Photoblog: Hiking the Inca Trail

Traveling to Peru to hike the Inca Trail has hands down been my favorite trip. Two of my friends (Samantha & Reagan) and I spent several months making plans to spend spring break 2018 in Peru. Our plans consisted of exploring Cusco and hiking the Inca Trail.

Samantha, Reagan, and I in Cusco.

Samantha, Reagan, and I in Cusco.

We booked our trip for 7 days for late March, which is near the end of rainy season in the Cusco region. The weather was a little chilly but overall pretty nice (notice the warm layers in the photo above). 

We landed in Cusco one day before our trek would begin. We spent most of the day exploring the town center, napping, and trying to adjust to the altitude. The altitude pills (Diamox) helped a ton! 

We signed up for the Classic 4 day/3 night Inca Trail with Alpaca Expeditions. The night before our trek, we attended a briefing where our guides went over the logistics of the trip and we met the other members our group. To be honest, we were unsure of how these days of hiking and camping with these 11 strangers would go… 

Our first group photo.  Photo cred: Sakib Alam

Our first group photo. Photo cred: Sakib Alam

Itinerary for the 4D/3N Inca Trail.  Photo cred: Sakib Alam

Itinerary for the 4D/3N Inca Trail. Photo cred: Sakib Alam

Day 1: Piskacucho, Hatunchaca, & Wayllabamba

Early rise. Our guides picked us up from our hostel with the Alpaca bus at 4:15 am. Then we picked up the other members of our group and drove a couple hours to the trailhead in Piskacucho. Once we got there, our porters prepared a typical Peruvian breakfast (eggs, freshly cut fruit, and bread with jam). Before starting the trek we played an ice-breaker game to get to know everyone’s names. 

alpaca bus

Pit stop before reaching the trailhead.

inca trailhead

Here we are full of energy and ready to begin the 4 day trek to Machu Picchu.

We hiked for a total of 4.5hrs until lunch, then two more hours after lunch. The following are highlights from Day 1:

red paint

Our guide crushed bugs and used the blood to mark our faces.

29792435_10156032169755708_8885198969236357120_o.jpg

The guide made us do it.

Inca_1504.jpg

The flora changed each day as we entered new territory.

Finding comfort on a tarp.

Finding comfort on a tarp.

Post lunch selfie: exhaustion has set in.

We continued are hike up to Wayllabamaba and to our campsite for the night, Ayapata. By the end of the day, it had warmed up and we shed our layers.

Day 2: Dead Woman’s Pass

Known as the most difficult day, as you have to hike 10 miles, go through 2 passes and reaching the highest altitude on the trek, DEAD WOMANS PASS. One of our guides woke us up at 5am with hot coca tea (good for the altitude), we ate breakfast at 5:30am, and started our trek at 6am. 

Photo cred: Sakib Alam.

Photo cred: Sakib Alam.

Chewing Coca leaves is a cultural tradition in the Andes. We partook in this tradition to fight fatigue and altitude sickness.

Can you tell we are tired?

Can you tell we are tired?

All of the pictures taken this morning were definitely forced. We were tired, cranky, out of breath and it was only one hour into our longest day. This would be the only time passing through Peru's "rain forest."

Deadwoman's pass

This is what the majority of the hike looked like up to Dead Woman's pass. We hiked only upwards for HOURS.

green machine

Pausing to give much due credit to these guys. The porters (team Green Machine) who hiked faster than us, set up and broke down our camp, carried most of our stuff, cooked for us, all while drinking chicha (alcoholic beverage derived from corn). They are the real MVPs!

Another amazing photo by Sakib Alam on the way up to Dead Woman's pass. This was our first encounter with llamas on the trek! Photo cred: Sakib Alam.

Another amazing photo by Sakib Alam on the way up to Dead Woman's pass. This was our first encounter with llamas on the trek! Photo cred: Sakib Alam.

I somehow caught up with the front pack of the group right before reaching the top of Dead Woman's pass. We had to take short breaks to catch our breath every few minutes. The guide said he would buy a drink for whoever reached the top first. So naturally, I started running to the top (we were really close at this point). I made it first by just a few steps. I never got that drink...

The coconut Casino cookie was the best snack on the trip. #UnpopularOpinion

The coconut Casino cookie was the best snack on the trip. #UnpopularOpinion

We took a break at the top of Dead Woman’s pass to eat snacks and take group photos. We checked our oxygen levels. My oxygen read as 94%. I guess the Diamox worked after all! 

