The first week of June I trekked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever put my body through – but I’ve never felt so accomplished. Here’s a little preview into what I had experienced that week.
Also: In order to do this trail, you need to be somewhat physically fit. It is exhausting and I recommend you train in advance for it. I spent a lot of time on treadmills with high inclines and a stairmaster to prep myself for the upcoming challenge.
Arriving in Cusco:
I landed in Lima, Peru and spent a couple of days there before heading down to the beautiful city of Cusco. As I landed in Cusco, I could feel the intensity of the altitude. My body felt really weird and I won’t lie….it was a rough descent. My friend had booked a room in Cusco already, so we took a taxi from the airport and headed to our home for the next few nights.
Note: It is extremely important to arrive in Cusco a few days prior to trekking the Inca Trail. You need to acclimatize.
We stayed at La Posada del Viajero, close to Plaza de Armas. It was a quaint place with beautiful decor, cozy rooms, great staff, and…..free mate de coca, otherwise known as coca tea. Coca tea is a herbal tea – it’s made with dried up leaves from the native coca plant. Yes, the plant where cocaine comes from. The thing about coca tea is that it supposedly helps with altitude sickness. I didn’t take any medicine for this, so I made sure that my coca tea was part of my daily routine.
Alpaca Expeditions planned for our group to meet the night before our trek at 7 PM at their office, not too far from Plaza de Armas. We met our guides and fellow trekkers, got information, received our duffel bags, and were given directions.
You are given a duffel bag that can weigh up to 7 KG (around 15 lbs). The duffel bag is what the porters will carry for you – you will not have access to these items throughout the day, only when you get to camp. Everything else that you decide to bring on the hike goes in your day pack – the bag that you will be carrying. You want this to be as light as possible, because you will be trekking strenuous trails with it attached to you. Alpaca Expeditions provides you with an awesome packing list on their website.
GOOD MORNING! Pack up your bags and get ready to go.
DAY ONE: HIKE TO AYAPATA (First campsite)
Walking distance: 8.7 miles/14 km (around 7 hours)
Campsite altitude: 3300 meters above sea level
Alpaca Expeditions picked us up early in the morning from our hostel. We sleepily climbed into our bus and were given a juice box and some snacks for our drive to Km 82. We arrived at about 7 AM and started to mentally prepare ourselves. The cook made us an awesome breakfast and our group started to become a little family…..we were about to spend most of the week together, sweating and pushing one another to just. keep. hiking.
So we began. The first couple hours of the trail were pretty easy for me. I kept up a conversation at normal pace with David, one of the Inca guides. We saw the first Inca site about 2 hours into our trek – Patallacta. Two hours later we arrived at our lunch site…this is where I found out you can have a 5 star meal in the midst of the Andes Mountains (shout out to our chef). As we finished our lunch and started to pack up our bags, down came the rain. And when I say rain, I mean down pour. We dressed ourselves in our fashionable neon-green ponchos and I pulled my built-in water resistant cover over my daypack. Rain or shine….we trek.
Eventually the rain came to a halt and the sun broke through. During the first day, we traveled through two villages. I made buying a Snickers bar at each village a thing. Starting this day. Completely necessary. We arrived at our campsite shortly after 5 PM, where we got to have a snack and relax until our long-awaited dinner at 7:30 PM. We had asparagus tea…..which yes, it is a thing and it is pretty incredible. All I wanted to do is crawl into my tent, away from the cold, AND SLEEP! We ate (once again, one of the best meals ever….in middle of no where) and all decided we needed to sleep early because Day 2 was the worst of them all…..and we needed to be well rested.
DAY 2: HIKE DEAD WOMAN’S PASS AND RUNCURACCAY PASS TO CHAQUICCOCHA (Second campsite)
Walking distance: Around 10 miles/16 km
Campsite altitude: 3600 meters above sea level
GOOD MORNING! Up bright and early….or not so bright, but early…..let’s go! Ahh, yes. Day 2. The most difficult day because you have not one, but TWO passes you have to conquer. That’s all the way up, all the way down, all the way up, and back down…..yeah. They don’t call it Dead Woman’s Pass for nothing….it is near 13,900 feet and it is brutal. It seems although you are on a straight incline for 48 hours, basically. You get to see some really beautiful sights on the way, however….
The second best feeling of this trek was hitting the top of Dead Woman’s Pass…..the people that are already at the top (from your group or another) are cheering you on and I honestly gained a lot of motivation from this and decided to go faster. I cheered for my friends and we all sighed a sigh of relief once we made it to the top.
If you think you’re out of breath now…..just wait until you look at the view from the top. And then….it’s time to head back down. I have issues with my knees and going down steps and on a steep decline is rough for me….so I can’t go too slow. Elisban, my favorite guide, accompanied me and ran down the pass together. It’s supposed to take around an hour and a half to descend. We did it in approximately 45 minutes and beat everyone to the spot for lunch. I was able to lay in the sun on a mat and drink some tea as I waited for the rest of the group.
