As I clicked the button on my computer’s mouse that booked my tour group trip, I knew that hiking Machu Picchu would be the single greatest hike I would ever go on.
Not only has it been a lifelong dream to see the ancient Incan ruins bathed in the morning sun, but I knew that this hike would be one of the most rewarding hikes I would probably see in my young adult life.
This is a trip for the experienced backpacker all the way to the newest hiker. On many other trips, carrying all your supplies is the biggest burden of the trip.
To hike Machu Picchu, you are required by law to sign up for a guided tour.
The majority of the tours will include porters.
The food you are provided with along the tour isn’t plain old nuts and berries and the typical food you think of when you think of going backpacking. They aren’t meals you want to miss out on. Things like honey covered pancakes, chicken with rice, and vegetable soup are on the menu.
It is recommended that you pack your own snacks, as trail snacks are not typically provided. This is where the nuts and berries come in.
When is the best time to hike the Inca trail (Machu Picchu)?
If you’re looking to take on the Inca Trail, it helps to go when the weather won’t be working against you.
While a lot of the locals take advantage of the weather near the end of July, you can still get the best of both worlds and miss the upsurge of tourism.
Try planning your trip somewhere between August and September in order to make the most of it. The region’s rainy season begins in early November, and you won’t be able to fully appreciate the hike with an umbrella in tow.
You are going to want to be prepared for all weather types
It is very smart to dress in layers as it may be really chilling hiking at 5:30, it won’t be so chilly as you make your way through the beautiful expanding trails in the heated tropics.
My saving grace at night was making sure my extremities were covered as well. I bought a wool hat before starting the trail, and it provided me an hour or two extra of sleep during the cold mornings by keeping my ears warm.
It’s smart to wear waterproof hiking boots and have a solid raincoat, but the thing you want to make sure you have the most is a vinyl poncho. I picked up a $2 poncho in Cuzco, and when I made it to camp and all my belongings were still dry, I decided it was $2 well spent.
However, don’t panic if you don’t have any of these items and really don’t want to be spending a huge chunk of money on all new hiking gear that you may only use this once.
Cuzco thrives off of the tourist attraction of Machu Picchu. The streets are lined with stalls, and many of them are for the rental of hiking gear.
Do you need a walking stick?
I would greatly recommend packing a walking stick if you aren’t the most surefooted person. I have very good balance myself, but some of the downhill parts of the trail were really steep.
I elected not to pack a walking stick, and sometimes found myself crawling down the hill crab-walk style, and when I was upright and felt unsure, I would make sure to have three points of contact at all times.
You don’t really have time to be hesitant in steps because the minute you hesitate is the moment you fall down the hill, unfortunately.
If you are an experienced hiker or backpacker, this may be more of an inconvenience to you. You have to remember that you are going to be hiking approximately 8 hours everyday.
Every pound counts; is this worth the extra weight?
Suitable but I don’t mean easy!
Like I said before, the hike up the Inca Trail is suitable for all experience levels of hikers and backpackers, but when I say that it is suitable, I don’t mean easy. It is certainly far from easy.
The Inca Trail had to be one of the most rewarding hikes I have ever been on and one I would do again if given the chance. The tour I went with was four days long, different tour guides take different time periods and have slightly different camping plans.
I chose this one because it offered a lot more than just the Inca Trail. I chose a 14 day tour of Peru and the Inca Trail is just one of the many sites I got to see.
This tour’s first day began in Cuzco, and we hiked 7.5 miles up to Pisonay. This was more like a training day to get us ready for the next couple of long days we have ahead of us.
On day one, we crossed the Vilcanota River. You see the village ruins of Incahilfort Huillca Raccay near the mouth of the Cusichaca River.
We got an absolutely wonderful view of the snow capped Urubamba Mountain Range and Veronica (18,200 feet).
We got to see a view of the extensive ruins of Llactapata (a.k.a Patallacta on some maps).
Llactapata (‘upper town’) was primarily an agricultural station to supply Machu Picchu. This ancient Incan town was composed of over 100 buildings, houses for soldiers, and including 5 baths.
We hiked four and a half miles more along the bank of the river up to the small village of Wallaybamba (9,500 feet). Near Wallaybamba (‘grassy plain’) in Pisonay is where we spent the night. Upon our arrival, our porters had our tents upright and snacks waiting, which was a wonderful sight after hiking all day.
