Drink Wild Air

Sacred Valley, Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

The evening before we left for the tour, we had  a briefing session to let us know what to expect and what to pack.  We were also given duffle bags to pack out stuff into which they porters would carry.  We were allowed to take up to 6kg each including our sleeping bags.

Our group for the next 5 days consisted of 10 of us – 8 girls and 2 guys, 9 Aussies and 1 English.

Sacred Valley

Pisac

Pisac

We were picked up at about 7am and drove up to Saqsayhuamañ which are Inca ruins situated at the top of Cusco (the head of the puma if you believe Cusco is shaped like a puma – it’s not). Saqsayhuamañ is a walled complex made of large polished dry stone walls, with boulders that fit together tightly without mortar.

We then drove to Sacred Valley where we had a photo stop at the top of the Valley before continuing on to Pisac.  The Inca constructed agricultural terraces on the steep hillside which are incredible.  They apparently created the terraces by hauling topsoil up by hand from the lower lands. The terraces enabled the production of food, more than would normally be possible at the altitude.

It just started to rain as we left Pisac and it continued through the drive to lunch.  It was about an hour drive so we all had a nap.  Lunch was a lot better than what we  were expecting.  It was a buffet and we all pretty much stuffed ourselves.

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

After lunch we continued on to Ollantaytambo where we once again explored the ruins.  During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region, built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance.  We could see how far they moved the rocks from the quarry which was incredible – it always amazes me what slavery can achieve.

We spent the night in Ollantaytambo at quite a nice hotel.  We were wondering if they were trying to make up for things to come…

Inca Trail

We were picked up from Ollantaytambo at about 9am and drove to our starting point where we met our porters.  For the trek we had 2 guides with us, Yamil and Percy (aka Puma).  They were lovely (if just a little bit sleazy), patient and informative.

with the Porters

with the Porters

For our group of 10 passengers and 2 guides we had 15 porters (this included the chef).  They are all farmers from small communities in the Valley and do this for extra money.  Our youngest porter was 22 years old and the eldest was 66.  They are an incredible group of people who are so sweet.  Our porters were allowed to carry up to 24kg each and it was quite amusing to see them dish out things like potatoes and onions to make sure they all had the correct weight.  At first I was a  little surprised we had so many porters but when you actually see all the gear it makes sense… duffles, tents, stools, cooking equipment including the gas bottle, utensils, food etc.

After meeting our porters and getting all our gear sorted we set off for the check point and railroad K82 (2,700m).

Day 1 hike Piscaycucho to Wayllabamba (12km)

Inca Trail (day 1)

Inca Trail (day 1)

Today’s hike was pretty straight forward and not too difficult.  The terrain was undulating – a bit up, a bit down, a bit flat, not too steep.

Just before the lunch stop it started to rain lightly.  Lucky for us the porters had already set up the dinner tent by the time we arrived so we had shelter.  It rained heavier while we had lunch but it had stopped before we started walking again.

We walked a total of about 4 hours today to make it to the first camp (3,000m).  Once again the porters already had our tents set up by the time we arrived so we were able to dump our stuff straight away and get changed.  Although it’s quite warm during the day it’s pretty dam cold at night.  While we were getting changed into our night clothes the porters bought around some bowls of hot water so we could freshen up.  It made the wet wipe shower a little nicer!

We got snacks and hot chocolate in the early evening before dinner.  I had a small bottle of run with me which made the hot chocolate taste a lot better 🙂  The food was so much better than what I was expecting.  For each meal we had soup and a main and also got dessert after dinner.  They served up the meals as a buffet style so we could eat as little or as much as we wanted.  There was always plenty of food.

After dinner we had an early night so we could get some sleep before the dreaded day 2.

Day 2 hike Wayllabamba to Pacaymayo (11km)

Inca Trail (day 2)

Inca Trail (day 2)

Whilst day 1 was the group walking together, day 2 was very much walk at your own pace and we’ll see you at camp at the end of the day.  We started off the hike at about 6.30am after breakfast. The hike was broken up into 3 section of uphill followed by 1 downhill.  Someone told me after that it’s known as the gringo killer which pretty much sums it up nicely.  Because I twisted the ligaments in my right knee during the Cola Canyon trek, by the time I finished the first 2 sections I was in a fair amount of pain.  The hike is basically all steps uphill.

I was the last person from our group which I was completely ok with.  It meant that I had the guides

Inca Trail (day 2) - view from Dead Woman's pass

Inca Trail (day 2) – view from Dead Woman’s pass

at the back with me and they would point stuff out along the way, or run up ahead and have a nap while they waited for me!  During the last section there was a llama on the track.  I tried to make friends with him in hope that he would want to carry me up the hill but he didn’t!  I don’t think he would have taken my weight anyway.

Warminwanusca or Dead Woman’s pass (4,215m) was the highest we point we reached during the entire trek.  The altitude actually didn’t really affect me for the climb because I’ve been at around this level for a few weeks.  I actually found it easier to breathe the higher we got as the air was cooler – it was just my legs that were fatigued after walking uphill for 6 hours straight.

Once you reach Dead Woman’s pass, it is all downhill from there.  Yamil told me that it would take me a minimum of 2 hours to get down to camp as I walk slow.  However I find downhill much easier on thee knees and lungs so it only took me 1hr 20mins.  The hiking poles took most of my weight which makes it easier and a lot faster to get down.  I didn’t realise it at the time but the guides have a bit of a bet going to see who will have the last person into camp.  It wasn’t me – I was overtaking people on the way down.  🙂

Because I was slower than the rest of the group, Yamil, Percy and I missed out on being rained on. The rest of the group thought we were being sarcastic when we asked about the rain but we genuinely hadn’t seen it rain at all.  The rest of the group had also almost finished lunch by the time I got to camp.  That meant that I had lunch with the guides and the porters after I cleaned up. It was hilarious.  The porters all speak Quechuan with only a little Spanish so I had to have Yamil translate everything but they were lovely.  Apparently I am the tallest girl they have seen!