We ate a light lunch and prepared ourselves for the second pass. This wasn’t going to be as difficult as Dead Woman’s Pass…..but still difficult. Great. It’s around 2 hours to get to the top of Runcu Raccay – you’ll stop at a small inca site and see some waterfalls….and then once again, another hour down to the next site. For me, trotting down, I took about 30 minutes. This was one of my favorite stops. Fairly close to the campsite, there’s an Inca site by the name of Sayacmarca. You’ll stop here for a rest and be able to watch the sunset over a mountain range.
After taking in the views at Sayacmarca, you only have 20 minutes to the 2nd campsite….Chaquicocha. You’re going to eat dinner and want to lay down…..but there’s a chance to stargaze this night and I recommend you take it.
DAY 3: Hike to Wiñay Wayna (third campsite).
Walking distance: Around 6.2 miles/10 km (5-7 hours)
Campsite altitude: 2,600 meters above sea level (COLD)
THE BEST DAY. Not only is it ALL DOWNHILL, it’s also the most beautiful day (personal opinion) of the trek. We woke up around 6 AM and sipped some mint tea in our tents before slowly crawling out to begin our day.
Today you’ll enter the jungle, known as Cloud Forest, and get a view of Salkantay. My favorite part was hitting the last peak of Phuyupatamarka where you got an INCREDIBLE view of Urubamba River.
I brought my tripod along with me (yeah, I know) and managed to get a group photo of all of us here…..the tripod fell over immediately after this was taken and there are some photos of this happening and our blurry facial expressions showing a bit of fear….
3 hours down and you’ll hit your last campsite….Wiñay Wayna. This is the best one because it’s so close to Machu Picchu. You’ll arrive early in the afternoon, eat lunch, and relax. You’re ALMOST done and you deserve it. In the evening, you’ll get together and have orientation. You then have the chance to go visit the ruins of Wiñay Wayna….once again, I don’t care how tired your feet are, you should go.
The last dinner was really special. I entered the dinner tent and there was a mini-celebration inside. Balloons and streamers were hung around the top of the tent and everyone was congratulating us on making it this far. We had the best meal yet and I couldn’t believe my eyes when Mario (our chef and my BFF) came in with a CAKE.
HOW DO YOU BAKE A CAKE ON THE INCA TRAIL? HOW?!
We enjoyed our ceremony and we had the opportunity to gather the cooks and porters together and thank them for everything they have done so far. This is also where we all took the time to give them envelopes we gathered with tips. They were so thankful and we gave hugs and high fives and clapped all the way back to our tents. Yeah….you have an early morning the next day SO SLEEP.
DAY 4: Trek to Sungate and Machu Picchu. THE LAST DAY!
3 AM COCA TEA WAKE UP CALL, ANYONE?!
Have some tea and attempt to warm up in the tent before breakfast that is served at 4 AM. Why do you wake up so early? So we can be some of the first people at the checkpoint to enter when they open at 5:30. Challenge accepted. Say goodbye to your beloved team of porters and head out!
We hiked an easy trail and talked about the experience so far. We talked about the wilderness in the Amazon and how scary some of the creatures are….when Elisban, the guide, took a leap back and told us to do the same. I saw him wrestling around with his trekking pole and I then saw what was happening…..there was A SNAKE. A giant, black and red, run away because I don’t know if it will kill me….snake. We watched as it took off in another direction and carried on. I tried my best to pretend it didn’t happen. Yep.
Today you’ll also experience “The Gringo Killer”, a set of stairs that are basically a straight up incline and well…..kill gringos. I did it using all fours and got up pretty quickly and fairly easily.
You’ll reach Sungate around 6:30 AM. This was the most emotional moment for me. This is where you’ll get your first full view of Machu Picchu ruins and Lost City of the Incas. I couldn’t help but start crying when I climbed up and got my first look. I did that. I just trekked 4 days. Exhausted, without a shower, seeing snakes, 3 AM wake ups, cold nights in the jungle, etc……I did it. The sun started to rise and it was magical. I just cried and cried. How is this even real?
You start making your way down and the views just get better. It’s incredible.
About an hour later and you’re at the final checkpoint. Your main guide will give you a tour of the ruins – this lasts around 2 hours. You are then free….you can explore and take photos, or climb the neighboring mountain Huaynapicchu. I chose to take my freedom and walk around the ruins.
The most incredible thing I have ever done.
Here are some more photos from the journey:
A huge GRACIAS to our best guides – David and Elisban.
Along with our incredible porters and cooks that stuck around for 4 days!
There are not enough words in the English dictionary that I can use to explain my experience of hiking The Inca Trail. I did it with two of my favorite people – Stefanie and Chelsea…which made it THAT much more special. It was incredible being able to do this trek with two people that have also ALWAYS wanted to do it. We accomplished something HUGE together and I was so thankful for my tent roommates. This is something we will cherish forever.
If you’re thinking about hiking The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I can’t tell you “YES” enough. I also wouldn’t recommend another company apart from Alpaca Expeditions.
If you have any questions about the trek – please feel free to contact me here!
Follow along with my travel adventures on Instagram HERE!
Thanks for stopping by!