Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Part 3)

Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Part 3)

I’m back with the third installment of our trek to Machu Picchu via the world-famous Inca Trail. The first part concentrated on the start of the Inca Trail trek hike. The second part focused on hiking the trail and altitude sickness. 

Day 3

Breakfast

I was still sound asleep when the porter announced coca tea. Completely dehydrated from the day before, my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. The noises of the local Mother’s Day party lasted deep into the night, keeping me awake. Mother’s Day is a multi-day celebration in Peru.

It was cool, although the sun beamed brightly. Breakfast today was pancakes, fresh fruit, toast and juice. Caramel and jam were the toppings offered for the pancakes. As Canadians, it surprised us that there wasn’t any syrup.

I drank a ton of juice trying to prepare for the 12 km (7 mile) we still had to walk. Eddie wanted to take us another route back. A route that the porters use that is slightly shorter. We were fine with that.

Inca Trail, Peru

Walk of Shame

We started on our walk of shame. The porters carried my pack again, but this time at least I had bottled water to drink. Some trekkers we passed told us we were going the wrong way or asked us why we turned back. We did our best not to scare them.

One thing that they don’t advertise is that a quarter of the people that start the Inca Trail do not finish. Eddie, our guide, told us he once had a group of 48 people and a third of them turned around at Yacanchimpa. This made me feel a little better.

As the day wore on, we stripped layers. We started with winter coats and hats, progressing down to t-shirts. The temperature rose to almost 30 C (86 f) and my daughter felt the effects of sunstroke.

Inca Trail

The detour did not have as much up and down except for two occasions where we had to ascend. We took those sections extremely slow. Eddie had gone ahead of us, and we wondered if we lost him on the unmarked trail. Eventually, we caught up to him. We passed by Llaqtapata and Qhanabamba again and took more pictures. We could also admire the Véronica glacier without turning around.

Mile 82 on the Inca Trail… Again

Finally, we could see the bridge over the Urubamba River. My daughter desperately needed to get out of the sun. I urged her to go ahead as it was all I could do to keep walking. At least we were back at 2,800 metres (8,500 ft) and I could breathe comfortably. Altitude is no joke.

We arrived back at the staging area. The porters and our chef who had passed us hours ago were hard at work making lunch or cleaning the gear. We collapsed in a screened-in porch, exhausted. Eddie went to find transportation back to Ollantaytambo.

We made good time back to the starting point. Originally Eddie thought we would have to stop and have lunch on the trail. Maybe knowing that a shower and a bed would be available that night increased our pace.

After a delicious lunch, we had to wait about an hour for the ride. We got in a Volkswagen van with 4 rows of seating. We paid the drivers a few soles. I am not sure of the setup for this taxi or combi as they call it. At every group of houses we passed the driver would honk his horn and if people were waiting, he would stop. Sometimes a passenger would ask to get off at a location. This continued all the way to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo Train Station

Once back at Ollantaytambo we headed for the train station. The area wasn’t too busy. Eddie helped us buy the train tickets. Condor Travel had already purchased our return train ticket, but since we had turned back on the Inca Trail, we had to pay for the train ticket to Aguas Calientes and accommodations.

Ollantaytambo Train Station

The fee for the vista dome train for tourists was more than I expected, $74 US dollars each, but if we wanted to see Machu Picchu, the next day we had no choice but to pay the price.

We had a few hours to kill while waiting for the train, so Eddie found us a shady spot to rest. As two women travelling alone, it impressed us how Condor Travel never left us to navigate by ourselves. Eddie walked us to the gate after explaining that Peruvians travelled on another train that was much cheaper.

Mile 82 by Train

Peru Rail

Students from Jacksonville Florida filled our train car. We sat across the table from two of the professors/chaperones. They had been on a volunteer mission for two weeks and were visiting Machu Picchu before they left Peru.

It only took ten to fifteen minutes to pass by the start of the Inca Trail again. We pointed it out to the professors. We exchanged stories of our time in Peru during the two-hour train trip. They fed us on the train while we watched the scenery and were thankful not to be hiking anymore.

Closer to Machu Picchu

A Condor Travel guide met us at the train station in Aguas Calientes. He didn’t speak much English, but we figured out that he wanted us to buy our tickets for the bus to Machu Picchu for the morning. Again, Condor had paid for the return ticket but not the ticket to get there.

Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo is a tourist town. There are tons of souvenirs to purchase.

