Modern Adventures on the Ancient Inca Trail

From the moment Aristo and I heard about the Inca Trail, we knew it was the only way we would ever choose to get to Machu Picchu. There’s an expensive train that runs from town in the morning to get lazy people to MP, but that simply doesn’t compete with nearly 50kms of trekking.

We leave from Cusco a day early to go stay with our head porter in his village, Huayllacocha, and visit the library that the trekking company (Wayki trek) has built for the local children. It is very inspiring to see a company dedicated so thoroughly to giving back to the community. We learn that nearly all the porters and guides are from this town, and many of them work to support families that still live here.

The porter’s wife feeds us a delightful meal centered around (shocker) corn and potatoes. They invite a harpist from town over and we all spend the rest of the night dancing in the little dirt hut until we are too tired to function and fall asleep in our tent.

Day 1: Piscacucho to Wayllabamba

We wake up and set off in the van from Huayllacocha to the head of the trail at Km 82 in Piscacucho. We walk only 12kms today along a relatively flat trail to reach our first camp, so it’s a pleasant first day. Everyone is chattering with excitement, and we are all fresh and ready for the days ahead. It’s annoyingly drizzling rain by afternoon as we pass through the ruins at Llactapata, but clears up by the time we arrive are setting up camp, so we luckily do not have to deal with wet packs or wet bodies. Although, I suppose, we aren’t totally dry either—Aristo and I are covered in sweat and have to strip down and lay on the cool grass before we can be comfortable.

This is luxury hiking like nothing I’ve ever done and that means that our tent is set up for us— all we have to do is unroll our mattresses and sleeping bags. Plus, we have an amazing chef and eat better on the trail than I’ve eaten in a long time, so life is feeling quite good.

  • Distance: 12km
  • Walking Hours: 4-6 hours
  • Low Altitude: 2600m
  • High Altitude: 3000m
  • Campsite Altitude: 3000m

Day 2: Wayllabamba to Pacaymayu

Today is immediately rough. We wake up to rain and it doesn’t let up for the entire day. In fact, it’s still pelting down onto our tent when we finally go to sleep. We walk 16km and climb more than 1200m up to the highest point of the whole trail, Warmiwañuska Pass, more commonly known as Dead Woman’s Pass, and it is an absolute lung-killer at 4215m. After having walked quite leisurely yesterday, we feel like we have something to prove to the group, especially some mum called Stacy who is, no joke, walk-jogging up the train like it’s a career. We are not cool with being shown up by someone with tattooed eyeliner.

Neither of us has a poncho, and our bags may be waterproof, but we find out the hard way that our mattress covers and sleeping bags are not. We’ve got stuff strapped all over our bags like gypsies and every single item outside is soaked through disgustingly. (Stacy has, of course, packed a poncho and is probably dry as a desert.) We find a lady selling ponchos at a rest stop when we are near the top of the pass and we eagerly pay the absurd price, but most of the damage is already done and we go to sleep in a wet sleeping bag tonight.

  • Distance: 16km
  • Walking Hours: 7-8 hours
  • Low Altitude: 3000m
  • High Altitude: 4215m (First Pass – Warmiwañusca)
  • Campsite Altitude: 3000m

Day 3: Pacaymayu to Wiñaywayna

The rain, disappointingly, has not slowed in the night and it’s as wet as ever when we crawl out of the tent at 530am. Today’s 16km has a good portion of steep climbing, but it’s the downhill that really rocks us. The stones are so slick with rain that we are sliding all over the place, trying to keep balance. I’ve got the knees of an 80-year-old, so I’m struggling particularly hard. Once we manage to get into a rhythm, though, we are actually enjoying ourselves.

We even get a break in the rain for some of the afternoon and see probably the most beautiful scenery on the entire mountain. We walk through stone passages and descend little cave staircases, all the while passing through innumerable archaeological sites at Runkuracay, Sayaqmarca, and Conchamarca. The whole thing is getting me really excited for MP tomorrow! We are exhausted when we finally reach camp, but it’s Christmas Eve, so we have a bit of a celebration in the group tent with mulled wine and cake.

  • Distance: 16km
  • Walking Hours: 8-10 hours
  • Low Altitude: 2650m
  • High Altitude: 3900m (Second Pass – Runkuracay)
  • Campsite Altitude: 2650m

Day 4: Wiñaywayna to Machu Picchu

Christmas Day, and what a treat it is! We wake up at 4am to go line up at the entrance to trail to the Sungate. We are only 5km from Machu Picchu and the excitement is tangible in the group. It’s not long before we are walk-jogging along the trail, elbowing slow women out of the way and trampling children (kidding, no children were harmed).

Of course, there are clouds and the entire view from Inti Punku, the Sun Gate, is obstructed, but we hike on and are at Machu Picchu by early morning. We are so tired and dirty that I’d really just like a shower and a nap, but instead we have to walk around for hours in the blazing sun. It’s not until I’m happily sitting on a rock in the shade that I can properly take in where we are.

This is one of the most incredible places we’ve ever seen and the journey here made it 10x more worth it. I mean, can you really enjoy Machu Picchu if you’ve brushed your hair this morning? No. I don’t believe you can.

We had the most amazing experience hiking the Inca Trail, and I think that was due in large part to the company, Wayki Trek, and our sweet little guide, Leno, who was constantly going out of his way to make sure this was the trip of a lifetime. I’m happy to report that it was worth every single penny.

  • Distance: 6km
  • Walking Hours: 3 -4 hours
  • Low Altitude: 2040m
  • High Altitude: 2650m