The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

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March 23rd 2008
Published: March 28th 2008
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Machu PicchuMachu PicchuMachu Picchu

the classic postcard shot
Our Inca Trail journey started off a little bit late. I was to be picked up at my hostel between 4:30 and 5am, but our guide Alex didn't actually show up until almost 5:30. Not really a big deal but had I known, I could've used the extra sleep. Thankfully, this was not an indication of how the trip would progress.

On our trek we have a guide, Alex, and 7 gringo tourists as well as 11 porters and a chef (who is also the head porter). The porters have the unenviable task of carrying bags of clothes, food, tents, sleeping bags, water you name it!! Their job is to run up the trail ahead of us, set up two tents (one for cooking and one for us to dine in) for lunch, cook, serve, clean up and run ahead to our night camp, set up our tents, cook etc. I was the only one in our group that was actually carrying my own stuff! ... but I managed to take all the clothes I needed in a relatively small bag, so it wasn't a huge problem.


The Inca Trail is the name given to
On the way to the Inca TrailOn the way to the Inca TrailOn the way to the Inca Trail

The clouds were below us as we travelled enroute to the Inca Trail
a walking route that partially follows the course of an ancient Inca roadway leading to the city of Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail winds along paths through the Andes, some of which are still paved, to altitudes of over 4,000m. The Inca Trail’s ultimate destination is the mystical Machu Picchu, known as the 'Lost City of the Incas'. Machu Picchu lay undiscovered for hundreds of years after the last of the Incas left, until Hiram Bingham rediscovered it in 1911. Much of the city of Machu Picchu is still intact apart from the straw roofs that have rotted away, and is a maze of plazas and palaces, long staircases carved out of solid rock and terraces that go right to the edge of the sheer cliffs.


The first day of the trail is regarded as EASY. We trek along clay paths and view one small Inca ruin, before we stop off for lunch. Our porters are good - they blasted ahead of us and had a three course lunch prepared. Our group was very impressed.

We trek on for the remainder of the afternoon and set up camp in Tres Piedras

I found the macro setting on my new camera, so I've been taking a lot of extreme close-up photos lately.
(Three White Stones) at about 5pm. We are treated to popcorn on arrival and we get introductions to all of our porters and our chef and lead porter Cesar. Another impressive 3 course meal is presented at 7pm. The quality and presentation of the food is phenomenal.

We sleep reasonably comfortably in our four-man tents, though it rained during the night and it was a bit chilly.


We are awoken this morning at 5:30am by the porters and are presented with a hot cup of coffee ... mmmmm, coffee!!

After a huge breakfast of porridge, pancakes, bread rolls we set off for what is referred to as the HARDEST day at about 7am. The second day features the first major ascent of the trek. We follow the Llulluchampa valley up to the treeless puna and on to Abra de warmi wañusca at 4215 metres (Dead Woman´s Pass). From here we descend for lunch in the Paqaymayu valley (3700metres), nearby ruins of Runkurakay.

Abra de warmi wañusca is known as Dead Woman´s Pass due to its resemblence of a dead woman lying across the mountain! It required a bit
And our trek beginsAnd our trek beginsAnd our trek begins

This is our group of trekkers. From left to right there's Joanne from Australia, Naomi from England, Sian from Wales, Alan from Australia, Laura and Mattieu from Montreal, and me.
of imagination to see this, but it was possible to see the resemblance.

We climb approx 900 meters (vertical) uphill to Dead Woman´s Pass and from there we commence our downhill trek of approx 500 m.

During the trek we travel through a "Dwarf rainforest" upwards along the large inca stone steps until we stop for a snack. Next we climb for about 1 1/2 hours until we reach Dead womans pass. The last part of this climb was excruciating but Mattieu and I powered on at the finish and arrived in reasonable time. From here we have a fantastic view of the valley below and are almost on a level with the snow capped mountains.

Then the not so easy but very welcome descent of approx 500 m. It was extremely cold on this side of the mountain and it started to rain as well. Most of us made it to our lunch spot at Paqaymayu before the heavy rains started.

After lunch we crossed the second pass (3950 metres) and descended through lush cloud forest on a paved Inca pathway past the ruins of Sayaqmarka and Concha Marca. Our climb up to the 2nd pass was about 400 m which was almost as difficult as the morning climb since our muscles are sore. Another ~400m descent and we arrive at our campsite very tired but happy to be there at last. Today was a very long and difficult day. The second nite of the trail is extremely cold due to the altitude, so I bundled up in virtually every article of clothing I had with me, and I made it through the night OK ... but it was still a little bit chilly and damp (as it rained practically all night).


Todays hike is no where near as tough as yesterdays! We set off at 7:30 am and climb up and downhill but mostly downhill (1000m decrease in elevation by the end of the day), in all we travel approximately 12km.