Since it was beginning to get dark, our guide walked us to our hotel for the evening Tierra Viva facing the Urubamba River. He left us with a map and instructions to be in the hotel lobby at 8 a.m. to meet Eddy.

The Terra Viva hotel had a North American feel to it. We showered, ate in the hotel restaurant and called it a night.

Final Thoughts

Today we experienced the Inca Trail and Peru Rail. Next week in the last installment of this adventure I will discuss more about Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.

Which sounds more appealing, the train or hiking? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time

Frankie

All images in the article are copyright Frankie Cameron Writes.

Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Part 1)

Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Part 1)

Have you ever dreamed about hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu? Is taking the train to Machu Picchu on your bucket list? If you are having trouble deciding what to do, my story may provide you with some insight…

Introduction

Machu Picchu, a wonder of the world, is a bucket list item for many people, including my daughter and myself. There are no roads to Machu Picchu, you either take the train or hike.

Machu Picchu

If you are not familiar with the Inca Trail, it is a world-famous trek through the high Andes on the original Incan highway of dirt and stone concluding at Machu Picchu. In use for over 400 years, the trail is spectacularly beautiful with stunning ruins, gorgeous mountain views, and extraordinarily different climatic zones offering a rich variety of flora and fauna.

There are different hikes to Machu Picchu taking two, four, or five days. My daughter and I chose the classic 4-day trail starting at Mile 82. We wanted to have the satisfaction of arriving at Machu Picchu on foot. At least that is how it should have happened. We never dreamed when we booked the famous trek that we wouldn’t complete it and would have to turn back.

Day One

Starting Off Easy

In May 2019, after spending three days in the Sacred Valley acclimatizing and sightseeing, we were all set to start the hike. Our guide, Eddie from Condor Travel picked us up at our hotel, La Casona De Yucay, a beautiful spot in the modest town of Yucay, inside the Sacred Valley, bright and early.

Eddie had already picked up the couple we would trek with, John and Jane, in Cusco. John was a retired Marine pilot who now flew for a major U.S. airline. Both were in their early 60s.

Before the trip, I agonized if I would be the only older person in a group with a bunch of 20-year-olds, slowing everyone down. I had a similar experience while white-water rafting and didn’t want to repeat it.

Our first stop was the Condor Travel Headquarters in Urubamba, where the porters loaded up our van and we picked up our chef. En route to the Inca Trail, we passed by the famous fort town of Ollantaytambo, traversing the cobblestone streets. We drove the constricted rough unpaved roads alongside the Urubamba River until we crossed the river at a bridge travelling back in the same direction we had just covered but on the other side.

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Most of the tourist vehicles in Peru are Volkswagen vans, which shake and shutter over every bump. The dirt roads are narrow, and drivers typically honk as they go around bends to alert other drivers of their approach.

Staging Area

We arrived at the village of Piskacucho; (known as the 4-corners) the village where the Inca Trail starts at mile 82 (82 kilometres along the railway from Cusco to Aguas Calientes). The altitude at the starting point is 2,800 metres (8,500ft).

The porters who arrived before us had set up a staging area, repacking, and rearranging the equipment. They carry all the gear for camping, cooking plus 5 kilos per person of our gear. We had to carry our daypacks with any of the things we needed during the day. This makes the trek sound easy, but spoiler alert it is not.

The porters gave us some snack items to take with us in handy bags we could clip on our backpacks for easy access. My daughter and I used Osprey backpacks with hydration packs. The packs made it so much easier to access water and the special bladders kept the natural flat shape. I was thankful for the walking sticks because of the uneven ground.

I put some coca candies in my bag. Coca candies and coca tea are used to help fight altitude sickness. We had already been taking Diamox since we landed to help us adjust to the altitude.

Ollantaytambo, Peru

The staging area was our last chance to use a bathroom. Bathrooms in Peru, outside of hotel rooms and restaurants, are notoriously filthy, have no seat, no toilet paper and cost 1 sol to use. This bathroom fulfilled those categories.

Leaving the staging area, we adjusted the packs on our backs, walking the scant distance to the check-in. Eddie our guide, presented our trail permits while we showed our passports. You can’t enter the Inca Trail without a passport. The Peruvian Government only sells 500 permits per day, 200 for tourists, and 300 for guides, cooks, and porters. Posing to take the famous picture at the start of the trail. Then we were off.