The guides and porters like having mostly girls in their groups as we don’t eat as much as a group of boys and they get the leftovers.  The porters all eat the same as us but then they a second meal consisting of rice and something like pasta or beans etc.  They do this after breakfast, lunch and dinner.  But they do need the energy to get along trail carrying 24kg.  They also don’t have snacks along the way like we did.

Day 3 hike Pacaymayo to Machu Picchu (22km)

Inca Trail (day 3)

Inca Trail (day 3)

Today we were the first group out of camp at 6am.  The hike today was much more pleasant than yesterday and really enjoyable.  The scenery along the way was amazing.

Percy walked with me basically all day today so I pretty much had my own personalised tour guide for the day.  He doesn’t say much when in a group (I think he is self conscious of his English) but when he is 1-on-1 with you he was great and spoke a lot.  We had some interesting conversations about Andean grass and orchards 🙂

The hike started off with 2 hours walking uphill.  Along the way there was some ruins and gorgeous lake views.  After the second pass we headed down for a bit until we reached the first camp. There was a ruin along the way which was up a heap of really steep steps so we made the decision not to visit as we still had a fair way to walk today.

Inca Trail (day 3) - Cloud Forest

Inca Trail (day 3) – Cloud Forest

After this point is where we entered the cloud forest.  I found the change in the scenery and landscape quite incredible.  I wasn’t expecting such changes so pretty impressed.  The cloud forest  was fairly cloudy which meant that we couldn’t see much but there also wasn’t many mosquitoes.  What we could see however was extraordinary. The next part of the hike was a little uphill but fairly flat.  It was really quite a pleasant walk and the type of hiking I really enjoy.  Once we reached the 3rd pass it was all downhill – meant to be 3 hours.  Part way down, Percy and I stopped to reapply the insect repellent and he pointed out a rock on the cliff which he though looked like a puma – IT’S NOT A PUMA!!!  They think everything in Peru looks like a puma – it doesn’t.  A bit further along we caught up with the rest of the group who were having a rest.  Yamil found it quite amusing that I am very slow uphill but because this was mostly downhill I was the first into camp.  It took me not quite 2 hours to get down.

We were meant to spend the night at the final camp at Winay Wayna.  However we were given the option (and took it) to continue after lunch and go straight through to Machu Picchu today.  We made it out of the last check point before it shut at 2.30 and continued the last 6km.  Part of the reason we decided to continue was that if we stayed the night at the camp we would have to get up at 3am and fight the way to the sun gate with everyone else.  It had also been really foggy in the mornings and we would run the chance that we might get to the Sun Gate and not even be able to see Machu Picchu.  To me that would be one of the most disappointing things after hiking so far.

Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

When we got to the Sun Gate we had a clear view of Machu Picchu and it was just us there.  We walked pretty slowly down as we kept stopping to take photos.  When we actually got to Machu Picchu there was hardly anyone there.  We ended up being the last people out of Machu Picchu – they kicked us out.  It was amazing to see it when nobody was there.

That night we spent the night in Aguas Calientes.  When we got there we were told that our bags hadn’t arrived yet so we opted to go have pisco sours while we waited.  We eventually got to have a hot shower which was amazing but unfortunately didn’t have clean clothes.  After dinner the guides wanted to dance but we were all so exhausted and didn’t want to move our legs!!

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

We had debated our departure time last night and settled on meting at 8.30am.  We caught the bus back up to Machu Picchu and did a tour with Yamil for a couple of hours.  It was really interesting to see how well constructed the place is (it’s amazing what slavery can do) and to learn more about the history of the place and its “discovery”.  After the tour we were given time to explore on our own.  I walked up to the top to where the llamas were to get some photos of them.

We got back down in the afternoon in time to have some lunch before catching the train to Ollantaytambo.  The train ride last for about 1hr 45mins and has some beautiful scenery through some snow capped mountains.  Once we got off the train we were picked up in a van and driven back to Cusco where we arrived at about 8pm.  I was sitting in the back corner of the van so couldn’t see the traffic and the way the guy was driving but I could tell it wasn’t pretty from the reactions of those around me!

The 5 days were amazing and while the second day of the trek was tough it was well worth it.  I’m glad I’ve done it but I don’t think I would ever do it again.

This tour was operated by Andina Travel.

See full gallery here.

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2 thoughts on “Sacred Valley, Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

  1. Anne

    Hi Susan,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I’m going to be traveling to Peru in a couple weeks and will also be doing the Inca Trail. I actually tore a knee ligament last week (my MCL) and was wondering how the trail was on your knee.

    I’m a bit concerned that I might not make it. Any tips for an easier trek?

    A.

    1. Susan Post author

      Hi Anne
      Thanks for your comment. I don’t want to scare you off but to be honest it hurt! I personally found going up to the worst as its basically ALL stairs. However coming down was fun. I used (and STRONGLY recommend) hiking poles so I was able to put my weight on them and I almost swung down.
      There are a few different options of treks but I honestly don’t know too many details about the level of difficulty for them. There is something called the jungle trek which many people do and enjoy. It includes activities like biking, hiking and rafting.
      Have you booked the Inca Trail? There is a number limit each day and it usually books up – often months – in advance.
      I also recommend that you consult a doctor/physio before committing to any hikes. It might also be worth checking in with your tour company to see if they have any other recommendations.
      Let me know how you get on. Also, I hope you enjoy Peru, it is a beautiful country!
      🙂 S

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