The Inca Trail is probably one of the most famous and exclusive hiking trails in the world. 40km and 4 days hiking on the Inca Trail bring you to Machu Picchu. The Sun Gate is your entrance to Machu Picchu in the morning of the last day.
If you want to hike the Inca Trail, you need to book early, about 6 months in advance. Hiking the Inca Trail on short notice is impossible. Only 500 people per day are allowed to start the Inca Trail. Half of them are guides, porters and cooks. The hike is not cheap and you should plan on spending some extra money for tips.
Whether you need a big backpack or a small one is up to the way you manage the track. You can book porters who will take some of your stuff for an expensive extra charge, then a daypack is sufficient. Why does it cost so much? On the Inca Trail vehicles are not allowed and also no pack animals. This means that everything has to be carried. Also the tents are not allowed to stay on the campground, so they have to be carried on the tour as well. As well as the food and the kitchen. And while you are having a hard time walking the trail with your 15kg on your back, in a modern padded backpack, the porters are running with 40kg on their backs in slippers.
We have carried our own stuff ourselves. If you have a little more luggage, of course you can take your big backpack, as these are usually better to carry.
In the backpack we had new clothes for 4 days, sleeping mat and sleeping bag, a lot of water, sun cream, insect spray (very useful), toothbrush and deodorant, toilet paper (on the toilets on the way there is no toilet paper, so pack it up). The thick jacket, because while you can walk in a t-shirt during the day, it can be 0°C at night. A few energy bars and of course camera, memory cards, batteries and a power bank should not be missing. You won’t have any power on the way, so get something to charge your batteries via USB. You don’t want to arrive in Machu Picchu with empty batteries. And there is also a lot to see on the way.
For us the trail started on day 1 in the middle of the night. We were picked up in Cusco and brought to the starting point. Meanwhile the sun had risen and the hike could start with our big backpacks. The first day was very pleasant. We saw the first Inca ruins, the path was not too steep and the length of the tour was also ok.
At night we had a fantastic view on the night sky, because we were in the middle of nowhere, far away from any light. Happy and satisfied we went to sleep after a great dinner. The cook made fantastic food for us every day, even though everything had to be carried along the whole time. Many restaurant can take a leaf out of his book.
Day two was cruel. We started early in the morning and hiked uphill for hours. From about 3000m altitude, we hiked to the highest point of the trail at 4200m. There was not much to see on the way. And more than 1000 meters of height, at an altitude where it is harder to breathe anyway. With the whole luggage on the back it was really hard. I cursed and nagged – Why did I choose this stupid track and did not take the bus like a normal person and payed a lot of money for it, what a stupid idea…
After we arrived at the highest point we took a few pictures. We went 600m down again on the other side then. I was glad to have my walking sticks, up and down, I don’t know if I had survived otherwise. So day 2 was over, we were dead and the motivation was not the best anymore.
And here one became again conscious what a performance it is from the porters, who walk the distance with 3 times the weight. You start early in the morning, then the porters pack the tent, overtake you on the track. Waiting for you on the way at lunchtime, where the food is already waiting for you. You go on after lunch, while cook and porters take care of the dishes, then run past you again on the way. And when you arrive at your destination at the end of the day, the tents are already set up, so that you can fall down half dead.
On day 3, we went straight uphill again in the morning. But after that we were really rewarded that day. Several old Inca sites, a great landscape, an interesting path and great views. Day 3 compensated for everything. The trail was relatively long, but since there was not so much uphill and there was so much to see, it was much more pleasant.
In the evening we already said goodbye to our porters because the last part to Machu Pichu will be only with the guide.
The next morning we went to the last station, to Machu Picchu. We did not quite understand the concept for the morning. The last checkpoint of the Inca Trail towards Macchu Picchu opens early at 5am, but from 3am on the people are queuing at the gate. At least we were not the first, but we were in the middle of the field and at least 1h before the gate opens and then we had to wait. Since the number of people is limited, the sense is not quite clear to me. At 5 o’clock it finally started. We started quickly and overtook almost all the people in front of us and were one of the first at the sun gate.
What a great moment, we made it and can finally see Machu Picchu. While some groups went already further to Machu Picchu, we conviced our guide to stay at the sun gate. So we were able to take pictures of how the sun slowly illuminated the old Inca cities with light.
In the end I survived the Inca Trail and it was a great feeling. Even though I cursed over day 2, it just belongs to it and it stays in my memory. In the end I have no regrets and I am glad that we went the way we did. It was a fantastic experience.
Everything else about Machu Picchu is on an extra page.