Inca trail to Machu Picchu

14:42 | Mountains, Peru, Trekking | 4 comments

Machu Picchu and trekking the Inca trail to this wonder of the world was on top of our to-go list for some time and finally this is going to happen, we are fascinated by so many facts and pictures of this dreamy city in the clouds. Here is our trip report and this one is going to be a lengthy one with loads of pictures and less boring wordy bits 🙂 This is part 1 of the 3 part series to the Incredible journey to Peru and the Inca trail to Machu Picchu Read Part 2  – Packing and Preparing for the Inca Trail (opens in a new tab) Read Part 3  – Days out in Cusco (opens in a new tab)

 

Machu Picchu

Sun beams over the Ceremonial place in the city

The Incas built it around the 1450’s and abandoned it a century later around the spanish conquest, it then remained hidden in thick Amazonian vegetation before it was brought to attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. We wanted to tackle the trail in a leisure way so decided to do the 5 day 4 night trek instead of the 4 day 3 night option which seemed a bit rushed and also you get to see some extra Inca sites on the 5 day trek.

The trip starts with acclimatisation to the high altitudes that you will be experiencing over the next 5 days, its recommended to land in Cusco at least 2 days before your trip, take in the wonderful sights the city has to offer, which was also the former capital of the Incan empire. You will be flying to Lima from any international destination and then over to an internal 1.5 hour flight to Cusco.

Once you reach your hotel in Cusco, you will be offered coca leaf tea, coca leaves in hot water, it is believed to ease the effects of altitude, Peruvians are very hospitable and kind, they seem to love their coca, this is going to be our wakeup drink for the next 5 days. The evening before the trek starts with a briefing at the Alpaca office near the main square, we were introduced to our guide who explains us in good detail what to expect over the next 5 days and that he is going to teach us all spanish, at the end of the trek we are going to be fluent in spanish 🙂

After the briefing you will be given duffel bags to pack the items you need during the trek and after until you return to Cusco, this is when all your backpacking skills come in, you pack just the bare minimum as the maximum weight each porter can carry is strictly limited by law, we saw porters bags being weighed before the entrance to the Inca trail, you can carry a day pack with the camera, a camel pack for water, some chocolates, nuts and energy bars for use during the day, check our Inca Trail Packing list for full details on the essentials.

Map of the full trail

Map of the full trail

Day 1: Ollantaytambo -Km82 – Hatunchaca

Total Distance: 11 Km
Walking Time: 4 hours
Max Altitude: 2600 m

It’s important to get a good nights sleep before the trek, our guide Amorosso picked us up at 5am and after a 2 hour bumpy ride to Ollantaytambo, the trek starts at a point aptly named Km82 its 82 kms from Cusco. Our porters (called Green Machines from now on) and chef get everything ready and we have breakfast served at 8am, lots of fruits, scrambled eggs and coca tea.

Preparing breakfast

Preparing breakfast

After breakfast, we get ready, fill water in our camel packs and start our pilgrimage, keep your passports ready, there is a check post and your names are verified and needs to be exact as in the passport, else you are not allowed in the trek, if you had a booking in your previous passport, carry it along and you need them all along the trek, you need them to enter Machu Picchu and the hotel stay at the top.

Start of the trail after the checkpoint at Km82

Start of the trail after the checkpoint at Km82

 

Guide showing us the route

Guide showing us the route and explains us what not to do on the trail

Green machines all packed up and ready to hit the trail

Green machines all packed up and ready to hit the trail

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These are the kind of views that await us over the next few days

Every turn was so beautiful, warrants a pose

Every turn was so beautiful, warrants a pose

2 hours in and we rest at Patallacta for lunch

2 hours in and we rest at Patallacta for lunch

 

While our green machines get the tents ready

While our green machines get the tents ready

Spoilt for choice, it was a fantastic 4 course lunch

Spoilt for choice, it was a fantastic 4 course lunch

After lunch we visit some more Inca sites along the trail

After lunch we visit some more Inca sites along the trail

after 2 hours of walking, we camp for night at Wayllabamba village (3300m)

after 2 hours of walking, we camp for night at Wayllabamba village (3300m)

Day 2: Dead woman’s pass

Total Distance: 11.5 Km
Walking Time: 6 hours
Max Altitude: 4215 m
You dont need any alarms when there are roosters around

You won’t need any alarms when there are roosters around

This was going to be a touch day as you will be ascending to 4200m altitude and its all steep steps, the day starts early and we all wake up to the Rooster (cukroo coo coooo) and this is going to be our wake up call for the rest of the nights, our green machines greet us with hot coca tea.