Mile 82

Here We Go…

Crossing the bridge over the Urubamba River, in Qorihuayrachina, we were officially on the Inca Trail. The weather was beautiful, sunny, but not too hot. Our guide Eddy set the pace, and we tried to keep up.

Mile 82

The brochures describe day one as a simple day over Andean Flat terrain. For those of you not familiar with Andean Flat, it means ‘uphill’. If you look at the altitude map below, the incline does not look very steep. I thought day one would be easy, but I was wrong.

Average Distance Per Day

  • Day One: Total Distance: 12km (7 miles)
  • Day Two: Total Distance: 11km (6 miles)
  • Day Three: Total Distance: 16km (9 miles)
  • Day Four: Total Distance: 4km (2 miles)

Peruvians live on the first part of the Inca Trail; using the trail along with their donkeys and horses. Be prepared to see piles of poop and give them the right-of-way moving to the inside when they pass.

There are places to buy drinks and snacks. Bathrooms are available for 1 sol. I didn’t experience the bathroom first-hand, but Jane didn’t recommend it. Shaded rest areas provided much-needed relief from the sun.

Huffing and Puffing

I found the trail challenging since we live at 67 meters (220 ft) above sea level. Hiking in Peru is so much harder than in Canada because of the altitude.

Going down was easy, but going up required much more energy and oxygen. My legs did not want to obey my brain. I had to stop more often than I expected; huffing and puffing, trying to catch my breath. I am not an athlete, but neither am I a couch potato spending time, swimming, zip-lining, with no problems. I trained for months. At 53-years of age, I was in the best shape of my life.

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Inca Trail, Peru

Before booking the trip, I consumed volumes of information that spoke of the Inca Trail as a hard challenge but well worth every step. The blogs said you only had to be in average shape with determination and persistence. Let me tell you, average shape is not good enough you, need to be in athlete shape.

Jane also struggled with the altitude. John eventually carried both of their packs. My 25-year-old daughter felt no effects from the altitude.

Somewhere around this time, our porters passed us carrying their heavy load. Everyone is friendly on the trail, greeting you with ‘Hola’ and a smile.

The trail is beautiful, but there wasn’t as much time to stop and take photos as I would have liked. Clouds in the photo below cover the Véronica glacier.

Inca Trail, Peru

The Ruins

The first ruin is Qhanabamba. The Incas used this area as a resting place for people on their way to Machu Picchu.

Inca Trail, Peru

The trail ascended as we climbed high above the river to the viewpoint at Patallaqta where the agricultural settlement, Llaqtapata, sprawled below at the 88-kilometre mark. The name Llaqtapata means “elevated settlement”. This elevated settlement contained over 80 structures.

Inca Trail, Peru
Llaqtapata

The Incas used the terraces for agriculture and erosion control. The porters set up a light lunch so we could spend some time admiring the ruins and take photos.

The next stop was the ruins of Willkaraqay, an Inca hillfort. Briefly going downhill before going up again.

As the day went on, I struggled to keep pace with our guide as did Jane, stopping to breathe whenever we felt the need. My slow pace concerned me, but I tried to push myself to keep going. I was so excited when I saw the sign for ‘Hatunchaca’ thinking it was our camp ‘Huayllambamba’ but then found out we still had more walking to do.

The next hour was a blur, I remember little about it. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. The porters clapped as we entered the campsite, praising us for completing the first day. All I wanted to do was stop walking. Huayllambamba sits at 2950m (9576 ft.)

The Camp

Inca Trail Peru

The porters set up our tent and provided us with warm water to wash the day’s grime away. It was nice to take off our hiking boots and rest while the meal was being prepared. They even set up a washroom, which was cleaner and smelled so much better than the online trails.

We feasted that night in the dining tent, consuming chicken and rice. They provided a vegetarian meal for my daughter. Freddy, our guide, joined our group of four for dinner. There was even a dessert.

Jane was under the weather because of the altitude and could not eat her meal. John and Jane discussed turning around and going back in the morning, depending on Jane’s health.

Night falls early in Peru because they are so close to the equator. The length of each day is 12 hours and six minutes. The sun rising around 6:18 and sets around 6:24 pm.

I had never seen so many stars in the sky. With the mountain background, a starry sky and the sounds of nature, it was a perfect place to fall asleep.

Final Thoughts

Sounds like everything is going well, doesn’t it? Check out day two of our Inca trail adventure. Is Machu Picchu on your bucket list. Let me know in the comments.

Until next time

Frankie

All photos in this blog copyright Frankie Cameron Writes.