When my friend Malissa first started planning a trip to Peru, I jumped on board pretty quickly. I couldn’t wait to go to Machu Picchu, drink Pisco Sours, see Cusco, and just do all of the fun things that I’ve read about. Then she told me we were going to hike/camp the Inca Trail for four days to get to Machu Picchu and I was like…huh? But I’m so so glad that I joined the hike, which was a little out of my comfort zone.
The whole experience is truly amazing – you hike through different microclimates and pass through endless Incan ruins.
Before the trail, we stayed in Cusco for 3 days to get acclimated to the altitude. I was fine for the most part, but could definitely feel the change in the air. Cusco is a really vibrant, unique city. I feel like I didn’t get enough time there and would really like to go back.
DAY 0 – Night before the trail
We went with a tour group called SAS Travel, since they were one of the top-rated tour operators on TripAdvisor. I didn’t realize this, but you can’t get on the trail without a tour operator who has a government-issued permit to hike the trail.
The night before we went, we met our tour guides at SAS headquarters, and talked through dos and don’ts for the trail. We also made our final payment and coordinated our sleeping bags if we were renting them. The guides brought our bags that the porters would carry, where we could put our sleeping bags and a few personal items. I split a porter bag with another girl on our trip because I didn’t feel like paying for the whole thing (I think it cost around $100). Since we shared one, we each could only fit our sleeping bags. I just carried everything else in my backpack and it wasn’t that bad. They also suggested we rent walking sticks, which everyone in our group did. I kind of found them annoying to carry around when I wasn’t using them.
A bus picked us up around 5:00am with our tour guides and about 9 porters. It took about 1.5-2 hours to get to a house where some locals cooked us a breakfast. They had a little store in front where they sold things like ponchos, water, snacks, coca leaves (for energy and altitude sickness) and SPF. I ended up buying more sun screen, and a poncho.
When we got to area where the trail started, there were multiple tour groups preparing. Before we got on the trail, we showed our passports and got our permits to begin the hike. The porters ran ahead of us to set up lunch.
The first day is known as the “easiest” but it’s still very tiring. We hiked for over 7 hours throughout the day on paths that got more elevated along the way. We passed by a few ancient ruins, where the tour guides stopped and give us the history.
When we reached our first site for lunch, the porters had already set up a tent for us to eat in. I was really surprised by how intricate the meal was! I remember something like ceviche, chicken, rice, AND desert. The location was stunning, it was in the middle of the mountains overlooking a valley. After a quick rest and water refill, we continued on the trail until dinner. The porters boiled water for us throughout the trip to drink.
We continued on our hike for another few hours until we reached the campsite. The porters had set up the tents and were already getting dinner ready. Once again, it was a beautiful view. The family that hosted the campsite on their land were selling beer and water, and there was a shower. This would be the last place on the trail where we could buy anything.
After dinner, we headed in to our tents to sleep. I wish I brought flip flops or something because I only had my hiking boots and it was a pain to wear them everywhere after sweating in them all day. I also should have brought a head lamp, but I just used my phone to get around in the dark.
I had read a lot about the trail being freezing at night, and was advised to bring layers. It was pretty chilly, but I was never uncomfortably cold.
That night, it was POURING rain and I was woken up two or three times by thunder and lighting. I was seriously afraid that our tent would blow away in to the mountains or something – obviously that didn’t happen.
5AM wake-up call! The porters woke us up very peacefully with coca tea, which is highly caffeinated and meant to help with altitude sickness. I don’t know if it helped, but it was nice to have a warm drink in the morning. After getting ready and packing up our bags, we sat down for an oatmeal breakfast and hit the trail again. Everyone told us that the 2nd day would be the most challenging because of “Dead Woman’s Pass,” a high-altitude trail that reaches the highest point of the hike.
We spent the first half of the day going up and down stairs – so many stairs! We had lunch early, around 10:30 AM, and kept going from there. Finally, we reached Dead Women’s Pass. It honestly was really challenging, especially because of the altitude – I had to keep stopping to catch my breath, which was fine because it gave me a minute to really appreciate how beautiful the scenery was. Alpacas were everywhere scaling the mountains. Once we got to the top, we stayed up there for a while to rest and admire the view. This was the highest point of our hike, and we were literally in the clouds!
We spent a while up at the top waiting for the rest of the group, and the remainder of the day was spent walking down the other side. It started pouring rain which was kind of miserable, and I actually slipped a few times. When we reached the campsite it was already dark, and I took out my cell phone again while everyone put on their headlamps. This camp site was much larger than the camp from the night before, there were rows and rows of tents, and one terrifying bathroom that you had to cross a miniature bride to get to. We ate dinner and headed to bed pretty quickly since we were all exhausted. It felt good to complete the “hardest” day, but we still had a whole day to go.
Related Post : Hiking Inca Trail – Day 3