6 months ago when we were thinking about a trip to Peru, the one thing I really wanted to do was to hike the Inca Trail. For those of you that don't know, the Inca Trail is the walking trail created by the Incas some 500+ years ago to go from Cusco to Machu Picchu. So rather than just take a train all the way Machu Picchu like most people, this past Saturday at 6a we started the 2D/1N "mini-Inca Trail" hike (it's mini because the 4D trek is a little too much for the kids).
The first part of the trek is train ride to KM 104. KM 104 is a little more than 2 hours outside Cusco and isn't an actual train station (we had to give the conductor a special pass for the train to even stop there). Stop is relative because the train barely even comes to a halt long enough for us to get off and as soon as we're clear it moves on leaving us in the middle of nowhere.
No train, no car, no road, no electricity or phones…just nearly 8 miles of walking in front of us to get to Machu Picchu so we strapped our backpacks on, slathered on sun screen and bug repellent, loaded up with water and started walking. Our first stop, only about 10 minutes in, is Chachabamba, a small Inca ruin that was thought to be primarily a guard post for Machu Picchu (since Machu Picchu was primarily reserved for the upper class). After a tour of the ruins, our guide Miguel warned us that the next part of the trail is the hardest. For the next 3 hours, save for a few brief stops to rest and have a snack, we walked up the mountain on our way to a place called Winaywayna.
For those of your familiar with Laguna Beach, picture walking up Park…about 10 times on an unpaved and uneven surface…and that's maybe close to what this was like. On the way, we were able to freshen up at a waterfall:
And the reward for getting to Winaywayna…more stairs straight up! The Incas weren't just incredible engineers, but they must have also been in amazing shape to traverse these trails and steps on a regular basis.
After Winaywayna, we start the more "gentle" path to Machu Picchu. The trail winds through several different climates. At times it's blazing hot as the sun beats down on us, and then the trail turns and we're in the midst of the cool jungle. All the while, we have some of the most amazing views of the canyon and Urabamba river far below, and the mountains that completely surround us:
After another 2 hours of walking, we're in desperate need of a break, but Miguel pushes us on. No rest for the weary until we finally make it to Intipunku, The Sun Gate. Entering the gate provides the very first view of Machu Picchu and only those who take the Inca Trail ever get to see it!
After soaking in the view and catching our breath, and with the sun starting to set, we begin the final hour walk down from Intipunku into Machu Picchu itself. We'll spend the next day touring Machu Picchu in depth, but we stop briefly at the Guardhouse for the signature photo:
The hiking was hard, but the scenery and the experience were amazing…in fact, it's hard to do it justice. Despite sore feet, shoulders and backs, all of us felt such a sense of accomplishment that made the whole experience so worthwhile. But the day wasn't quite over yet. We head to the buses to go into Aguas Calientes to spend the night. The bus takes a winding road down the mountain side with what seems like mere inches from either crashing into the mountain, or toppling off a cliff…but at this point it's nice to be riding and not walking! And once we get into town, what's the best best way to recover from some 7+ hours of walking? How about a natural hot spring (video on flickr)?
After a quick dinner, it's off to bed because we're headed back to Machu Picchu at 6a the next day. I won't bore you with all the details of our tour of the site because I don't think it will come close to doing it justice. Here's a map of the site that might help, but all I can really say is that it truly is one of the 8 wonders of the world:
If you're interested, you can check out the 300+ photos and videos of both the Inca Trail and the next day's tour of Machu Picchu on Flickr. There's also photos/videos of our hike to the Inca Bridge, which is a treacherous trail that extends on the back side of Machu Picchu mountain. ENJOY!!!