On day two
On day two, we climbed 7.5 miles up from Wayllabamba to Pacamayo. Day two was, in my opinion, the hardest part of the hike, as you reach the highest point of the trail at 13,800 feet.
We followed the bank of the Llulluchayoc river for about an hour before coming to ‘Tres Piedras’ or Three Stones and a small bridge that crosses over the Huayruro River.
The Huayruro River got its name from the Huayruro tree which is an ornamental tree with red and black seeds. Many of the porters are known as Huaryuros because they traditionally wear a red and black poncho.
Just a little farther ahead, we entered a beautiful cloud forest passing a waterfall. We hiked three more hours through the steepening trails. We breached the treeline into a meadow known as Llulluchapampa (11,800 feet).
We hiked up the steep, yet another spectacular terrain for an hour and a half more to the first pass, also the highest part of the trail known as Abra de Huarmihuañusca (‘Dead Woman’s Pass’).
Descent from the pass is steep, but not too terribly difficult. We hiked down to the valley floor where our second campsite at Pacamayo (11,900 feet).
On day three
On day three, we hiked an incredible 9.5 miles from Pacamayo to Wiñay Wayna. By this day, I was almost ready to give up.
To be completely honest, the only thing that kept me going was knowing that at the end of this 9.5 miles was the Trekker’s Hostel. I knew it would be a glorious site, because I’d be taking my first hot shower since the morning of day one.
So, I trekked for about an hour up to the ruins of Runkuracay. The Runkuracay Ruins are small circular ruins that overlook the Pacamayo Valley. I got some excellent pictures of the ruins from some wonderful vista points. We hiked another 45 minutes to the top of the second pass, Abra de Runkuracay (13,200 feet).
The section of the trail is especially beautiful with a path that crosses high stone embankments and plummeting precipices. After about an hour from the second pass, we arrived at Sayacmarca (‘inaccessible town’). No one knows the true purpose of this town as it is surrounded on three sides by towering cliffs.
With the beads of sweat making their way down my body, that hot shower couldn’t come soon enough.
With that distraction, I feel like I failed to truly experience day three to its fullest. We backtracked slightly as we rejoined the trail at Conchamarca and trekked down into an absolutely beautiful cloud forest full of orchids, hanging mosses, and other beautiful forestation.
We passed through an Inca tunnel carved into the rock; it was absolutely magical, and it really makes me regret focusing on my destination rather than my journey. We saw the most impressive of all of the ruins this day – Phuyuptamarca.
You access these ruins down a steep flight of stairs. Along the stairs, there are six Incan baths which could have been used for ritual worship. We exited the beautiful ruins to the west down a thousand or so steps.
After walking through the ruins, I cast my eyes upon the most beautiful site I have ever seen… the tin roof of the Trekker’s Hostel at Wiñay Wayna.
This is the last campsite before Machu Picchu
There are hot showers in the hostel, however they do cost a small fee of $1.50. If you are with a camping tour, your camping should be covered, mine was since we were tent camping.
There is a short trail to the south of the hostel to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna (‘forever young’) named after a variety of pink orchid that grows there.
The buildings were of good, high quality stone work and had ten baths in sequence.
This could have been for a ritual cleansing for trekkers as they descended the last leg of their journey to Machu Picchu.
On day four
Then finally, on day four, we awoke early at 4:30 a.m. and ate breakfast and set out around 5:30 a.m. when the sky starts to get light.
We hiked for three miles which took us about an hour and a half. Sunrise was about 7 a.m. so we were able to see the first rays of the day expanding across the majestic ruins of Machu Picchu.
We came to a very intimidating staircase of only about 50 steps. This staircase was essentially vertical. They lead up to the final pass at Intipunka or the Sun Gate. All of Machu Picchu was spread out before me.
I shared some excited cheers and high fives with the others in my tour group. Although coming up those stairs I was tired and ready to go home, as soon as I caught first sight of the ruins, I was wide awake and as giddy as a kid in a candy store.
The guided tour took about two hours, which gave an extensive and complete tour of all of the major sectors.
After the tour, we had the opportunity to tour on our own and explore all of the ruins and take pictures of our own.
After we finished, we headed down to Aguas Calientes for a late lunch. I can shamelessly say that there were tears in my eyes as I descended from the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu.
No other hike in my entire life has made me feel as accomplished and as fulfilled as completing this hike.
I can’t wait to move onto bigger and better ones, but this hike – it was the one I will remember forever.