The Inca Trail is the most popular trekking route in the Country. Not only that it leads to the Wonder of the World - Machu Picchu but it takes you alongside the original route built by Incas themselves and unlike regular hiking paths this trail is lined by many magnificent Inca ruins you can admire on the way.
Planning your trip
Due to its popularity the Peruvian government limits the number of people hiking on the Inca Trail every day through issuing official permits to enter. It is usually a good idea to book your hike a few months in advance as the permits tend to sell out. The only way to obtain these permits is through an official local travel agency. Based on thousands of five star reviews on tripadvisor I choose to book with the Alpaca Expeditions. Unlike some other agencies, they have the possibility to complete the booking and pay your deposit online. Click this link to book your tour with them. (You will always need to pay a deposit together with your booking as the agency needs to purchase your permit in advance. The previous agency I talked to asked me to send the money via Western Union though.)
To avoid waking up super early on the first day of your hike I recommend staying at Ollantaytambo as it is the closest location to the departure point of the Inca Trail. Ollantaytambo is a beautiful Inca village set in the magnificent landscape of the Sacred Valley definitely worth visiting. To fully enjoy the local natural beauty we stayed at Las Qolqas Eco Resort. With their natural spa, beautiful yoga shala and a mountain river passing directly through the property it was a perfect place to fully relax before our hike.
Day 1: Cusco - Piskacucho Km 82 - Llactapata- Ayapata
Alpaca Expeditions car picked us up from our place l in Ollantaytambo at 6:30 and after breakfast we drove straight to the Piskacucho Km 82 where the Inca Trail starts. The first day of the trek is relatively easy as we make our way to our first Inca site - Patallacta. Admiring this stunning view we understand why this trail is so special.
After the lunch break we walk for another two hours until we reach the first campsite located at the elevation of 3300m. We enjoyed a well deserved dinner. I have never experienced better food on a tour than with the Alpaca Expeditions. To my surprise, there were also excellent vegan and gluten free choices. It was hard to believe the chef is able to create such masterpieces with one gas cooker and few saucepans. Apart from your sleeping tents the porters also carry a dining tent, tables and chairs so you can comfortably enjoy every meal.
Day 2: Dead Woman's Pass - Runcuraccay Pass - Chaquiccocha
We woke up before sunrise and got ready to leave as soon as possible. Today is going to be the hardest and longest day of the entire trek. Our guide woke us up with a cup of fresh coca tea. Coca is a great natural remedy against altitude sickness. You can also carry a few leaves in your pocket and chew on them whenever you feel you may need it.
We started with a gradual ascend towards the highest point of the Inca Trail - the Dead Woman’s Pass. With the thinner air breathing was becoming more difficult and so we walked slowly. The fog partially hiding the majestic peaks all around made our views feel so magical. After about three hours we reached the top of the pass at 4015m. And after a short celebration we headed back down to our lunch spot.
After lunch we passed another little Inca site called the Runcu Raccay. The Dead Woman’s Pass got its name because from the distance it resembles a laying woman's body. You can recognise the shape looking towards it from this point. There is one more pass we need to cross before reaching our camp site. The body is tired after the first long ascend and some in our group are really fighting the effects of the altitude. However, at the top we are rewarded by a 360 view of the surrounding landscapes, a spectacle so breathtaking it melts most of the pain away. After the second pass, it’s another hour downhill hike to reach the magnificent Inca site of Sayacmarca from where we watched the sun set over the Vilcabamba mountain range.
Day 3: Chaquiccocha - Wiñaywayna
Day three was my most favourite day of the whole hike. I woke up to breathtaking views of the snow capped peaks in the distance being painted pink by the rising sun. We started with an easy gradual ascend until we entered the jungle, known as the Cloud Forest. As we walked, we had the opportunity to admire the Salkantay, the second highest snow-capped mountain in the Sacred Valley. Upon reaching the last peak at Phuyupatamarka (3600 meters) we had great views overlooking the Urubamba River. On the way down we had the only rain of the entire hike. It lasted for about 5 minutes but created a bright rainbow stretching over the valley. Just a magical icing on the cake of this beautiful day. During the descent, we visited 2 beautiful Inca ruins, Phuyupatamarka (Town in the Clouds) and Intipata (Terraces of the Sun).
Today we were introduced to our entire crew. The Alpaca Expeditions were founded by a former porter and they make sure they treat everyone in the team with dignity. I was very happy to see them provide professional hiking equipment for all their porters. It is heartbreaking to see some wearing flip flops while carrying 30 kgs on their back on a road that was sometimes dangerously slippery even in hiking boots.
After reaching our last campsite we were about to see the Wiñay Wayna - my most favourite Inca site of the entire trek. I actually prefer it to the site of Machu Picchu. Symmetrical terraces caved into the side of a hill, magnificent views of the mountain range and the sound of a giant waterfall in the background. The magic of Wiñay Wayna, which means the Forever Young, is that unlike in Machu Picchu, you climb whatever you want, explore it all by yourself and there are only a few other people there with you. The energy here was so calming and peaceful. Vittorio and I stayed here meditating until the sunset and when we opened our eyes it was just us here and four lamas looking our way.
I am really grateful I decided to hike the full Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. All the effort made the whole visit a thousand times more special and I can't imagine just arriving at the site of Machu Picchu having no idea about the beauty that is all around.
Day 4: Sun Gate - Machu Picchu - The Lost City Of The Incas
Today, the wake up time is at 3:30 AM so we can wait at the checkpoint to be one of the first to start trekking when they open the gates at 5:30 AM. The path is very easy to follow and elevation low allowing us to walk fast to be one of the first ones to get the first glimpses of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. From here it was just one hour down to reach the Lost City of the Incas.
Seeing Machu Picchu in its full glory is really a once in a lifetime experience. Although we've all seen photos of it so many times, it still remains incredibly impressive in real life. However, as spectacular as it was to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World, for me, this was actually the least enjoyable of the four days of the tour. Full of rushing and then waiting in the queue, rushing and queuing again. Queuing to pass checkpoints, controls and entrances. Queuing to take a photo at the best spot, for the toilet, for the bus, for the train. The site is full of rangers watching your every step as there is a long list of things that are not allowed. Doing yoga, jumping or sitting on the floor to list a few. And although lifting other people off the floor was not listed among the forbidden activities, we were asked to delete photos of Vittorio holding me in the air after being spotted by one of the grumpy rangers. (Of course I took them out of the recently deleted folder straight after.) But nevermind all this, Machu Picchu is definitely a must see when visiting Peru. It IS spectacular.
After lunch at Acuas Calientes it was time to say goodbye to our guides. Our main guide Teddy was extremely knowledgeable, speaking perfect English, very chilled and always smiling. Having a good experienced guide always makes a huge difference in the overall experience of the tour.
At 3:20 pm we got on the scenic train to Ollantaytambo and from there we were transported all the way back to Cusco where our trip finished.