Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Part 1

Inca Trail Peru

Inca Trail – Day 1

Km 82 (2720m) – Ayapata (3300m)

The big day has finally arrived. We are actually going to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. There has been little preparation apart from alcohol and coffee abstination, but we are feeling confident. We wake at 3.30am on the morning of the beginning of our trek tour along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, it’s still dark and the street lights are on in Cusco. It’s cold and we board a unheated bus and travel to the end of the road. At the start of the track, we are ready to begin when I realise I’ve left my walking pole on the bus, which has already left.

Catastrophe and brief panic set in…

This damn pole has been carted halfway across the world by yours truly with its sole purpose being to aid me on my trek on the Inca Trail. How on earth will a forty something arthritic walk this route without a pole?  There is no going back and no cell phone to call the bus driver so that is it. Until our very kind guide, Rueben offers me his which I gratefully accept.

Whew, Reuben saves the first day of the Inca trail.

We must start the trek by checking in with our passports and all the porters must be weighed and checked before being allowed on the trail. This process takes longer than we would like as there is a mix up with the porters and we are one short!

We have 11 porters and 5 walkers; quite sufficient I would have thought, but no, we wait around for about 3 hours for everything to be sorted. The mucky start means we begin later than expected which means we have a hard climb at the end of the day.

Inca Trail Peru

The easy bit – group photo at the start of the Inca Trail

Overall, 500 people a day are allowed on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  250 walkers and 250 porters start the trek each day. Most of the walkers are under 30, although you do see the other extreme; several 70’s+ adventurers also succeed in walking this trail.

It is a wise, although expensive, decision to have someone else carry our gear, but it leaves us having to only manage a light day pack. It is sunny, but as we start at altitude of 2,750 metres (9000 feet) it is cool.

We start out walking along a dry stony path. The first part of the trail has been rebuilt by the current locals, so does not contain the actual stone paving laid down in Inca times. There are 5 walkers in our group; an American couple, a Brit (all under 30) and us.

Yes, we are the oldest! The trail is wide, dirt and rock, and exposed to the sun. It’s relatively easy walking until lunch time.

Inca Trail Peru

Forgive me for thinking these porters are in a race – they rocket up those mountains with huge loads.

Although the area looks rugged, it is mostly farmed by indigenous Andean people. They have small fields of corn and keep animals. As well they make a few Soles selling water, sodas, and beer to the trekkers. Incredibly, the locals have little stalls set up all along the first day’s walk, selling all matter of little conveniences.

It seems odd to us, as we can’t imagine any Kiwi carting half a grocery store up the Routeburn track back home in New Zealand.

Because the area is farmed there are no real trees left, all of them have been used up for firewood over the years. Flora and fauna is pretty limited.

Inca Trail Peru

The first of the many breathtaking Ruins on the Inca Trail

Lunch time: when we arrive at the “eating site”, pitched in front of us is a “Dining Tent”, a set table, fancy folded serviettes, chairs, tables, and a laid out a three course lunch of a starter, a main course of trout, and dessert.

Starving –  we sit down and eat it all only to find this makes the next three hours of climbing more difficult!

Inca Trail Peru

3 Course Lunch in our Dining Tent!

On arrival at camp, after a hard afternoon slog, we are called for “Happy Hour” and served hot milo and pop corn! A hearty dinner follows which is cooked by our chef Wilbur, who sports a pure white chef’s hat and happy grin.

After the meal we meet our porters. Each porter introduces themselves, telling us how old they are and where they are from. The oldest porter we have is 57 and, bless him, he is delightful.

Inca Trail Peru

The Llama Path Red Army -10 of them for 5 of us – now that’s service!

Rueben explains the importance of tips and we fully understand this when we discover what they are paid. The minimum wage for a porter is USD$15 a day, so they earn around USD$60 for the whole hike, with expenses such as the train ride back having to come from this money also.

As soon as they finish one trek they are back to the  start ready  for another trek. Whilst this all sounds a bit harsh and the work seems lowly paid, to be a porter on the Kings and Queens Classic Inca Trail route is a great honor for an Andean man.

Inca Trail Peru

Happiness is when you reach the top!

That night, we sleep on the ground in a four person tent. We rent sleeping mats and sleeping bags from the trek company, and are reasonably comfortable. Each morning after we leave the camp ground, the porters pack up everything into large packs and head off up the trail after the group. Then they pass us, to be to the lunch area before us so they can set up the cooking and eating tents. They cook the lunch AND have to walk faster than we do. This sure is luxury tramping!

