It’s one of those things that you dream about and wish for but think it’s too complicated or maybe too intimidating to believe it might actually happen. The Inca Trail Hike was one of those things. I felt a similar anxiety and excitement last year before my Europe trip because I would be traveling to a new part of the world – a new continent for that matter! But for some strange reason, this time for Peru, it felt different. Only a handful of people in my social circle had traveled to Peru and among those, only 1 had hiked the Inca Trail. So unlike Europe, I didn’t have a lot friends to turn to ask for advice and additionally, I didn’t have a Spanish speaking travel companion! That’s the one main advice that a lot of people had been telling me prior to the trip – travelling to South America is easier (and less stressful) if you’re travelling with a Spanish speaking friend – or start learning Spanish! And since I had no Spanish speaking travelling companion, I had to settle for the latter: start learning Spanish.
I started (more seriously) planning for Peru in May 2013. My trip was planned for the last week of October 2013. The Inca Trail hike was booked and reserved and we were seriously looking into flight tickets and travel route and accommodations. I had 6 months to prepare mentally & physically. After getting confirmation that our hike had been reserved, I was pumped. I started hiking every weekend and got myself running more after work during the weekdays. Unfortunately this regime did not last very long! For some odd reason during the last month prior to the trip, I did nothing physically in preparation for the trip (aside from the 5k Color Me Rad run but that wasn’t entirely serious!). And to make matters worse, did I learn any Spanish during those 6 months? Nope! Nada! And boy did I wish I had taken it more seriously. Half an hour after landing in the Lima airport, I had wish I had learned at least SOME basic Spanish. I survived Spain (Barcelona & Granada) so I thought I could survive Peru. But I was wrong. It was completely different. I needed to know more than just the numbers 1-10 and “Gracias!” and “Bueno!” and “Dónde está el baño?” And it wasn’t just the language barrier. Their lifestyle and mannerisms were just completely new to me. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing (just added to my anxiety!) but I think this might be what they call a culture shock.
The following consists of my recollection of what went down during the unforgetable 4 Day Inca Trail Hike!
Day 1 – The Warm Up. Approximately 5-6 hours of hiking covering 12km reaching a maximum altitude of 3000m above sea level. They rated this as “easy” compared to the other days and it’s true, it was definitely easier in comparison. Not too many steep uphill or downhill climbs. Lots of flat plateau and meadow like areas with amazing scenery right from the start.
Day 2 – The Hardest Day. They weren’t kidding. About 6-7 hours of hiking covering nearly 11km (9km of that is nothing but a constant uphill climb to the highest point at 4200m). I personally struggled with this. I can blame it on the altitude (which was legitimate as my lungs were crying ) or my lack of pre-hike preparation. Going uphill – stairs, not my forte.
Day 3 – The Longest Day (my favourite day!). Approximately 8 hours of hiking covering 16km, with the highest altitude at 3900m. This day consisted of some uphill climb but mainly steep downhill stairs. I’m not kidding about the steepness. I still, till this day, cannot comprehend how the porters can practically run up and down those stairs with up to 40lbs of weight on their back!! It was my favourite day because there were so many beautiful Incan Ruins along the way and the scenery was breathtaking. It wasn’t Machu Picchu but I thoroughly enjoyed Day 3. Besides, my knees can handle downhill more than my lungs can handle uphill! I was a happy lady.
Day 4 – Machu Picchu day. If I hadn’t chosen to climb up Huayna Picchu on this day, I would have probably classified Day 4 as the easiest day. It was only a short 2hr (4km) hike to the Sun Gate and to Machu Picchu. The only downside? All the bajillion gazillion tourists that had arrived by train/bus. It was a strange feeling seeing so many people after hiking in the mountains for 4 days and having only been with the select group of people that had been hiking along with you. Other than that, we were incredible blessed with a gorgeous sunny day at Machu Picchu. Actually, we had 4 days of incredible hiking weather. The only time it rained was at night and a few minutes of misty drizzle at the peak of Day 2 and 3. But other than that, we were expecting torrential rain – we packed for it too! But luckily, we didn’t even need it. Machu Picchu was an incredible sight. When we arrived at the Sun Gate, seeing the first glimpse of The Lost City was like a breath of fresh air! And hiking right into Machu Picchu and seeing it up close was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity. I highly recommend planning a trip to Machu Picchu and if you’re relatively fit and healthy you MUST do the 4 day Inca Trail hike. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s not impossible. It’s one of those things where you have to experience it first hand. These pictures don’t do any justice!
Huayna Picchu / Wayna Picchu – We opted to pay extra to be able to climb up to Huayna Picchu. Highly Recommended! You get to see Machu Picchu from a different (higher!) perspective. The climb up to the very top was probably the hardest hike/climb I’ve ever done. It’s not long. But a lot of areas where you had to rely on chains and ropes and areas where you’re basically hugging the boulders and rocks to stay alive. They say it takes about an hour to get to the top, we got to the top in about 45 minutes (mind you I was out of breath and sweating like a pig). It wasn’t easy AT ALL. But the view was unlike any other view from any hiking trail I had ever been on.