Inca Trail (Part 2) - Iconic Hiking Trail

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by beckyX on November 15, 2009

...Part two of the Inca trail. Part 1 covered background of the trail, plus a general review of some of the experience. Part 2 continues with a day by day review.

===The first day - 6km, flat===
On our first day, we set off walking right after a full cooked lunch, stopping to pose for a photo next to the famous trail start railway sign. The map said our afternoon was a gentle 6km flat walk. At the checkpoint to the start of the trail, we had our passports stamped and made our way across a suspension bridge, which truly felt like the point of no return, only bouncy. We only jumped our way across a little bit, however, since we didn't really want to be expelled from the trail before we had started it!

Then we climbed. And climbed. This was when we learned the concept of "Peruvian flat" - which means that if the uphill and downhill averages out to nearly flat, and the steep parts aren't steep for very many kilometres then it doesn't count. In this case, it wasn't for very long, so we breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Although most of what we think of as "The Inca trail" is paved and does not permit vehicles or pack animals, for the first day or so of walking, there are settlements. This meant we did have to dodge many bicycles and animals being herded. We also saw small children hurrying home - apparently they have to walk many miles each day to get to school.

A few hours later, we arrived at our first camp site, which was below the ruins of Llactapata. After a restless night of sleep, we were awoken bright and early with a cup of tea in our tent. A quick repack and a cooked breakfast left us ready for day two.

===Day two - travel 10km, mostly steady uphill===
The day started with a steep downhill climb so we could cross a river. This was the first point that I welcomed having walking poles. But then, what goes down, has to go back up again, and a steep 20 minute climb followed, leading to spectacular views over the Llactapaca ruins.

Most of the first part of the morning was spent walking gradually uphill at a fairly easy pace. We passed several settlements and stopped for many flowers. I paled slightly at the sign showing a cross-section representation of our walk (i.e. altitude versus distance - it looked very steep!) . That morning, we got to the last settlement for two days. This is the last place to buy gatorade - a violently coloured sugary salty sports drink (that sadly also has lots of tartrazine) which is the drink of choice of hikers who aren't asthmatic.

The rest of the morning featured an extremely hard uphill slog. By this point, the group had started to splinter and spread out over the trail, and I started to be able to take sneaky little 30 second rests every few tens of metres climb with nobody else noticing, because they were either 5 minutes ahead of me, or 5 minutes behind!

Our guide cheerily told us we would be walking until 1pm before breaking for lunch. After a while of gruelling uphill climb, I started to fear that I would never be able to carry on walking until lunch. Then, suddenly, I came across the front of the group who were stopped next to an area with a tent that looked very much like our dinner tent. Since it was about an hour before we were due to stop for lunch, this confused me greatly; it turned out that we had just done the morning's walk in about an hour less than the recommended time, so no wonder I was feeling so tired! But because it was just high altitude tiredness (we hadn't walked very far) after a hearty meal, we were ready for more and I knew I could take it at a much gentler pace and stop for breaks, to look at a view or take pictures whenever I wanted.

The afternoon took us through the cloud forest layer - subtropical type of forest only to be found at certain altitudes in tropical countries. It is a lush, green but misty world that would probably be described as glorious by anyone not currently trudging through it.

Eventually, we broke free of the cloud forest and reached the pampas region - a grassy plain forming a hanging valley. Our camp site that night was found there at Llulluchapampa.

===Day three - 15km steep up and down===
Day three is arguably the hardest of the four days, at least on the knees - walking poles or a staff are essential! It is an exhausting 8 hour trek up that for the first two hours takes you first to the highest point of the trail (4200m) - this part is a 450m ascent in only 2km! This is the famous Warmiwanusca, or Dead Woman's pass - so named from the shape of the mountain from the valley - it looks like a woman lying down. Personally, I couldn't see the resemblance!

Up to the pass, we were travelling through the grass land of the pampa. Up to the left of the trail is steep mountains, to the right was the wide valley, which also had steep mountains at the far side. Because the trail zig zagged so much, even though it was wide open land, I often could not see another soul, but was wandering around by myself in the wilderness, which was fantastic. It was less silent than it might have been because I was listening to the Lord of the Rings radio play: what more can one want to listen to when one is doing an arduous trek than listening to others doing an arduous trek!

After the stunning views at the peak of the pass, the path then leads down steep steps (600m descent in 2km) into a valley, then up over a second pass (Abra Runkuraqay), taking in the egg-shaped ruins of Runkuraqay (once a rest point for Incan travellers) on the way. The second pass was easier to do than the first, but of course we were tired by that point.

What goes up has to come back down. More irregular steps took us steeply down, through an Inca tunnel. Those of us who were slightly faster took a detour up to another set of ruins, called Sayacmarca. A few hours of "Peruvian flat" brought us to the top of the third pass, Phuyupatamarca, and our camp site for the night. I think I have never been so happy to stop and put my feet in a bowl of hot water as that day!

===Day four - 11km===
Day four started pre-dawn with a scramble to a nearby peak to view the dawn over the snow-capped mountains. From here, we could see down into the Inca's sacred valley. After a farewell and gift giving to the porters, we set off on our final day, by now dosed up on ibuprofen gel and all hobbling wearing knee supports. The journey that day was through the forest, frequently with a steep drop of hundreds of feet to one side - I would not want to be afraid of heights!

On this final day, the route joins up with the one day trail, which leads past many sets of ruins - including some very well preserved ones at Winay Wayna (a name meaning "Forever Young") - a location with a unique orchid found nowhere else in the world. We also had our first contact in days with civilization - the route goes past a small town, before it heads steeply back into the middle of nowhere, scrambling up slippery steep steps to the famous Sun Gate of Machu Picchu. Or, as we called it, the "throwing it down with rain" gate - sadly, thick cloud covered the iconic panoramic view over our destination. This gave the city a spooky, mystical feel to it as we walked down through its twisty maze-like passages.

Finally, we had arrived! All of us had reached our destination in one piece and uninjured. True, we were footsore and exhausted, but what an experience! It is one I will never forget as long as I live.

===Our destination===
Machu Picchu is far too important a destination to leave to one small paragraph in this review - we spent two days exploring this region (thankfully with improved weather) and this will form a second review of its own.

This trek was the highlight of my holiday in Peru and forms one of the defining experiences of my life. To this day, I cannot believe how exhausting it was for only 42km! It is well worth a visit, but train hard and make sure you acclimatize first.

Review is cross-posted,
Inca Trail
Andes Mountains
Cusco, Peru

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