I first remember learning about Machu Picchu in my fourth-grade history class when we were covering South America and the Incas. In my mind, I still can see the black and white photo on the glossy textbook page of the American explorer Hiram Bingham when he stumbled across it in the early 1900’s. It was one of the most visually intriguing landscapes to me, at that time, and I always dreamt of hiking the Inca Trail to see it in person. After years of dreaming and months of planning, I finally was able to complete the trek. And I even made it through without retreating up into a ball of defeat and rolling myself down a cliff!
It is probably one of the world’s most recognizable and instagramable landmarks, but it still takes your breath away when you actually lay eyes on it in real life. Macchu Picchu, as that is nearly 14,000 ft., whose altitude can literally take your breath away. In total it was four days hiking through brutal altitude and stunning panoramas towards an unmatched final destination: the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. This spiritual journey really helped me understand the culture of the Incas and the archeological legacy they left behind. From the compasses, temples, and residences to the agriculture and water management systems, you realize how much time ancient civilizations spent working with mother nature and the cosmos.
The classic 4-day Inca trail is 26 miles in length and involves 7-9 miles of moderate to strenuous hiking every day. In my experience, the second and fourth days were the hardest. The second day is when you summit Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,000 ft. The fourth day you awaken at 3:30 am to jog to the Sun Gate in both excitement and exhaustion. The exhilaration and thrill of having made it past the Sun Gate is an unforgettable feeling. The views along the hike are gorgeous, mist-capped Andes mountains on either side, lush tropical greenery, fantastic orchids and flowering plants all alongside the trail. You also camp in remote cloud forests allowing you to see panoramic views and all the stars in the sky. The weather on the trail is unpredictable. It will be sunny one minute and then the clouds roll in the next and it starts pouring down rain. Luckily, I was prepared by dressing in layers and rain gear.
One of my favorite parts of hiking the trail versus taking the train directly to the site is that you pass several lesser known ruins along the way. En route to Machu Picchu, you’ll pass sites like Q’entimarka, Sayaqmarka, Phuyupatamarca, and Wiñay Wayna. What also really stood out to me was the incredible flora and fauna, passing through several distinct ecosystems as you ascend to high mountain passes, and into deep tropical valleys. On the route, you will pass many llamas, owned by the government, that keep the grass well manicured.
I highly recommend booking the Alpaca Expeditions 4-day trek. First of all, the meals we had along the way simply blew me away in complexity and quality. I felt an immense sense of gratitude for the porters carrying everything from the stools to the tablecloths to our tents for four full days all with smiles on their faces. There were times the fog was so thick we could see only a few steps ahead, my fingers were going numb from the cold, and my heart and lungs were begging for mercy, but the guides supported you through the entire journey and their hilarious jokes kept you laughing and comforted.