Day 3 of the trail is a very interesting day. The Trail is a paradise for botanists and birdwatchers due to the rapid succession of ecological and climatic zones which are crossed. There are several species of hummingbirds that can be found along the trail, and you may be lucky enough to spot
our portersour portersour porters

all 12 of our porters, ahead of us on the trail
some of the high Andean birds such as striated caracaras, puna hawks, Andean kestrels, black chested buzzard eagles and sometimes Andean condors. It is also possible to see some of the 60 species of orchid which are found in the area. We even see a strange white worm, which when squashed, releases much blood. These worms are commonly found on the cactii in the area. There are used to produce make up, food colourings etc.

We continued along to the third pass at Phuyupatamarka (3670). An awesome ruins just below here in the shape of a pyramid. A long chain of inca baths is one of the most amazing sites. We didn't spend much time here as the rain forced us to carry on to lower elevation.

We took an optional extra to visit another ruin, Wiñay Wayna, slightly off the beaten path. This place was absolutely spectacular. We spend some time here and listen to Alex tell many interesting stories about this site. We make it back to camp on time to go and see another ruins before our dinner!

Well, we hurried and were well impressed with what we found. It appeared to have been
1st Inca site1st Inca site1st Inca site

the first of many Inca sites we'll see along the way
a farming community. It consisted of about 6-8 houses at the top (probably for the workers) of the structure and about 40-50 levels of terracing beneath. A few more buildings stood below - more important dwellings and some kind of checkpoint.

Before dinner we travel downhill for five mins until we discover the well hidden Intipata ruins. Spectacular! Its hard to believe that despite their proximity to Machu Picchu they were not discovered until 1941 (30 yrs after MP).

After dinner we treat our porters and guides to a beer. Bed at 8.30 for our 4am start tomorrow!!!

THE INCA TRAIL - DAY 4 - the race to the Sun Gate and MACHU PICCHU

We are woken at 4am and given a rushed breakfast before we make a dramatic descent via an ancient stairway to the spectacular site of Huinay Huayna then along the final section of trail to the Inti Punku (Sun Gate). Mattieu and I are the 6th and 7th to arrive at the sun gate for the famous sun rise. Not bad to come in 7th most of the 200+ people making the trek this day!

From the sun gate, we

some Llama's coming the other way down the trail
finally feast our eyes on the stunning Lost City of Machu Picchu spread out below. We wait for the famous sun-rise, but it's somewhat cloudy so it doesn't really happen. The sun does come out as we descend toward the lost city. We explore the famous ruins with Alex. He´s an excellent guide and seems to have a tremendous passion for the Inca´s. He lectures us for 3 hours in his broken english in the heat!!! It's clear that he used to be a teacher (secondary school apparently).

We have a bit of free time while Alex sorts out our train tickets in the village below. After about an hour I'm absolutely exhausted from the previous days. Next we take a bus a further 400 metres downhill to the railtrack town of Aguas Calientes. A very quaint little place where the main street is actually the railway track. We have a huge pizza for lunch and then take the train back to Cusco where I prepare for my night bus to Copacabana, Bolivia. Long Day.

Note: don't forget to check-out the 2nd page of photos in this entry, there's some really good ones in there.

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 28


a gourmet dinnera gourmet dinner
a gourmet dinner

our lunches and dinners were absolutely amazing. Cesar (our chef) did an unbelievable job given the conditions he had to prepare the meals.
us at the topus at the top
us at the top

this is the top of the highest pass on the 2nd day, 4215 meters above sea level
rain gearrain gear
rain gear

it rained on day 2 and day 3, this is a nice contrast between the well prepared Joanne and the unprepared bag-lady Sian :)

me, at another Inca site
the obligatory rock shotthe obligatory rock shot
the obligatory rock shot

I think there's some quartz in there, really, this shot is for Ann

I noticed many of the stones used along the Inca Trail were actually fossils.

28th March 2008

Hi Gerry, So how does this rate amongst the most amazing things to see in the world? For me it's still #1. ...Eric
29th March 2008

Your notes brought back great memories. This is really a fantastic trek to do and hopefully is a trip highlight. You've got some great photos!!!!
30th March 2008

Yes, it´s definitely up there. If it isn´t number 1 then it´s pretty close, I haven´t had time to think about it yet. I´m in Uyuni right now and I´m about to head off to the Salaar in about 45 minutes. More amazing sights to see!!!
1st April 2008

Very cool trek...we love the forest shots. It's all so surreal looking, so old. Any neat wild animals around?
1st April 2008

The Inca Trail
I didn´t see that many wild animals ... mostly little rabbits and birds of all sorts ... and Llamas, horses and donkeys on the first day.
4th April 2008

Lares Trek
hey gerry, have you heard anything about the Lares Trek up to Machu Piccu and any comment on how it's different, cuz i'm planning to go in the summer and the mail trail permits are all gone.
4th April 2008

Lares Trek
I have heard of the Lares Trek but I´m not exactly sure which one it is. Is it a 4 day trek, or a 5 day? In any case, if all of the ¨Inca Trail¨ treks are booked the major difference is that you´ll likely end up hiking to Aguas Calientes (which is a town near Machu Picchu) and then hiking up to Machu Picchu the following day (or taking a bus). On the Inca Trail treks you hike down to Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate early early in the morning.

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