Monday, December 27, 2010

The Inca trail to Macchu Picchu

We decided to do the 4 day trek of the 42kms of the Inca trail to reach Macchu Picchu, instead of the 3 hours train ride. It was recommended by some friends who had done it.  We used the services of a company that provides a guide and porters to carry our food and tents. We also hired an extra porter to carry most of Denise's stuff like her mattress, sleeping bag and most of her clothes. Frankly we highly recommend using that option considering the minimal extra cost, because parts of the trek are pretty darn hard.

To get it out of the way, I'll start with what was bad about the trip:
The rain
We are in December, which means it is summer here, but also the rainy season. What that means is that we got rained on for part of 3 days out of the 4 we were on the trail [Denise: really it was 4 out of 4 days]. We quickly learned that the rain itself is not actually a major issue as those plastic ponchos protect really well from the rain [Denise: and also make you sweat so you're wet anyway]. However with the rain and the high altitiude comes also the fact that it gets pretty cold and, more importantly, that clouds and fog obstruct a lot of the views [Denise: all the views] that would surely make the trail beautiful considering how many valleys and peaks we go through.
The view down to Macchu Picchu from the Sun Gate... It should be right there in the middle
That was a little dissapointing, but thankfully the Macchu Picchu itself was there for us to behold, and it was frankly amazing.
[Denise: Yeah, so my advice is to just take the train if you're here in the rainy season. Really. Unless you want some serious exercise with no views and freezing cold, just take the train...]

Now a lot made this trip truly unique as well: The good
The tour organization
We used a fully organized tour and it is one of the elements that consistently exceeded our expectations. We were 15 "gringos" surrounded by 22 porters. If it seems like a lot it's because not only do they carry our tents and food but it's literally a 5 stars experience.
First the cook was a master of his trade and the food was consistently amazing. I'm not talking sandwiches here, but a variety of soups, fish, meat, vegetables, even pancakes for breakfast, all served with amazing sauces. It's to the point where you want to ask the cook what his recipe is. We even had a cake on the last day! Now I don't know when was the last time you camped and had amazing food consistently for 4 days, but it's going to be hard for us to go back to normal camping. :)
On top of that, every day for lunch, breakfast, and even some of the breaks, we arrived at the spot where the porters had already set up a big tent for us, with table, chairs, and full service, with plates, cups and cutlery.

Our home for 4 days, where we had a lot of good times
They took it down after we left and had it up and ready before we arrived at the next spot.

Yes, these porters are amazing and truly humbling when you see them fly by with their huge packs and, more often than not, their sandals, while we have smaller bags, shoes and poles to help us on the trails. These guys are truly amazing!
Denise being passed by porters, with their huge packs and sandals
The cherry on the cake was the wake up call. We consistently had to wake up at around 5am and while the porters where preparing breakfast, one of our guides, Raul, was going tent to tent to wake us up gently and give us some coffee, tea or hot chocolate [Denise: he said in the most soothing singsong voice, hoola, buenos diias, wake uup]. When they announced they would do it we thought they were joking but it was definitely a very nice way to start the day, especially when it was already raining in the morning.
Raul with my hot chocolate at 5:20am
The group:
Something else that made the trip excellent was the 13 other gringos that were trekking with us. We were a mix of Americans, Australians, British and one French and we really had a great time hiking, suffering, eating and joking with these people. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip as we made some good friends and simply had a really good time under the main tent with them.

Some of our fellow trekkers, playing cards and having fun after a long day of hiking
By the end we even had some of the porters join us to play cards and that was really cool to be able to mix with them while we couldn't necessarily speak the same language.

