Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu has been a dream of mine for a very long time, and after a lot of planning and coordinating I finally managed to make it happen! I knew I couldn’t travel to Peru without doing the trail, so planned to hike in April, after the trail was freshly opened, after being closed for the winter. I wanted to ensure we had both good weather and a clean trail (it is nicknamed Machu Poo-Poo for good reason).
The Inca Trail trail is restricted, and only a certain number of hikers per day are permitted, which means you need to book far in advance, get the proper permits and/or choose a tour company to hike with. We opted to go with a tour company, and after careful research, decided to book with a local Peruvian company called Peru Treks, who had a lot of positive ratings, particularly around porter welfare and promoting social programs in the area.
We booked the ‘Classic Inca Trail‘ which is a 4-day, 44km hike starting at the beginning of April, right at the end of the rainy season. We arrived in Cusco a few days in advance, to acclimatize, have a pre-meeting with the tour company and gather supplies before setting off on our Inca adventure!
Day 1: Cusco to Wayllabamba (12km)
A small bus picked us up at our hotel and took us to a small town to eat breakfast before dropping us off at Km 82 where the trail begins. All the bags needed to be weighed and contents distributed among the porters, as there are weight limits. Everyone collected water, snacks and rain gear into day packs and set off on the hike. The first day was sunny with some clouds but cool, which was perfect for hiking.
The landscape was gorgeous, full of broad Andes mountains and lush mountain fields. The trail was fairly easy and there were many other groups on the trail with us. We stopped in a beautiful valley for lunch, which was a wonderful spread of soup, tea, meat and rice. We finished the day early and arrived into camp to have our tents set up for us and supper ready. A perfect first day.
Day 2: Wayllabamba to Pacamayo (12km)
We woke up early to a light drizzle of rain, had our breakfast in the communal tent and were on our way up the trail again. The mountains were covered in morning mist and everything was all the foliage was green and lush. The scene around us began to change, and soon we began hiking through cloud forest with little blue and purple flowers along the edges of the path, eventually passing a small waterfall to one side.
We continued on through the lush forest, and about three hours later found ourselves in increasingly dense woods. The stone path brought us to the treeline and about an hour and a half further, we reached the famous “Dead Women’s Pass“. It was the first and highest pass we had to climb at 3,68m. It was difficult to say the least, with the combination of high altitude and sore legs, but everyone in our group made it at a steady pace.
The descent from the pass was steep, and you had to carefully watch your footing. At one point I slipped on a wet stone step and fell hard, lucky without serious injury. I trudged on and managed to be one of the first hikers into camp that night on the valley floor, exhausted from the day.
Day 3: Pacamayo to Wiñay Wayna (15km)
The third day we woke up, disappointed to find continuing heavy rain. After breakfast, we started hiking in the relentless rain, which only slowed for short periods, preventing me from taking many photos out of fear of soaking my camera. The mist drowned out most of the beautiful scenery anyway but we did stop to explore a few other ruin sights on the way.
We finally arrived in Wiñay Wayna for the night, our last campsite before arriving at Machu Picchu, soaking wet and tired. There was a rumor of hot showers at the camp, but everything I owned was soaking wet anyway, so I didn’t feel I should bother. The small restaurant at the camp served drinks and our hiking group spent some time socializing and playing cards together before I crumbled into my tent to sleep. It was one of the more exhausted I have ever been.
Day 4: Wiñay Wayna to Machu Picchu (5km), Return to Cusco:
We woke up excruciatingly early at 4.30am, and got dressed in the dark. After a quick breakfast we waited by the park gate until we were allowed to enter and complete the journey to Machu Picchu before sunrise.
The sky got lighter as we trekked through the darkness to the almost vertical stone steps up to the Sun Gate. As I trudged up the last of the 50 steps, I could feel my heart in my throat – I was finally going to see it. As we came over the top I saw…nothing. Just a giant cloud covering what was supposed to be the most glorious sight I was going to behold with my very own eyes. Disappointment drowned over me.
I was cold, wet and exhausted, and now I couldn’t even see what I had come all this way for. Deflated, I continued on walking, down to the gate and ticket booth and slumped into a chair while waiting for the group. I got a coffee and a snack at the cafe outside the ruins and an amazing thing happened – the rain stopped and the sun came out. I got to see the glorious Machu Picchu in all it’s mist-covered glory.
The long days of rain ended right at the end, and we were able to explore the ruins with patches of sun and cloud and cute llama’s frolicking through the terraces. It was as magical as I always dreamed it would be.
Overall I am so happy to have experienced hiking the Inca Trail. It was challenging at times, but not as painful as I thought it would be. The combination of stunning Inca ruins along the way, magnificent mountain peaks and lush cloud forest were all part of the amazing experience, before getting to the grand finale. I would definitely recommend the ‘Classic Inca Trail’, I just wouldn’t recommend going at the end of the rainy season. Waiting a few more weeks would have been perfect.
Read more about my experience visiting Macchu Pichu.