Breakfast with such amazing views

Breakfast with such amazing views

Our Guide Amorosso introduces the green machines and the Chef to our group and thanking us for providing them with a means of living by visiting their country, it was great to hear them speak in their native language Quechua and our guide Amorosso translating their names and details about their family members, basically all of them are farmers and they work as porters on the trek for 3 months, earn some money and go back to their family in their native villages around the base.

Introducing the green machines and the chef to the group.

Introducing the green machines and the chef to the group.

Another exciting and big and long day ahead, we are going to cross the dead woman’s pass, the difficult day of the lot at 4215m, but no rush says the guide, tackle it slowly and we can conquer it.

Huge flowers typical of the Amazon region, looks like a pick form the Avatar movie

Huge flowers typical of the Amazon region, looks like a pick from the Avatar movie

We trek along lovely streams alongside

We trek lovely streams along, you never get tired of such views

We stop midway for another delicious lunch

We stop midway for another delicious lunch

More fauna along the way, so much variety

More fauna along the way, so much variety

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Look at the trail on the right, it was a very steep climb to the top

We were very fortunate that the weather gods were helping us the entire trip, we had perfect blue sky days and no rain, which is unusual around the amazon. Plan for the rains, although Alpaca provides ponchos, if you can carry some light rain jackets and over trousers, they might be more comfortable.

Getting closer to the pass, it was getting more tougher

Getting closer to the pass, it was getting more tougher

It was a tough afternoon pushing uphill all along to the peak, tackling rough stone steps, still getting adjusted to the altitude, we were all huffing and puffing along the climb with a rest stop to catch some breath every 10 steps.

Our group at the peak at 4215m

Our group at the peak at 4215m

Reaching the peak is an amazing feeling, having dealt with the difficult part of the trail, the feeling of being on top of the world above the tree lines and touching the clouds, there were a bunch of Llamas enjoying the fresh grass on the mountain sides.

Dead womans pass Pano

The feeling of being on top of the world above the tree lines and touching the clouds is just amazing

The descent was rather difficult given our weary legs and tired body, lots of irregular steps and rocky paths begin to take a toll on your knees after a while. Knee braces or knee support is highly recommended and useful even if you don’t have a wobbly knee, they give overall support to your knees

Descent from the pass, no derth of beautiful views

Descent from the pass, no dearth of beautiful views

Day 3: Runcuraccay pass and Phuyupatamarca

Total Distance: 10.5 Km
Walking Time: 9 hours
Max Altitude: 4000 m

Day 3 was supposedly a moderate day, we are all excited to tackle the trail knowing the hardest part was done and dusted, everyday was a different challenge though, so we had no prejudices when the guide said it was going to be an easy day, we know by now what “Inca Flat” means and is nowhere near “Flat”, may be Flat means vertical in Quechua or spanish or whatever speak it was.

Ascend to the next pass

Ascend to the next pass

We visit one of the Inca watch tower and rest site on the way, this was used as a rest stop by the Inca messengers for staying overnight, the messengers carry important information about the weather, crop and cultivation records from nearby villages. The site is another typical Incan architecture with a central courtyard area surrounded by rooms used as night stay.

Inca watch tower site of Runcuraccay

Inca watch tower site of Runcuraccay

After this pit stop to fill our lungs with some air, we continue our climb to the pass (4000 m)

Almost there, but not there yet

Almost there, but not there yet

This section of the trail is known for its rich flora and fauna and there were more than a dozen varieties of Orchids, wild berries and flowers, with them come bumblee bees and other nectar loving flies that buzz around you on the trail, no one got stung by the flies but we did get some bites from a black mosquito like fly, its advised to apply some sort of repellant to keep them away.

