- The classic Inca trail is 29 miles/40 kms long
- The weather averages between 8c and 20c, but can drop to freezing and go up into the 30's
- 500 people are permitted to start the Inca Trail each day, 300 of those are guides and porters
- You need to book about 6 months in advance, your pass is not changeable
- Average trekking time for the 4 days is 21 hours. We took longer.
- 8% of all hikers are Canadian, 9% are Australian
- The highest point is 13,776 ft (or 4200 metres).
- Altitude sickness may begin at 8000 ft
- Our little group was 12 hikers, 2 guides, 2 cooks and 12 porters. Quite the number. Much larger than the 6-8 hikers we had been expecting.
Okay so that's it for random information. We've been back from the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu for almost a week now and it's taken me that long to put it into words. It was amazing. One of the highlights of my life. So here goes...
The bus picked us up from our hotel at 530am. Neither Michelle or I slept much the night before. Apparently the thought of hiking for 4 days at altitude, sometimes going straight up made us both nervous. We threw back some coca tea before the bus arrived but neither of us could stomach much in the way of breakfast. Not good when we were supposed to start the day with a carb and protein rich breakfast. Oops. There was one more stop after us to pick up the last of our group and then we were on the way to Ollantaytambo. A village in the Sacred Valley where we stopped to have some breakfast. Well everyone else did, Michelle and I had more coco tea. Oh I think we may have had a banana each. At least we don't have totally empty stomachs.
Next stop, on the other side of Ollantaytambo to pick up the extra guide and the extra porter. 12 hikers means we needed more people. Now we are all staffed up and ready to go. Nobody is doing much in the way of talking, introducing ourselves for just acknowledging each other. I think everyone is tired and maybe they're as nervous as we are.
I nap the rest of the way to km 82, which is where we start hiking. Everything comes off the bus and is divided onto two tarps. The bigger tarp is all the gear that the 12 porters and 2 cooks will carry. 7 sleeping tents, a cooking tent, a dining tent, 14 camp stools, a camping toilet and it's tent, 14 wash buckets, all the cooking equipment, all the food, the bigger first aid kits (the guides also carry 2 smaller first aid kits) and all Michelle and my gear. We had paid for a porter to carry our sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and clothes so all we had to lug was our daypack with water, coat, snacks and cameras. Best decision ever. The second tarp is for our daypacks and the packs of the rest of our group who are carrying all their own gear. Why?
We have a quick briefing with our guides, Lizandro and Nestor. They tell us that today we will hike about 11km's, it should take between 6 and 7 hours, today is and easy day, no steep climbs or descents, and the stop for lunch should be about 4 hours into the hike. Hmmmmm. They make sure everyone has water, is wearing sunscreen and insect repellent and has their passports and immigration cards with them. I can't help but think it's worse than rounding up a guide unit. Once everyone is organised we take the obligatory photo at the Inca Trail sign
and go through the checkpoint to have our tickets and passports checked. My ticket says I'm 41, it's given me back a good 5 years. Woohoo. But Michelle's says she is male. Don't think so. The checkpoint was not too concerned though, they were mainly checking passport numbers and names and photos. We passed.
Then we cross the bridge over the Rio Urubamba and we are officially on our way on the Inca Trail. Notice it starts with an up hill? At least it's a gentle slope and it's a dirt path not a staircase or a rock lined path. Let's start us off nice and easy, lull us into a sense of I can do this.
The morning was all fantastic views, gentle climbs, quick breaks for everyone to catch up and "hey we're actually doing this"s. We stopped for a break and a history lesson at a small ruin that I think was called Willcarakay, of course I would be making that up.
Willcarakay overlooked another Inca site - Llactapata. Llactapata is believed to have been a rest stop for the Incas on the way to Machu Picchu and also home to the soldiers who would have staff the fortress we were stopped at. I don't fancy that commute to work and back every day. Llactapata is some distance below us.
We hiked a bit further along to the lunch site. Our porters were already there and had the cooking tent, the dining tent and wash basins all set up for us. We all just strolled in, washed our hands, ate our lunch and took a quick nap. At this point in the day I stopped taking photos, I don't know why. I wish I had taken lots more. I don't have photos of the set up for lunch, seriously every lunch time the porters set up two large tents, cooked lunch, washed up and then broke down the whole set up. Every lunch time. Lunch, in fact all the meals were all very good. Lunch and dinner alway started with soup, then a rice or quinoa dish, a potato dish (did you know Peru has over 3000 types of potatoes), a veggie dish, a platter of sliced tomatoes and cheeses, and usually two meat dishes. Oh and some bread. There was a lot of food. We never went hungry. And it wasn't typical camp food. You know... boil in a bag, or rehydrate or mac and cheese of Chef Boyardee, but actual fully cooked meals. The cooks and porters did an awesome job.
After lunch we continued climbing switch backs up, up and up. Most groups will camp at Wayllabamba at 3000 ft depending on the number of trekkers, campsites, permits etc. But not our group. We kept going. For another 3 kms or so to Yuncachimpa at 3300ft. This climb from lunch to camp was where Michelle and I started to really fall behind. Up until lunch time we'd always been about 20-30 minutes behind the main group. But by afternoon Michelle wasn't feeling so good and we were about an hour behind. It was also when Nestor, the second guide, started hiking every step of the way with us. This first day he was very quite and probably very bored. But we appreciated that he stayed with us and let us hike at our own pace and didn't rush us.
Arriving into camp we had time for a wet wipe shower, to set up our sleeping mats and bags (the porters having already pitched the tents) and to sort our bags out a bit before being called to the dining tent for happy hour. No wine and cheese, no beer and pretzels, no cocktails and peanuts. But we were served popcorn and hot chocolate. I am not a fan of popcorn, but popcorn never tasted as good as it did then. We ate it all. By we I am all 12 hikers and 2 guides, not just Michelle and I. Dinner was served at 8pm, and by 9pm after a quick briefing for the next day we were all in bed. Umm our tent is pitched on a slight slope, so I keep rolling onto Michelle's side of the tent. Oops.
And with that, Day 1 is complete. 1 down, 3 to go. 1/4 of the way there. At least that's what Michelle and I kept telling each other.