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.
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…
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.
Pit stop before reaching the 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:
Our guide crushed bugs and used the blood to mark our faces.
The guide made us do it.
The flora changed each day as we entered new territory.
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.
Chewing Coca leaves is a cultural tradition in the Andes. We partook in this tradition to fight fatigue and altitude sickness.
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."
This is what the majority of the hike looked like up to Dead Woman's pass. We hiked only upwards for HOURS.
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!
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...
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!
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.
Cold, freezing, tired, and somehow still smiling.
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.
Llama posing for me at the campsite.
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.
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.
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.
Alas, we started the final stretch of the hike. We climbed the monkey stairs and reached the Sun Gate.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!