The team together at the top! Now, we just have to hike down an hour and a half for lunch.

The team together at the top! Now, we just have to hike down an hour and a half for lunch.

As we headed down to our lunch spot, the rain came. Thankfully, the treking company gave us all bright green ponchos. We pulled those out and didn’t put them away until we reached our campsite in the evening where we were met by a pack of llamas. 

D2C3B944-728B-4189-9221-837A89B8ECA9.jpg

Cold, freezing, tired, and somehow still smiling.

This is pretty much how we all felt when we reached the 2nd pass at Runkurakay. Photo cred: Sakib Alam

This is pretty much how we all felt when we reached the 2nd pass at Runkurakay. Photo cred: Sakib Alam

The rest of the hike down was pretty foggy. I can only imagine how beautiful the scenery would've been if the fog had lifted. It made for a great time to bond with the other group members. 

Inca_1198.jpg

Llama posing for me at the campsite.

IMG_7410.jpg

Its the day we dreaded the most, but looking back it was my favorite day of the trek.  We pushed ourselves to our physical limits and it was exhilarating.

Day 3: Phuyupatamarca & Intipata

We were all SO sore when we woke up. Everything hurt and our legs felt extra heavy. The most gorgeous sunrise and campsite view helped us forget the pain— just for a minute.

Pictures don't do this view justice whatsoever.

Pictures don't do this view justice whatsoever.

Day 3 is overall an easy day. This day consists of hiking uphill for 1.5 hours, then the rest is all downhill. We visited 2 Inca sites (Phuyupatamarca & Intipata), then we had some down time at the campsite before dinner. This campsite had showers, which very few indulged in due to the water being freezing cold. I was one of the few. :)  Oh yeah, and it rained on us ALL DAY, but we still made the most of our circumstances.

Gorgeous plant life.

Gorgeous plant life.

 Day 4- The Sun Gate & Machu Picchu

Our group decided to wake up at 2:45am to be at the checkpoint gate at 3:00am, which guaranteed us as the first group to hike to Machu Picchu. The gate opens at 5:30am. We essentially woke up in the middle of the night to hike 3 minutes and sit on benches for over 2 hours. We sipped our coca tea for the last time and waited for the gates to open.

Sipping tea and eating our breakfast.

Sipping tea and eating our breakfast.

Alas, we started the final stretch of the hike. We climbed the monkey stairs and reached the Sun Gate.

IMG_7608 2.jpg

We were so excited to continue the hike to the famous lookout point for Machu Picchu to arrive and see absolutely nothing but the white fog that surrounded us. Slightly bummed as you can see.

Completely exhausted, but we made it!

Completely exhausted, but we made it!

After arriving to Machu Picchu, we went on a 2-hour tour of the site. During our tour the fog finally lifted. Even though we could barely walk, we hobbled all the way back to the view point to get our picture.

31CFAB7C-DE9B-493B-88CF-6121A652DCA1.jpg

Getting back to this spot required serious commitment. Very few of us had the will power to hike (or hobble) back here for THE picture.

Our final group photo. Team Dinka for life!

Machu Picchu in all of its glory. Photo Cred: Sakib Alam.

Machu Picchu in all of its glory. Photo Cred: Sakib Alam.

THE PICTURE OF A LIFETIME.  Thanks to Sakib Alam for his amazing photography skills.

THE PICTURE OF A LIFETIME. Thanks to Sakib Alam for his amazing photography skills.

Train Ride 

After all that hiking we started our journey back to Cusco. We took the train (2hrs) to Ollantaytambo, and from there our guides met us with a private bus for our ride back to Cusco.

I couldn’t smile any bigger if you paid me. Also, I couldn’t move if you paid me.

I couldn’t smile any bigger if you paid me. Also, I couldn’t move if you paid me.

We liked each other so much that we got together the day after our trip for a post Inca Trail dinner. <3

We liked each other so much that we got together the day after our trip for a post Inca Trail dinner. <3

Final Thoughts

One of the main reasons this trip was so great was because we had an excellent tour operator (Alpaca Expeditions). I don’t get paid to brag on them. They were simply amazing. Aside from having the best tour operator on the Inca trail, our group of people were the best combination of moms, dads, and young adults I could’ve asked for. We started as strangers on day 1 and were a family by day 4. We actually have a Facebook messenger group and all keep in touch. We really lucked out!