Our first view of Machu Picchu
What is the Inca Trail?
The Inca Trail is a beautiful ancient route built before the Spaniards conquered South America. It spans across many countries and was used for travel, communication and transport of goods. One option for travelers is a four day hike through the Amazon Jungle and the Andes, finishing with sweeping views of the much anticipated Machu Picchu and a guided tour. It is a moderately difficult hike, the one I did covering 40 km and 3 mountain passes including Dead Woman's Pass up to an elevation of 4215m.  During this 4-day guided hike, we came upon ancient runes from civilizations long past, our guide providing a brief history of each rune and its significance. I can't say I'm a history buff myself and couldn't remember any of it for you now, but while standing in the middle of crumbling temples and ancient towns the stories are quite captivating. The combination of incredible views, physical challenge and a beautiful trek through lush jungle and runes alike makes this hike the most memorable and rewarding I've ever done.
View from the top
Just one of the many views along the Inca trail
What to expect when hiking the Inca Trail
On the Inca Trail we spent 4 days trekking over mountains, through beautiful valleys and lush jungle. At every turn you stumble upon intricately built ancient city runes and temples and as you reach a clearing in the trees you pass breathtaking views of the Andes and their flourishing valleys. At the end of the long hike each day we came to a camp set up for us, with a delicious dinner on the way. The second day was the most difficult for me due to the elevation of Dead Woman’s Pass; however the climb is worth it for the view alone. Upon reaching the top, other hikers on the trail cheered us on, and as we waited for the rest of our group we greeted them with an impromptu performance of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. The final day of the hike was an early wake-up call before dawn in order to arrive at Machu Picchu for the perfect time: sunrise. This final hike took us to Inti Puntu also known as “The Gate of the Sun” where you get to look down upon your first magnificent views of your destination. We arrived on a clear morning, with a post-card like view of Machu Picchu surrounded by the early morning mist. After a long and full 3 days of hiking to arrive at this magical and mysterious city, the feeling of awe and accomplishment is indescribable.
During the hike you reach elevations of over 4000m above sea level which lends an added challenge to the hike. I had more troubles than many with the elevation aspect, feeling more out of breath and tired than I normally would on a hike. It just meant I had to take more breaks than I usually would along the way. I recommend you work your way up to the elevation if you have the luxury of time. Spend a couple days in Cusco to accustom yourself to the thinner air if it’s something you aren’t used to. From my experience it makes a big difference, as I got altitude sickness with my first ventures to the higher altitudes. The hike would have been a lot less enjoyable had I not gotten that first experience out of the way beforehand.
Through our tour company we had porters to carry the bulk of the weight. These guys are amazing, racing up and down the mountains with more weight than I could even carry. They set up camp, cooked our food and were generally a really fun group. Most spoke broken English at best, some none at all, but their good humour and laughter was contagious and welcome after a long day of hiking.
Winaywayna on Day 3
How to get on the Inca Trail
The Peruvian government has regulations on how many travelers it allows on the trail each day (500 including guides and porters). You must apply for a pass to get on the trail, which can sometimes book up quite far in advance. I booked mine 3 months prior to my hike and they were already filling up. You can book your pass directly through the tour guide company that you choose, make sure you choose a company that is authorized for the Inca Trail. Hikers must have a guide to do the hike; your guide accompanies you on the entire 4 day trek. There are many companies which offer this service; I went with Gadventures.com (previously GAP adventures). They may be a bit pricey, but cover all necessities, including your food, porters, tents, sleeping gear, hiking gear and transportation. They treated their porters with respect and gave fair pay to each one. I really appreciated that they were helping support the locals instead of hiring outside guides and porters. Unfortunately I don’t personally have a comparison with other companies for price and service, but there are a lot of options out there especially if you’re only looking for the Inca trail. I went with Gap because it incorporated a whole 3 week tour of Bolivia and Peru, starting in La Paz.
If Machu Picchu is on your bucket list, I highly recommend the Inca Trail to accompany it. I don’t think the experience would be nearly as awe-inspiring or rewarding without having the hike to build up the anticipation. All the hard work is worth it for the history and natural beauty of the trail alone, but then to arrive at the final destination of Machu Picchu is a life experience I will never forget. I hope you enjoy the trip as much as I did, happy traveling!
There is a lot of information on infoincatrail.com including regulations, authorized guides and recommendations. If you have any tour guide companies that you've used for this trip, feel free to leave recommendations and tips below!