Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
When Meera and I planned our Peru trip in December 2018, the first thing which came to our minds was that we wanted to see Machu Picchu. If you google for anything about touristy things to do in Peru, Machu Picchu is at the top of the list. The choice here was whether we would be hiking the Inca Trail or just taking the train to the closest town to Machu Picchu which is Aguas Calientes and then take a shuttle from there. We wanted to have the adventurous experience and we chose the Inca trail option.
If you want to do the Inca trail, there are two options basically which is either doing the full four day Inca trail with camping or the two day Inca trail without camping. Given the itinerary and the time we had in Peru, we did the two day Inca trail. For the two day Inca trail, you get off at KM 104 on the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and start your hike from there. The total mileage for the hike is roughly 8 miles to Machu Picchu and you cover this distance in a single day. The starting altitude at the beginning of the hike is roughly around 7300 ft and you ascend up-to the Sun Gate (Intipunku) at 9000 ft and then descend down to 7800 ft where Machu Picchu is at. The hike is very strenuous and exhausting as you do this in a single day. There are a limited number of people allowed on the Inca Trail which I believe our guide told was 700. It is very important that you procure the reservation well ahead of time. The Inca Trail departures are fixed and cannot be modified at the last minute, so be mindful of that. Also, you need to be carrying your passport with you as a form of identification for your Inca Trail pass.
The hike in general is fantastic. The pains you go through the hike ultimately pays off once you arrive at Machu Picchu and admire its beauty. We had an excellent guide and his name was Claudio. He educated us thoroughly about the Incas, the landscape around, Inca trail and a lot of history about Peru in general as well. One of the advantages of doing the Inca trail is that you arrive at Machu Picchu very late in the afternoon and there are almost no tourists at that time and you can get some gorgeous pictures and just sit and sink in the view.
We had arrived in Ollantaytambo a day before our hike and stayed overnight there close to the train station. We had an excellent hotel which provided great views of the Mt Veronica and its glacier. Our train was at 7.00 a.m the following morning and we met our guide there who briefly provided us instructions and our packed food for the day. We loaded it our already packed backpack. So be prepared to hike with some luggage!
Once aboard the train, it took us around hour and a half to arrive at KM 104. The views from the train are breathtaking as the train passes through huge mountains and corn fields. The pictures don’t do justice. There is an announcement made when the train approaches KM 104, everyone who is hiking the short Inca Trail is ready with their backpacks on to get off the train quickly.
Then we got a mandatory picture by the KM 104 signage
We had a quick pit-stop after crossing the first check post after verifying our passes and passport by the officials. We used this time to spray ourselves with lots of sunscreen and insect repellent. We used the restroom here as this was the last available restroom for the next five to six hours. We then began our journey on the Inca trail. The whole Inca Trail network runs for around 40000 kms with Cusco being the center of it. Machu Picchu was considered to be the lost city of the Incas which the Spaniards never found when they invaded Peru. It was only discovered in 1911. I won’t go into the details of the history here and will focus my writing on the experience we had.
The first major stop on the Inca trail was Winay Wayna at 8694 ft. The views on the Inca Trail are breathtaking. and there are no railings of any sort. The Incas had painted their trails with lots of symbolisms, art etc. It’s crazy to think of how the Incas built this and maintained it. However over the period of many years due to landslides, earthquakes they don’t exist today.
Some views on the trail until we took our first “official” break for some snacks, water and fruits.
I let Meera hike a few mins ahead of me just to capture this image. This makes you realise how huge these mountains around you are and at that moment we felt the sense of humbleness how small we are in this world.
We continued hiking, we finally see Winay Wayna in sight which was our first major stop on the Inca trail. It looked close but it wasn’t and was still a really long way to go. We felt this many times on the Inca Trail :(
However, before we arrived at Winay Wayna there was a waterfall on the way. It was refreshing to see this in the middle of the mountains. We took a break here to get some pictures and you can see the exhaustion in our faces at this point.
After the waterfalls, we crossed over from one mountain to another mountain before finally arriving at the base of Winay Wayna. We needed to climb a gruelling 300 steps to get to the top of it.
As you can see, Meera making her way to the top of Winay Wayna after ascending those 300 steep steps.
Once we arrived at the top of Winay Wayna, we took some well needed rest. Our legs were dead and we were exhausted. Our guide walked us through history about the site and other facts about it. We refreshed and got more pictures. The breeze was lovely and the scenery even magnificent. We just sat there sinking in the views before we started hiking again.
After Winay Wayna, hiking for the next twenty minutes we arrived to our lunch break spot. We emptied our lunch boxes quickly as you can imagine for all the calories we burnt so far. We had restrooms here and and its not well maintained and very smelly. We had no other option and quickly used it and continued our journey towards Machu Picchu. We had a Venezuelan couple with us and they spoke Spanish. We learned one fun fact from them about the word “Picchu”, the extra c is really important and without it “Pichu” translates to Penis! (Who knew!!!) We shared laughs throughout our hike on whoever pronounced Picchu wrong.
The next major stop on our hike after lunch was Intipunku a.k.a the Sun gate. From the Sun gate we had the first views of Machu Picchu and you feel like you are almost there. But again, as I mentioned earlier it appeared closer but was at-least an hour to go :( We had to pass over another mountain on our way to the Sun gate and had to climb some very steep steps almost at ninety degrees. These steps were funnily nicknamed as the “gringo killer”
We had hiked at a stretch after lunch for at-least two hours. We took some well deserved break at the Sun gate admiring our first views of Machu Picchu. As you can see below, you can also spot the road which the shuttle takes from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
We continued hiking towards Machu Picchu. We had been hiking for the past seven hours and at this point it was basically descending down to Machu Picchu. We were almost an hour away from it. We basically jogged down as we couldn’t contain the excitement. After approximately 45 minutes of running we were there FINALLY at Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. We conquered one more wonder of the world. The emotions we went through at that moment was indescribable. We took our own sweet time to sink in the views and just appreciated the grandeur of it. It’s mind boggling how this site has survived so many years and still look as beautiful it was then. As expected, there were no crowds at the time we arrived. We got some really great shots and the weather played good with us too.
After getting many pictures, we took one of the last shuttles back to the Aguas Calientes town and crashed at our hotel after a hot shower. We were back the next day to explore Machu Picchu site itself and explored various parts of it. After our tour, we went back to Aguas Calientes, got a nice massage, got some good food and picked up some souvenirs and hoped on the train back to Ollantaytambo.
If you are interested you can also check out my instagram highlight of this trip.
** all the pictures in this post are from my camera.