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:
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|
[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|
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|
|Raul with my hot chocolate at 5:20am|
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|
Day 1: the easy day (12kms)
|Ready to go!|
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|
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|
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|
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|
|Alone in the world|
|"Quand Lama pas content..."|
We got back to Cuzco at midnight, completely exhausted!