At the start of planning this trip, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was one of the key destinations and trips I wanted to see and do in South America. The trail and site are both very popular which has led the government to limit the amount of daily visitors to 200 trekkers on the trail, and 2500 on the actual site. Knowing this, we spent the summer watching the permits website and picked our day accordingly.
It`s highly recommended (demanded) that you arrive in Cusco a few days early to acclimatize before making the trek as the route starts at 2600 meters above sea level and reaches 4200m. We were very aware of altitude and its effects; constantly out of breath, tired and sore heads. Having spent a few weeks at altitude in Bolivia (4600m on the Death Road, 4100m in La Paz and getting burnt at 3800m on Isla Del Sol) and beating the side effects, we felt ready to proceed with the trek.
The town of Cusco is quite nice but caters for the tourists far too much for my liking. The main square tries to keep its historical look but has a Starbucks, KFC and McDonald’s hidden in plain sight, all three ghastly places were avoided.
A little walking tour helped us get our bearings of the town. After collecting our walking bags and items for the trek, we headed to bed early in preparation for the 5am pickup the following day.
We chose to pay extra for the services of a porter to carry our 6k of items including sleeping bag, mat and clothes, leaving us with day bags for water and food supplies. We were recommended to buy hats and walking sticks, but neither appealed to myself. I’ve tried walking sticks in Scotland and find they are more of a nuisance, happy for my knees and legs to take on the downhill themselves.
Day One is an easy 12k winding though the valleys, giving us time to meet our super friendly group of 16 Trekkers, a mix of Scottish, English, Dutch, Canadian and Australians. We were supported by two guides, Percy and Marcos, and a massive team of 22 porters. These guys are insane, carrying up to 25kg each they race ahead, set up tents and tables for lunch, the chef works utter miracles with gas and a hot stove to ensure we are all fed and watered for the trail ahead. Percy informed us that the porters have a yearly marathon race over the full 42k and the fastest time is an outstanding 3:45, I really need to up my game!
Arriving at the Wayllabamba camp-site, we were greeted by a cringe-worthy applause from the porters, we should be applauding them! The food was once again outstanding, appetisers, soups, hot freshly cooked main courses, deserts… No one went hungry.
Day Two is another 12k and has a bit of a reputation as a killer due to the climbs involved, the peak of the trail at Abra de Huarmihuañusca (Dead Womans Pass) is situated at 4200m, it was a fair climb but no where near as bad as the reputation it held.
During these inclines we broke out the coco leaves purchased from back in Cusco. The leaves are rolled up and placed inside your cheek, slowly sucking on them draws out what seems initially a tobacco-esque flavour, it may well be a placebo but when feeling tired and gasping for breath, taking a bit of Coco really did lift the spirits and after time starts to numb the cheek. These are the same leaves used to make cocaine – though you need a ton of them to get a single gram. Either way we need to use up our limited supplies before going anywhere near the border.
Day Three started with a 03:30 awake call, the superb porters chapped on our tents and handed over a hot cup of coco tea to get us going. This was a the longest day, with 15k of ground to cover, heading through clouds, a small bit of rain – we were so lucky with the weather, staying dry for all the days and only raining overnight. Chef Justino made a birthday cake for Louise, it was a proper iced cake which using some magic he baked on a stove with a pan.
Day Four – 04:30 breakfast before queuing to get on the path to the Sun Gate. Coming over the crest of the mountain this is where you first get to see what was a cloud covered Machu Picchu. In a matter of minutes, the clouds lifted revealing the whole site for all to see in spectacular fashion. From the camp to the site was a 5k walk, giving us the morning to explore and learn about the ruins.
Unfortunately, the 200 limit only applies to the Inca Trail. The nearby town has a train service and bus loads of tourists decend on the site fresh faced and camera happy, totally spoiling what tranquil sites we initially appreciated, feeling smug that we earned our access, I was ready to head to the nearby village.
Leaving the site, we had the afternoon to get lunch, visit the hot springs and get a few drinks before making our way back to Cusco for a well needed shower and comfy bed.
We decided to spend a few more nights in Cusco at the Loki hostel, notorious for its late night drinking and parties it did not disappoint. Flaming ‘Blood Bombs’ and highly alcoholic slush puppies are only going to end in one way.
A final thing we did in Cusco was a chocolate cooking course at the Coco Museum. After a quick history lesson on the roots of Coco and its use in Peru, we got to partake in a speeded up version of the end to end process, making our own chocolates, filling them and collecting the next day for consumption.
There are loads of photos from this part of the trip, the best ones are here on Flickr