Wild berries on the trail

Wild berries on the trail

From the pass we begin our descent back into the cloud forest, the trail again is amazing with thick jungle cover and through small caves, about an hour of walking and we reach the ruins of Sayacmarca

One of the most beautiful ruins of Sayacmarca on the Inca trail

Sayacmarca – One of the most beautiful ruins on the Inca trail

After lunch we walk along gradual inclines towards our campsite for the night, this area of the trail is stunning with beautiful views of the Vilcabamba mountain range in the distance with abundant flora and fauna all around.

Colourful moss, lichens and flora are abundant on the rocky sides

Colourful moss, lichens and flora are abundant on the rocky sides

We reach our most beautiful campsite on the trail in Phuyupatamarca (3680m)

Most beautiful campsite on the trail in Phuyupatamarca (3680m)

This day wasnt easy or moderate, may be we were all tired from the second day, so day 3 was also equally challenging and that we were walking for 9 hours, a good nights sleep under starry skies and we are ready to tackle the next day.

Also Read:
Trek to Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock)

Day 4: We reach the Sungate

Total Distance: 12 Km
Walking Time: 5 hours
Max Altitude: 3680 m
Sunrise at Phuyupatamarca is spectacular, we wait for the clouds to clear sipping coca tea.

Sunrise at Phuyupatamarca is spectacular, we wait for the clouds to clear sipping coca tea.

With the clouds clearing, we have our first view of Machu Picchu, the Urubamba river down below and the snow-capped peaks of Salkantay, we enjoy another wonder breakfast with the great views.

Breakfast at Phuyupatamarca above the clouds is an unforgettable moment for all of us.

Breakfast at Phuyupatamarca above the clouds is an unforgettable moment for all of us.

Our Chef baked us a special cake, we are amazed at the presentation and the skills of baking a cake in a pressure cooker at this remote camp site, food like this is very typical of Alpaca Expeditions, we are treated to so much sumptuous food, that we might have gained weight rather lose.

You need real good skills to bake such a good cake with minimal equipment.

You need real good skills to bake such a good cake with minimal equipment.

It’s relatively moderate descent from here with the amazing views of the valley,

You encounter steep drops and cliff edges along this part of the trail

You encounter steep drops and cliff edges along this part of the trail

Agricultural sites of Winaywayna, another Incan style farming.

Agricultural sites of Winaywayna, another Incan style farming.

We were the only ones on this part of the trail, as we slowly walk along the tree covered trail, we hear a lot of bird chirps and we wait silently for a while and we see so many birds native to Peru. We even spotted a Scarlet-bellied mountain tanager, it is found in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

Scarlet-bellied mountain tanager (Anisognathus igniventris)

Scarlet-bellied mountain tanager (Anisognathus igniventris)

Look whos got a bit friendly with me :)

Look who’s got a bit friendly with me 🙂

We reach the complex of Intipata (Terraces of the Sun), this beautiful site has fantastic views of the sacred valley and was an important agricultural site for Machu Picchu. We spotted half a dozen friendly Llamas who did not mind us getting closer to them, some of them even posed with us for pictures.

Hey baby Llama

Hey baby Llama, look that ‘s Intipata

Even tried kissing a Llama... well a Frech kiss :)

Even tried kissing a Llama… well a French kiss 🙂

We have our last lunch with the Green machines and bid farewell to the great team, we were like a family for the last 4 days and it was all a bit of an emotional moment, we thank the porters, chef and the team for all the hard work, we present them a tip as a token of appreciation and we bid adios and continue our last hour of trek to the Sun gate where we finally get the first glimpse of the lost city, all the hard work ad climbing all these days just for this view.

Final set of steps and promise its all over

Final set of steps and promise it’s all over says our guide

View from the sun gate (Intipunku)

View from the sun gate (Intipunku)

After a quick tour of the site late afternoon when the crowds are lean, we are finally back to civilisation, we get a bus down to the town of Augus Calientes and settle into our hotel Rupa Wasi for the night, a good night sleep on comfortable beds at last.