Day 1: the easy day (12kms)
Ready to go!
We left Cuzco at 530am, and after 2.5hrs of bus we started the hike from the point called Km 82. The whole hike is fairly flat and we got the chance to have a beautiful sunny and hot day to get acclimated and get to know our guide and our group. That's also when we got to discover our main tent and the quality of the food, which we were sure couldn't be better for the following meals... but we were wrong.
We also got to see our first ruins at Patallacta.
We finished the day at Wayllabamba, at around 3000m, the altitude where we started.
Not yet knowing what was ahead of us
The area is full of different kind of orchids

Day 2: the really hard day (10kms)
We woke up at 520am with room service from Raul, and after a good breakfast were on the road by 7am while the porters were taking down the camp. It was already raining by the time we got up and even if we had some times without rain it only really stopped we we got close to camp at 2pm.
Day 2 is really hard because we go through the highest pass of the trek, the Dead Woman's pass at 4200m, for a total of 1200m of elevation. That's the highest Denise and I have ever been without a plane and it was a lot of work.
Denise finding the strength for her headstand at 4215m, while it's freezing because of the rain and the wind
Most of that is through stairs, a lot of stairs, after-every-turn stairs, even-when-you-think-it's-over strairs. It was hard and the rain and cold made it pretty grueling. We were extremely thankful that we were not carrying all our gear. That's incidentally when we started developing this tremendous respect for our porters :)
The rest of the day was mostly downhill through a lot of stairs, but it was a lot easier than the first part!
We reached camp at Pacaymayo at 3530m where we were welcome by hot tea and chocolate and got time to hang out with our group a little more.
Smiling despite the rain, the cold and ... the stairs
More pretty flowers
Finally a nice view, from our camp
Getting some well deserved rest and trying to defrost before dinner
Day 3: the looong way down (15kms)
That day was pretty easy in comparison. We woke up at 520am again and left camp before 7am. There were still some pretty hard ups, and many stairs but the uphill was not as hard as the previous day. The hardest part was the fact that a good part of it is downhill and that our knees are not what they used to be so we just took it slow and reached camp at 5pm. So it was a pretty long day. But we got to see some more ruins like Runkuracay, Sayaqmarca or Phuyupatamarca. Here again the arrival at camp, under the rain, was more than welcome!
With our ponchos at Runkuracay

Runkuracay from above

Pretty flowers at Sayaqmarca

Details of a door at Sayaqmarca

Fun tunnel on the way

More ruins of the day, on our way down

Straight from an Indiana Jones movie
Day 4: Macchu Picchu! (5kms)
To make sure we would be there early,[Denise: and to make sure the porters made their 5 am train --otherwise they would have to walk the Inca Trail back to Km 82 -the beginning] we woke up at 330am that day and after a quick breakfast rushed to the trek entrance to be the first of the many people camping in the area to enter the final 5kms to Macchu Picchu. We waited there for 1hour until they opened the gate at 530am but it was exciting to be finally close to the end.

As they opened the door the whole group hiked as one at a pretty high pace. It was made possible by the fact that the trail was fairly flat and ended up being a very fun part of the hike as we were all going fast but sticking together.
We reached the Sun Gate in record time. As you saw on the picture at the beginning of the post, we didn't get to see much from there and it was a little disappointing but another 30 mins later we finally reached the Macchu Picchu and discovered that the many pictures you get to see don't do it justice. It is truly a sight to behold!

We made it!

The clouds gave it a very dramatic look

Right after Adam went down on his knee and proposed Angela to marry him. An awesome, awesome event

Our group, at 730am
After a good visit of the site by our guides who gave us insights into the history of the place, we were given as much time as we wanted to roam the place and joke around. We had a great time there before aiming out for Aguas Calientes, the nearby town, and our ride back home.
Strange flowers

Alone in the world

"Quand Lama pas content..."

We got back to Cuzco at midnight, completely exhausted!


  1. Sorry about the wet, but it sounds like even with the rain it was an unforgettable experience - loved the play by play, brought back lots of memories, especially those stairs!! xo -Beth

  2. What an awesome narrative of our awesome experience!! We are having drinks on a hillside watching the ocean in valpariaso, chile, you?? So happy you two are a part of such great memories!! Keep in touch, Rick and Gina

  3. Awesome, reminds me some great moments

  4. Reminds me of great moments : we did it in 2003 and we loved it (though we had no rain). And, in our group, we also had a guy who proposed to his girl friend. That must be a nice spot !
    This does deserve a topo in ZeOutdoor no ?

  5. What a great opportunity to meet those wonderful porters and companions on the trail! With all these photos and blog, you will never forget -- great stories to tell (your children, grandchildren) or anyone who likes a good story.