Another bucket list item complete! Neither of us are hikers by any means; in fact, neither of us have properly hiked prior to the Inca Trail, so we weren’t 100% sure what we were in for. Reaching Machu Picchu, in one piece and happy felt like a real achievement. Was it hard? At times, absolutely. Did we want to quit once or twice? Ah, yes especially when there was a torrential downpour in your eyeballs! However, the scenery, the guide and the pure determination to reach that sign that read “Welcome to Machu Picchu” kept us going.
Our bags were packed, our socks were on, the poles were ready, it was time to tackle this hike!
Where it all began
Acclimatizing to the altitude was one of the biggest pieces of advice anyone gave us. The most common city to spend a couple of days before the hike is in Cusco. Cusco is located 80km from Machu Picchu. If hiking the trail isn’t an option for you, there are many other options for visiting Machu Picchu. Check out this detailed post on the various ways to reach Machu Picchu.
Cusco was a really cool city and we really liked it. It had a lot of character, a large selection of restaurants surrounding the main plaza, stunning churches and of course the beautiful indigenous people that make up the city.
We recommend staying in Cusco for at least 2 days prior to the hike, altitude sickness is no joke and it’s not fun when you can’t breathe! It has no reflection on someone’s fitness level and can easily affect anyone of any shape or size. It doesn’t discriminate.
When to hike the Inca Trail
Machu Picchu is open all year round so there is ample opportunity to visit the magnificent site however the seasons will change the type of visit you have immensely.
The Inca trail is closed in February but Machu Picchu remains open accessible by bus, train or car. It is simply too wet to hike in February and they use this time to clean up the trail.
- High Season + dry season runs from June /July /August/ and the crowds will be in full force. You must book your Inca Trail permit at least 4 months in advance to guarantee a permit over this busy period.
- Low season + rainy season runs from November/December/January. Fewer people at Machu Picchu but you have to be prepared to conquer the rain at times.
- Best time- Either side of the region’s dry season i.e. May and October as there are fewer crowds and much drier weather conditions.
It all comes down to what you prefer, rainy and fewer crowds or crowds and sunshine?
The Green Machine
We took our trek with Alpaca Expeditions and we couldn’t have been happier with our choice. They were 100% spot on with everything. Start to finish, we couldn’t tell you a single complaint. It’s no wonder they are rated #1 on Trip Advisor.
Each company has porters that wear a colour to represent their company and our team wore bright green. It made them easy to spot even from a far distance. Words cannot describe how unbelievable these guys are, they were just like little elves. We had a ratio of 2 porters per 1 so we felt like royalty and weren’t expecting that at all. They carried the tents, sleeping bags, pillows, food, portable toilet, supplies & 7kg of our stuff.
Before we reached each campsite they had set up our tents, made our beds, started the next meal prep, created our hand washing basins, and set the meal table. They always left camp after us but every time, ran past to get to the next camp before we arrived. With such a difficult job, they never once stopped smiling and always clapped us as we approached camp.
Our Inca Trail Packing List
- #1: Proper merino woollen socks. As gross as it sounds, one pair should be enough for your entire trek if you get proper ones. Two if just one pair creeps you out. Do not bother with cotton socks. Your feet will be miserable if you get your feet wet and during the November/December/January months, it’s inevitable.
- Waterproof jacket
- Waterproof pants
- Yoga pants/sweatpants
- 2 long sleeve shirts
- Scarf or headband
- 3 T-Shirts
- Sport shorts
- Hiking shoes
- Head Lamp
- First Aid – Hand sanitizer, tissues, band-aids, ibuprofen/nurofeon (helps with sore muscles), bug spray & sunscreen, lip cream, baby wipes (ahhhhmazing form of a shower when you can’t shower for 4 days!)
- Snacks – Don’t over pack snacks, we were fed outrageous amounts of food and barely needed our snacks.
- Camera (Duh!)
- Water bottle
- Battery Pack for our phones, photo after photo drains the battery so fast
- Positive energy!
Note: If you don’t have waterproof gear/hiking shoes or don’t want to spend the money buying them for a short period, do what we did and rent them. There are many places in Cusco where you can rent your gear and for inexpensive prices. Speedy Gonzales was where we rented ours and they had good value prices.
