On May 27th, 2018 my friend and I joined a group of young travelers to hike the 26 mile trail to Machu Picchu. It took 4 days of 7-8 hours of hiking, sleeping in tents, using a hole for a bathroom and lots and lots of layering.
It was such a challenging and rewarding experience. I was really excited at the thought of being truly unplugged for a few days and being in nature with some like-minded people. I had imagined that the trail would be easy since so many people do it. I had envisioned a flat-ish path through the mountains with picturesque views. I wasn’t wrong about the views but it was definitely not flat-ish. I’ll admit I should have done more research.
I was a little cocky going into the trip since I had just completed a half marathon the weekend before. I figured I was in decent shape. I was not prepared for the steep uphills and the altitude sickness I experienced. At the highest point, you reach nearly 14,000 feet. My sickness manifested in shortness of breath – which meant that I moved really, really slowly. I was almost always near the back of the group but at least that meant I got some great pictures and didn’t have to rush.
The weather was perfect for us, which I was really thankful for as I can imagine that rain would have made the journey more difficult. The hardest day was the second one when we did reach the highest point (Dead Woman’s Pass)- it was a constant uphill and no photo could properly capture the steepness. There were points where I honestly didn’t know if I could do it and our guides were very nice and encouraging and allowed us slower ones to take our time. When I made it to the top, I had tears in my eyes because I couldn’t believe I did it.
By the time we made it to Machu Picchu on the 4th day, I was underwhelmed by it. I knew it was the goal but after experiencing such incredible views and other ruins, camping in the clouds and seeing other parts of the area, being among the hundreds of tourists just was not pleasant. Machu Picchu is beautiful and I love the history, but the journey to get there was even more beautiful and had a lot of history as well.
You can only hike the Inka Trail if you are a part of a tour group, which makes sense given the terrain and length of the trail. Each group has porters that carry the tents, food, and your belongings. These men are AMAZING. They are so nice, so humble, and they are so strong. They were running up and down the trail carrying 50 lbs of our stuff on their backs, while wearing sandals! They would leave the camp site after we had left (so they could tear down the tents) and arrive at the next site before we arrived, so they could set up once again. To this day (more than a year later), I still don’t know how they do it. Not to mention, the meals they cooked were incredible – I never went hungry during this trip.
After the Inka Trail, we spent a few extra days in Cusco where we spent some time in the city and also did the Rainbow Mountain trek – which was also challenging. The altitude got me during this hike as well and I ended up taking a horse up the trail, which was quite the experience. It was a trip of a lifetime and piqued my interest for more physically challenging adventures. I really would love to go back to Peru and also visit other countries in South America.