Cusco and the Inca Trail
We left Lima early in the morning for a quick one hour flight to Cusco. For most people (us included) the main reason to visit Cusco is that it’s the gateway to visiting Machu Picchu.
We spent two nights in Cusco to help get acclimated to the high altitude of 11152 ft. While Machu Picchu actually sits at a significantly lower elevation than Cucsco at 7972 ft, we would be taking the long road to Machu Picchu through the Inca Trail and would have to climb to an elevation of 13828 ft at Dead Woman’s Pass. We spent one day exploring Cusco and went to Saksaywaman (or for us Gringo’s “Sexy Woman”). This fortified site is a short uphill walk from the historical center of Cusco, offering panorama views over the city. The next morning we were up at 4am to begin our 4 day trek of the Inca Trail.
In order to hike the Inca Trail you must pay a guide. We did a bit of research looking for the best company and decided to go with Sam Travel Peru based on their great reputation. They offer fairly small group sizes at a maximum of eight people. Because it was the height of the rainy season, we ended up with a very small group consisting of us and another couple from Wyoming. What made this hiking trip different than any that we’ve done before is that we had porters. Between the 4 of us we had 10 porters including a highly skilled chef. Witnessing the porters carry the packs up the passes was amazing, they would often run past us as we were barely able to catch our breath. They legally can carry 70 lbs and must pass a check before they can begin the trek, however the porters for Sam Travel Peru carry a maximum of 44 lbs (another reason we preferred this company).
We were all blown away by the food provided to us on the trail. Each meal had multiple courses, all equally tasty–some of the best food we had in Peru. Our guide, Henrry, was awesome and always kept us entertained and made sure that we had a wonderful time. He was also a terrific photographer and wasn’t afraid to tell other people to get the hell out of the way so that he could get a good shot–our fighting Puma. We ended up getting very lucky with the weather and only had to hike in the rain for the first day. After that it mostly rained at night with some light sprinkles here and there during the day.
The first day was relatively easy, however day 2 was rough. We had a steep ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass (13828 ft) and then descended only to have to climb again for two more hours before reaching our camp. Day 3 was significantly easier with us only having to hike for about half a day, and without any major climbs. One of the best parts about hiking the Inca Trail is that as you meander through the trail you are able to explore the numerous Inca sites that are situated amongst it. One of Megan’s favorite sites was a short 10 minute walk from our campsite on day 3: Wiñay Wayna. It was visually so beautiful as it curved around a steep slope offering views of the Urubamba River below.
On day 4 we were ready to reach our destination of Machu Picchu. From the Inca Trail, the opening time is 5:30am and about a 1.5 hour hike to Machu Picchu passing through the Sun Gate. All of the different groups line up quite early under a roof near the entrance. As the weather called for rain, Henrry wanted to ensure that we would have a space under the roof, thus we woke up at 2:30am to be the first in line. It ended up not raining, and Henrry was disappointed that he got us up early for nothing. However, it soon became clear that for no reason whatsoever, there would be a race to the Sun Gate. Since we were the first group in line, we had the advantage. As we neared the entrance to the Sun Gate we thought we were in the clear and would be the first group to view Machu Picchu for the day–we were in fact the first group, but not the first people. One other hiker overtook Markus and I, however, the couple from Wyoming held on and made sure he wasn’t first–woot woot! After all of that trouble, the views from Sungate were covered with clouds, naturally. As we approached Machu Picchu the clouds began to clear and we caught glimpses as the clouds wavered in and out. We were in awe.
Exploring Machu Picchu was a bit more of a headache. The crowds were large and after having hiked the Inca Trail and exploring numerous other Inca sites practically on our own, we were a bit overwhelmed. We also took the steep climb up to Huayna Picchu and enjoyed the amazing view overlooking Machu Picchu.