The Inca trail to go to Machu Pichu is among the most saught after tours in Peru. The booking for that trail is often booked months in advance. I was lucky I was able to get a seat only a few weeks in advance. I think it was due to the fact that Machu Pichu was closed for a while due to the severe flooding, many tourists had cancelled and I was able to get a spot. On any particular day, only 500 people are allowed to start the trail and that includes tourists as well as local porters and guides.
I arrived in Cusco 1 1/2 days before to be able to aclimate myself with the high altitude and get used to it. The day before the actual start of the trail, someone from the agency I booked the tour with came to do a briefing about the hike and also brought me a -5 degrees celsius sleeping bag (yes, sometimes, it does get that cold up there at night). Went for a bit of shopping after the briefing and bought the essentials – rain poncho, headlight, toilet paper and some snacks.
Early next day, they came to pick me up at the hostel to go to the Kilometre 82, the start of the trek. Our hiking group was 21 people – we had people from the US, England, Argentina, Spain, Belgium, France and New Caledonia. A good group of people of varying age-group. Half of us spoke English and half Spanish. Apart from us, we also had 3 guides and 21 porters.. yes 21 ! They had to carry the tents, food, cooking stuff (some had to carry gas cylinders on their backs) and misc. Each of them was regulated by law to carry only a maximum of 20 kgs. They had checkpoints every day where the porters had to weigh their bags. We had to carry our own bags, sleeping bags and mats. But on the 2nd and 3rd day, as we passed through some villages, those that wished to, could hire porters from these villages to carry their bags. The porters costed 80 soles per day and would carry a maximum of 10Kgs. A few of the girls in our group hired some additional porters to carry their bags. One of the girls in our group had a 14 Kgs Bag. I was impressed she carried it the whole way through. Mine was a mere 7 kg and I could still feel the weight on ascents.
The hike was 4 days and 3 nights. First day was very easy, we hiked only about half a day and set up our camp. The porters set up the tents and the whole thing for us before we reach the campsite. So once, we reach everything is ready for us. We also have a kitchen tent, dining tent, which is the common area where we eat/play etc.
Second day on the hike was the hardest day as it was mostly ascent and we ascended to some 3900 metres. The lack of air as we went up and just the sheer effort to climb up made it pretty challenging and we did not get lunch that day till we reach our campsite and we were supposed to reach around 2-3p.m… Good motivation to get us going through the difficult second day. Even the porters and guides were chewing on coca leaves on that day to be able to cope with the altitude. I chewed some, but I hate the taste of it, but it sure did help a bit with the ascent – like a good boost of energy each time I squeezed the juice out of it.
Third day was relatively easy as compared to 2nd day. A lot of descent and I was so glad I had bought a walking stick for that. That walking stick was the best 3 soles I ever spent. After the 3rd’s day hike, we reach our last campsite for our last night. That campsite is a bit more developed and has facilities – such as shower, which we could buy for 5 soles and even had a bar selling alcohol and other drinks. The next morning, we were to wake up at 3:15a.m to start the final hike to Machu Pichu. I was glad I had brought some ear plugs, as some people decided to party the night up rather than rest. Many people were not too happy about the partiers, but it’s a group with different people and we need to deal with the differences.
Fourth day, woke up at 3:15a.m and we got an early breakfast and had to get out of our tents quickly in the rain – as the porters had to pack everything and catch their train back to cusco – the train system here is weird – tourists cannot take local trains and locals cannot take tourist trains. Seems like segregation to me, but I guess it’s a way to exploit tourists. We ate our breakfast quickly and waited for the checkpost to open at 5:30a.m. All the different groups were in line, in their rain ponchos, waiting for checkpoint. Once we crossed the checkpoint, we hiked to the sun gate, where we had our first encounter with Machu Pichu.
I was very lucky to get there early and all we could see was just clouds and fogs and no machu pichu and we witnessed the clouds/fog slowly moving away and machu pichu appearing out of it. It was a magic moment ! All the 4 days hike and pains were gone with that magical beautiful view !! Will post pics of Machu Pichu in the next blog entry.
I was very impressed with the planning and organization of the trip. Every day, the cook prepared 3 meals for us – breakfast, lunch and dinner and for lunch and dinner, it was usually 3 courses. Pretty impressive given that we were in the middle of the jungle. Also everyday, they had a happy hour for us – no alcoholic drinks – but popcorn (yes popcorn), cookies, coca tea, coffee etc.. On the last night, the cook had an open buffet of food for us rather than the regular 3 courses. It was so much food and such good food. Also, one great part was that every morning, the porters would shake our tents to wake us up and serve us Coca Tea in our tents. Great way to wake up 🙂
While I paid $340 for the trip, I think it’s worth it includes the tickets to Machu Pichu ($100), the train ticket back ($50) and all the food and accommodation and porters and guides for 4 days and 3 nights. The pricing is weird though. Each of the people in our group booked with different agencies and we compared prices and it was a range of $295 to $400.