Inca Trail Peru

The Llama Path guys loaded up and of course they leave after us, catch up, pass and have dinner ready when we arrive at next camp- AMAZING!

We love our distinctive red Llama Path team, and choosing a company is key to a good trip. Not only are our porters a happy bunch, they look great on the trail. Winding up the pass in front of us one could be mistaken for thinking there is a red caterpillar ahead. Our porters wear matching red and black outfits; shoes, pants, shirts, and packs. Once packed up they set out in a group and run along together as a team. They looked impressive to say the least, and we love to clap and cheer them on when they pass us.

Inca Trail Peru

Waaaay down is the Inca Trail – it’s a good climb alright

Most hikers move along at a similar pace; some a little slower like me, some a little faster. We never pass other hikers and are rarely passed ourselves. However, every couple of minutes we are passed by the incredibly fast and fit porters. This means that one is rarely alone on the trail for more than a few minutes.

Inca Trail – Day 2 – Ayapata to Chaquicocha

We know the second day is the ‘climbing’ day to Deadwomens Pass,  but in hindsight I’m not sure we were prepared for the 11 hours it took us…

Day 2 looks like this:
900 metres straight up to the top of Deadwomens Pass.
600 metres straight down to Pacaymayu Lunch spot.
400 metres straight up to 2nd pass.
400 metres straight down to campsite.

The day starts surrounded by farms of the Andean people who make a living by raising Llamas, donkeys, cows, horses and food crops. It is a real subsistent economy. There are small bits of original forest but, like the first day, this is a hike though farmed land with lots of high mountains surrounding us.

Inca Trail Peru

Whose idea was this anyway?

It would be a nice looking trail, if it was not so steep, and there is no let up. The trail continues up along a stream almost to the highest point for the day. It is just us and that hill. No matter how much you pay for the trek, it comes down to just you and the hill.

Inca Trail

For most of the first 5 hours the scenery is not a significant part of the hike. The trail, the breathing, the heavy legs and the coca leaves bulging my cheek are all I can think about. As the leaves soften gently in my cheek, I decide to take a chew… which turns into a very quick spit out. The taste combined with my fatigue almost makes me throw up.

Inca Trail Peru

British companion – Joel chewing the Coca Leaves

By this time the land is barren, with no more farms; just mountain tussocks well above the tree line. The mountains would take your breath away, if you had any.

We look back from where we have come from, down the valley to the green area at the bottom where we started the climb, it seems such a long way we feel justified in our tiredness.

As fatigue sets in, we question our rationale behind taking this route to Machu Picchu.

We continue, three steps at a time: the routine is breathe in, small step, breathe out, small step, breathe out, small step, STOP – REST!

Inca Trail Peru

We made it to the Top – Deadwomens Pass Inca Trail @4215 m!

We repeat this over and over, and suddenly we are two thrilled people standing atop of the high pass! The Brit has been there for an hour already but he is 19, so we don’t take it to heart.

It’s then over the top and down 600 metres to the lunch spot. This valley has not been farmed, so there are native trees and flowers which are small due to the elevation. We are still walking on the restored trail, and the steps are pretty tall in many places, so it is hard going.

Reaching the lunch spot, we find lots of groups camping here. Lucky them we think, as we still have a 400 metre climb and a 400 metre descent.

Our company, Llama Path, has a different route and whilst Day 2 is harder, we know will be rewarded in Part 2 of this post –   Days 3 and 4!

And with the 11 hours (yes we were a little slow)  and the hardest bit behind us we are indeed happy to walk where the Inca Kings and Queens once walked….

Thanks for reading our story.

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What did you love most about your Inca Trail Trek?


4 Comments on “Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Part 1

  1. What a great website! I’ve always wanted to visit Machu Picchu so thank you for all of the wonderful information and amazing photos. If you have been to Victoria Falls, Africa I hope you will write about it as well.

    • Hey Dana, Machu Picchu so has to be on your Bucket List,it’s right up there with the Galapagos Islands. It will blow your mind for sure. Vic Falls well they are still on my list – one day… I will go and write about.

  2. You guys are amazing! That’s an intense trail right??? Although from what my husband says I think I would rather take the trail then the bus! Do you walk back too or did you ride the bus down?

    • Thanks Hilarye

      Intense – yes – but with dogged determination no worries! We walked, struggled, crawled from km 82 just out of Ollytaytambo over the passes to Machu Picchu 40 something k’s (a great approach) and then got the bus down to Aguas Calientes.

      Do the trail you’ll love yourself for it!

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