Can we just start by saying one of the most exciting parts of this 4 days was realizing they gave us Milo every morning and afternoon. Milo! We love Milo and haven’t had it for ages! It’s a malted chocolate powder for those not in the know.
Pictures and words cannot describe what this was like for us. You can tell someone numerous times how beautiful the scenery is or how high you climbed but until you can experience it yourself, it really doesn’t do it justice. Out of the 4 days and the 45km, day number 2 was by far the hardest.
We hiked for 8-9 hours over 16-17km of terrain. This was also the coldest and rainiest day of the 4. I think I asked myself about 10 times through the day “Why the heck are you doing this, this is stupid, I want to go home”! but for every negative thought, I kept looking forward and climbed one stair at a time until we go to the top of the ‘Dead Women’s pass’ (see second photo below).
What made it harder was the added rain. You could barely see where you were going, the rocks were slippery & ponchos were flying in your face as you were walking down the vertical and flooded stairs. Once the rain passed and the poncho went away it was more enjoyable. The sun came out and so did the smiles.
I guess looking back, the rain added to the adventure and after all, it was the rainy season! We crashed into bed at 8:00 pm that night and slept right through till wake up at 6:00 am the following morning. The following 2 days felt like a breeze with a mix of up and down hills.
Reaching the Highest Point of the Trek
Dead Women’s Pass was the highest point that we reached of the 4 days and boy did we feel it. It was the never-ending uphill battle. Each corner we turned were another million steps. It felt like we were walking directly into the clouds. Once we reached the top, we had walked to a total altitude of 13799 feet / 4200m above sea level. Yet again, spectacular views down below! Victory Jump!
Christmas Day on the Inca Trail
This will be a Christmas we will never forget. Although Santa didn’t quite make it to our tent (he must have missed out on getting his permit), Christmas was just as perfect and a definite change from the Sydney or NYC Christmas’ we’ve had in the past.
Our porters woke us with hot chocolate and set up breakfast with tinsel & balloons. We had vegetable omelettes, pancakes, fruit salad and traditional Peruvian Christmas cake. We were stuffed before we even started our day! Luckily, Christmas was on day 3 and this was considered the easiest of the days. We had a lot of downhill walking and many stops at various Inca sites. We reached camp by lunch and were able to relax the rest of the afternoon.
For Christmas dinner, they baked us a cake that said: “Welcome to Machu Picchu”. How it was cooked on a stove top, we have no idea but it was quite the treat.
We made it to Machu Picchu!
Halleluiah! When we first arrived it was completely covered in fog. Great, we’ve walked for 4 days to stare into the clouds. You can only imagine the disappointment we felt, to begin with, but shortly after the clouds started to clear, the 7th Wonder of the World appeared before our eyes and it made the last 4 days were so worth it. The clouds made Machu Picchu look that little bit mystical and we almost think we preferred it this way than seeing it with clear blue skies.
In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Huayna Picchu is the towering mountain behind the actual site of Machu Picchu and once on the top, you have the most spectacular view of down below. From a distance, it looks unclimbable. They only release 400 tickets a day to climb this mountain so you have to pre-book this before arriving.
This mountain was SO STEEP! At times, ropes were needed to help pull you to the next step.
Before heading up we could barely see the mountain, it was so covered in fog but we took our chances and up we went. Once we got to the top, to our luck, the clouds cleared for about 5 minutes, enough to take a picture but then soon after the whole site would be covered in the fog again.
Jacob’s birthday was directly after the trek so I surprised him a hotel upgrade at Tierra Viva Cusco Plaza (instead of a 6-bed dorm at a hostel) and a morning at Inca Spa. Hot thermal baths and massages. Yes, please! The full body massage was the best we’ve ever had & it was exactly what our sore broken bodies required. He loved the surprise and I clearly didn’t mind it too!
This is something we’ve both wanted to do together and it’s definitely something we won’t forget. Believe us when we say if you have the time it is absolutely worth every penny & every sore muscle to complete the trek. You won’t regret it!
Married days survived; 293