It took us four days of trekking the Inca Trail to finally reach Machu Picchu. It was one of the most incredible and challenging experiences of my life.
Not sure when to plan your trip? Be sure to read my guide on The Best Time to Hike the Inca Trail!
Here’s a breakdown of each day on the Inca Trail leading up to our final destination… Machu Picchu!
UPDATE: I hiked the Inca Tail in 2011 and hired a guide company from Cusco. I honestly don’t even know what the company was. Nowadays, you should get your Inca Trail permit and book your guide or tour MONTHS in advance. Only 500 people are allowed on the trail daily, so space is limited.
Inca Trail Day 1: “No Problemo”
6:30 am wake up call and all ready for our first day on the Inca Trail! After breakfast in Urubamba, our host, Edwin, walked us to the bus stop to catch our bus to kilometer 82 of the Inca Trail.
On the bus, we met Juana and Pepe, our guides, and the rest of our group who we would be spending the next four days with. I had butterflies the entire drive there.
I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. All I had heard about the Inca Trail was that it was going to be physically challenging and one of the most incredible experiences of my life. (A bit of a broad description if you ask me!)
We strapped on our packs, grabbed our walking sticks, crossed over the river, and began the trek. Our first stop was at the halfway point, Canabamba.
Juana showed us these local bugs that live in the cactus, or “tuna” in the native language Quechua. When you squish them, their “blood” produces a reddish pigment that is used for coloring fabrics and makeup.
We got some bug “war paint” and carried on towards our first campsite.
Mount Victoria was visible along the trail. It’s the only snow-capped mountain among the Andes we could see.
We walked 10 kilometers in total and felt pretty good once we reached camp. The view from our tent looked down onto the valley below with Mount Victoria in the distance.
Day one success! However, Day 2 is supposed to knock our socks off!
Inca Trail Day 2: “The Challenge”
We were up at 5:00 am and greeted with coca tea in our tent. Coca tea is made from coca leaves which are used for all kinds of things in Peru.
Yes, they are from the same plant used to make cocaine. No, chewing or brewing the leaves does not get you high.
Coca leaves, in their natural state, are a traditional part of everyday life for Peruvians.
I couldn’t sleep at all the first night of the trek, so I woke up feeling completely useless and unprepared for the most challenging day of the four-day trek. For the length of the trek, we hired a porter.
“Porter” is a term used for Peruvian men (usually believed to be the descendants of the Incans for their endurance!) that are available for hire to carry additional cargo if you need help along the trail. These men are incredible!
They would literally run past us up the mountain (while we struggled to catch our breath) carrying 20 kilos of gear. Most of them were wearing sandals! (I highly recommend hiring a Porter if you are nervous about carrying heavy weight during the trek. It’s difficult without any cargo)!
Sage advice? Pack as light as possible. If you can help it, only carry a hydration pack with water and a light jacket that you can tie around your waist if you warm up. The porters will speed off ahead of your group, so once you start the day, you won’t see them again until you reach camp!
Now, where was I?
We walked for hours upon hours up countless stairs and up steep hills for what seemed like an eternity. Because of the altitude, I felt like I couldn’t fill my lungs with a full breath of air and would get winded really easily.
Today was definitely as challenging as they warn you it will be.
During a two hour stretch of the trail, we hiked a steep incline along a cliff edge and far below us, we could see wild deer and llamas roaming the valley. I may have felt like I was dying, but the view was incredible.
As we passed through rainy jungles and freezing cold stretches of the trail I tried to stay focused to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Eventually, we made it past what is known as “Dead Woman’s Pass” to the peak at 13,776 feet above sea level. No wonder they call it Dead Woman! RIP me.
While it was quite the achievement, we then had another two-hour hike down the mountain in freezing cold conditions. By the time we reached camp, my body was aching and all I wanted to do was pass out in our tent.
Alas, here I am blogging.
While it sounds like I had a terrible day, it was also unforgettable. During the 12+ hours of hiking, I had a lot of challenging moments but also found some parts to be invigorating.
I found that listening to my iPod during the most difficult parts of the trek made setting a pace a lot easier. I basically danced my way up the mountain.
Thank goodness for hour-long dance music playlists.
Our campsite for Day 2 has an incredible view and I’m hoping that I’ve exhausted myself enough to get a better night’s sleep. 16 km tomorrow!
Inca Trail Day 3: “Unforgettable”
We were up at 5:00 am again. And again, I didn’t get a wink of sleep. Today was our longest trek, in total 10 miles, up and down the Andean mountains.
It was a beautiful day… bright and sunny! So, we took our sweet time taking in the beautiful surroundings.
We saw hundreds of lupines and orchids as we hiked through endless jungles and archaeological sites. It took almost 12 hours to finally reach our campsite after stopping at different sites and taking multiple breaks.
We ended our day just as Machu Picchu mountain appeared through the distant haze. We are just one sleep away from finally reaching Machu Picchu!
Day three down, one more to go.
The anticipation is killing me but, not gonna lie. But, I’m also getting excited about a warm bed and hot shower!
View from Puerta del Sol
Inca Trail Day 4: “Machu Picchu”
It was a 6 km hike to Machu Picchu and we left in the pouring rain and in the pitch black of the early morning. It took a couple of hours to reach Puerta del Sol, or Sun Gate, the first place you can see Machu Picchu from on the trail.
The view of Machu Picchu from above was insane! The previous three days of trekking leading up to the moment when it emerged from the clouds was indescribable.
I completed the Inca Trail!!!
It was one of the most physically challenging experiences in my life that made me face some of my own personal challenges as well. I spent a lot of time reflecting on my accomplishments, goals, successes, as well as challenges from this year and feel like I have a new clear conscience to take with me from this experience.
We hiked another hour downhill until we reached the site of Machu Picchu. It was raining but it actually added to the feeling we had when we arrived.
Unbelievable, indescribable… that doesn’t even begin to sum it up.
We spent a few hours at the Machu Picchu taking pictures, hugging llamas and playing hide and seek around the ruins. The best part of hiking down from Puerta del Sol at sunrise is that you get to be some of the first people at the site.
We had lunch in Aguas Calientes, the town just down the way from Machu Picchu, then took the train for a 3.5-hour journey back to Urubamba. From there, we took the bus to Cusco. Needless to say, it was a looooong day! Our guides and group all planned to go out in Cusco to celebrate, so we powered through the exhaustion and went out for a drink at a place in Cusco called Lek.
We got down with our bad selves. It was a great way to end an absolutely unforgettable experience!
REMINDER: I hiked the Inca Trail in 2011 (before I had this blog) and never got the information of the tour operator for our guides on the Inca Trail. We were volunteering with an orphanage and our contact there helped us book the hike.
Are you planning on hiking the Inca Trail? Let me know in the comments below!