked through a couple of tunnels. It was hard to imagine how the Inca built the trail through this terrain with only rudimentary tools.
Walking through the jungle we saw many beautiful flowers and mosses, perhaps one of them also has an undiscovered cure for cancer.
Our lunch spot was just above Phuyupatamarca, but with the fog blowing through it was only visible for 5 minutes at a time. While it was a long day we were spoiled with our meals. For both lunch and dinner our chef baked two beautiful, fully decorated, multi layered cakes. We are still trying to figure out the campground wizardry that produced such decadent creations.
By the afternoon the weather had mostly cleared allowing us to take in views along the way.
On this day we felt the most connected with the Inca people as our campsite was surrounded by their ruins. Wiñaywayna above and Intipata below.
We woke at 3:30am to be out of camp by 4:00am. We took our day packs and then walked to the edge of the camp where we stood in line for the park ranger/control station to let us through.
Unfortunately, the station does not open until 5:30am so we stood in the dark with all of our fellow campers for a long time. Once we were allowed through we had a short walk to the Sun Gate. This is the first spot where you can see Machu Picchu. If you are standing down in the Machu Picchu ruins the Sun Gate is where you first see the sun rising. It was incredibly crowded as all of the campers reached the Sun Gate at the same time and were all scrambling to take the perfect picture. We stayed here for about half an hour taking in the view, before we started the downhill trek to Machu Picchu. Along the way our guide Sonia stopped at a much better place to take pictures where we got our Christmas card photos.
It took us about 40 minutes to get down to Machu Picchu, on the way down there were many people that had come from the ruins trekking up to get the views from the Sun Gate so it was a fairly crowded trail. Once we arrived at Machu Picchu we needed to check our poles, no hiking poles are allowed within the ruins. After standing in very long lines for the restrooms and the baggage check, we entered yet another long line to enter the ruins. It was surprisingly hot and after an early morning wake-up the lines were unbearable. Once we finally made it inside the ruins it was exceptionally crowded as again everyone was vying to take their postcard perfect pictures. Our wonderful guide, Sonia, showed us around the ruins, which are actually quite large and spread out. We spent about 3 hours inside of the ruins and by that time we were very ready to get out of the sun and away from the crowds.
After standing in line for the bus to get out of Machu Picchu we made it down to Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Pueblo/Town) for lunch. We ended up having a lively lunch with our new Australian mates and threw back a couple of delicious chilcanos to celebrate our hard work.
- Day 1 GPS
- 7.75 miles
- 1,824 ft
- Day 2 GPS
- 7.52 miles
- 3,858 ft
- Day 3 GPS
- 8.88 miles
- 1,831 ft
- Day 4 GPS
- 3.52 miles
- 420 ft