The Inca Trail
Trip Start May 06, 2011
20Trip End Jul 23, 2011
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
The Incan road system was the most extensive of the roads and trails constructed in pre-Colombian South America, covering ~14,000 miles of the Incan empire from modern-day Quito, Ecuador in the north to Santiago, Chile in the south. The trails were used mainly by people walking since the Incans did not use wheels and horses were only introduced by the Spanish conquistadors. The trails were used as a means of relaying messages and for transporting goods. There were ~2,000 inns, or tambos providing food, shelter and military supplies. Incan rope bridges provided access across valleys. The "Classic Inca Trail" to Machu Picchu is the most famous of the Inca trails. As a result of concerns about erosion, only 500 permits are issued for the Classic Inca Trail per day, this includes the guides and porters, so in all, only about 200 tourists a day are climbing the Trail.
Mike had managed to get a young chap called Ray as our Trek Leader, who he said was by far the best Trek Leader working and a real coup for us. The previous night, we were given a briefing by Ray about the Inca Trail covering such issues as the altitude and its effects, the ups and downs during each day, camps, toilets, and packing. We were each given a duffel bag into which we could put 5kg of stuff - this would be carried by porters and we could access it at the end of each day so in that went a sleeping bag and spare clothes. Anything else we would carry in a day rucksack - obviously, the lighter this was, the better! We could also hire walking poles - I opted for two, better safe than sorry.
Our group of trekkers had 3 guides and about 20 porters with us - these were Quechua locals who carried nearly all our gear (except our day packs), up to 25kg each - tents, chairs, tables, gas stoves and bottles, food, cutlery, dishes. They'd have camp set up for us when we arrived at the end of each day, stay behind to pack up camp when we left in the morning, then overtake us on the trail to set up the next camp. They'd prove to be superhuman.
After crossing the Urubamba River, the trail climbed gradually, eventually passing the first of the Incan ruins we'd see along the way, Patallacta, a site used for religious and ceremonial functions, crop production, and housing for soldiers. The trail undulated, but overall ascended along the Cusichca River (aka "Happy River"). The Trail passed the small village of Wayllabamba with ~400 inhabitants spread along it. Pack animals (horses, donkeys and llamas) were allowed here but not further along due to damage caused to the Trail by hooves.
Although the ascent was only gradual, throughout the day we'd ascend ~500m and with the altitude, it was pretty hard going for me. I got into a plodding pace which suited me, this also meant that I'd be walking sections of the Trail by myself as I neither tried to keep up with the (fitter) front-runners or wanted to slow myself down with the back-markers. There were also a few "shops" along the way to restock in essential supplies such as coca leaves, coca sweets, drinks, snacks and toilet paper. Amazing to think that all the stuff in the shops had be lugged up the Trail by someone.
Also during the evening, ourselves and our team of porters introduced ourselves to each other. As per local Quechua customs, most of the porters had more than one wife - maybe that was why they chose to spend their days lugging 25kg backpacks up mountains for a pittance in wages!
You'd probably think some of the most important issues on the Trail would be the effects of altitude, how cold it would be, how difficult each day's trek would be, etc. Oh no, it appeared the most important issue on the Trail was the toilet facilities.......and they weren't good! At our camp ground tonight, there was a hut further up the hill with a squat toilet in it and an inadequate flush. Force yourself to go in the evening before too many people "filled it up" or wait in the morning and have to use it then? Decisions, decisions. I decided to use it in the evening and then take some Imodium so I didn't have to go again for at least another day. Unfortunately, this didn't work and I had to go again in the morning, this was just something else I'd have to endure along with the physical exertion of the trek itself!
Day 2 (11km)
Day 2 is the hardest of the 4 days of the Inca Trail. It involves an ascent from 3,100m to "Dead Woman's Pass" at ~4,200m over about 5-6 hours, followed by another 2 hours downhill to the final campsite.
The rest of the day involved a 2 hour descent down mainly steep steps from "Dead Woman's Pass" (4,215m) to our campsite at Pacamayo (3,500m). We actually descended quite a way (~700m) over a short period of time (~2 hours), and although the descent was much easier for me than the climb, each step jarred the knees, threatened to twist the ankles, and required full use of both walking poles. Tonight's campsite was a huge sprawling mass of tents used by all the trekkers and crew (unlike our isolated campsite the previous night). This also meant that the toilets were shared and were even worse than the previous night. The usual squat toilets, but now someone obviously couldn't squat properly and had splattered the back wall of the toilet. Nice....not. Being at higher altitude meant it was a lot colder and I (and I think most people) went to sleep in all our clothes, including hats and gloves.
Day 3 (14km)
Day 3 involved a lot of walking, most of it downhill. Unfortunately, it also involved an initial steep uphill section to the second pass of the Trail.
Eventually, our campsite for the end of the day at Winay Wayna could be seen. I also passed Intipata (meaning "Sunny Place"), a recently uncovered set of agricultural terraces which followed the convex shape of the terrain. This was a proper campsite with a restaurant and I promptly celebrated reaching it with a beer which cost S/15 but was worth it. They also had hot showers so I had one which came to S/10 with a towel hire. I then discovered I had been expelled to a single tent at the end of our row of tents for excessive snoring, but I wasn't even the only one who snored! After our dinner (we were still getting meat which had been carried and kept since the start of the Trail), we said our final goodbyes to the porters and gave them their tips and Dan gave a moving speech thanking the guides and porters for making this such a memorable experience for us which we would never forget.
Day 4 (6km)
The final day, and a very early wake-up call at 3.45am so the porters could pack all the stuff away and catch a special train laid on for them and their goods. This would also let us reach Machu Picchu by sunrise. For breakfast, chef had cooked a couple of delicious cakes for us!
Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca site at an altitude of 2,430m, sitting on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley through which the Urubamba River flows. It is believed that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. The Incas started building the estate around 1400AD, but abandoned it as an official site for the Inca rulers a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham. Since the site was never known to the Spanish during their conquest, it is highly significant as a relatively intact cultural site. Often referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas", it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new "Seven Wonders of the World". And it is also the centenary of its "rediscovery".
The three main buildings in Machu Picchu are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These are located in what is known by archaeologists as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. The site was selected because of its position relative to sacred landscape features such as its mountains, which are purported to be in alignment with key astronomical events important to the Incas. The location of the city was a military secret and its deep precipices and steep mountains provided excellent natural defenses. It had a water supply from springs that could not be blocked easily and enough terraced land to grow food for about four times as many people as ever lived there.
After the tour, we caught a bus to the small Machu Picchu Town (basically set up to service the tourist needs of visiting Machu Picchu), had lunch, then caught our 3pm 2 hour train back to Ollantayambo from where it was a 2 hour bus journey back to our Cusco hotel. And we were all pretty knackered, although that didn't stop some of us partying till 6am in the morning!