Also Read:
Cusco - Gateway to Machu Picchu

Day 5:  Most important day – The lost city of the Incas

Panoramic view of Machu Picchu

Panoramic view of Machu Picchu

The moment has arrived, all the walking and hiking all these days is to see this magnificent site, we wake up early around 5am and get the first bus up to Machu Picchu to catch the sunrise, don’t be shocked to see how many people are up early to get the bus to see the legendary Incan city. So its best to stay a night in this little town and get the early bus before the day tripper start arriving from Cusco. The site is in a valley surrounded by mountains, its cloudy most of the time, so catching a sunrise is very rare, the weather was a bit wet, our first drizzle of the entire trip and that soon fades away. Our tour guide takes on a tour (approx 2 hours) of the site explaining the importance of the ceremonial sites.

One of the incredible temple structures at the site

One of the incredible temple structures at the site

One of the astrological sites for watching the sun and the moon

One of the astronomical site the Incas used for watching the sun and the moon

The Incas used white granite to build all their important sites of worship like the one below, the stones were all quarried locally and used in the construction, important temples and astronomical observation sites were built with perfectly cut blocks that fit together like jig saw puzzles, as the site is in an earthquake prone zone, the Incans did not use mortar instead when an earthquake happened, the rocks would move and then settle back into their own place, such was the engineering prowess they had.

Perfect stone blocks, look like machine cut, we were amazed at the precision cut and how they achieved during their times.

Perfect stone blocks, look like machine cut, we were amazed at the precision cut and how they achieved during their times.

Some of the re-constructed roofs to give an idea of how the Incans had it

Some of the re-constructed roofs to give an idea of how the Incans had it

We thanked and tipped our guide Amorosso for the wonderful and funny 5 days and for the wonderful stories and insights he gave us and left us at the entrance to Huaynapicchu, the tall peak in front of Machu Picchu. The tickets to climb Huaynapicchu is limited so if you plan to hike this its advisable to book in advance, you can do this when booking your trek and Inca permits and Alpaca will take care of the booking, even though we were dead tired and half hungry (no eating inside Machu Picchu complex), we had packed lunch and decided to have it on top of Huaynapicchu, we mustered the last bit of energy to climb.

Steep Huaynapicchu climb

Steep Huaynapicchu climb

Unlike the Inca trail this one is not easy, half the trail is wet, steep and treacherously slippery so use extreme caution hiking this one,  and once we reached the top, the view of Machu Picchu city below was truly incredible.

Steep narrow steps make it very trec

Steep narrow steps make it very treacherous

View from the top of Huaynapicchu, looking over Machu Picchu

View from the top of Huaynapicchu, looking over Machu Picchu

Day 6: An extra day in Augus Calientes

We had planned to spend an extra night in this small beautiful town of Augus Calientes to take in the sights and do some souvenir shopping, we lazily strolled around the markets and rugged streets.

The central square in Augus Calientes

The central square in Augus Calientes

Tempted by the colourful handwork on display

Tempted by the colourful handwork on display in the local art and crafts market

Back to Cusco

Getting back to Cusco is by train and you have the option of an upgrade to the “Vistadome” train that has windows in the ceiling to give you a panoramic look at the scenery during the 3 hour train to Olantaytambo and 1.5 hour transfer to Cusco or 4 hours to Poroy and a 30 min transfer to Cusco city, you can book this upgrade along with the trek booking itself and if you don’t plan to sleep then its ok to splurge a bit on this extra scenic ride with traditional peruvian meals/snacks and some fashion show showcasing their Alpaca wool clothing

The "Vistadome" train back to Cusco

The “Vistadome” train back to Cusco

There is never enough time to truly get to know a place and we hate leaving with the feeling of not spending even more time and visit and learn the local culture and customs, but we are honoured to have such a warm reception by the Quechua and the Cusqueñans and the kind hospitality, we are very happy with the experience and will definitely be visiting this lovely country again to fill in the experiences we missed this time around.

Also Read:
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Suni & Kans

We love Photography and we love to Travel, combine both and we have a way of showcasing all our adventures via Photographs, we love slow travel giving us time to immerse in the culture and beauty of a country and its people. ..::More about us ::..

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