Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Featured destinations: Peru
Published 29 September 2016
In excerpts from his Inca Trail diary, Rob Bradley lets us in on how it feels to complete one of the world’s greatest hikes.
Day 1: Cusco
There’s nothing more exciting than being in amongst a culture truly different from your own. The clothes, the food and the landscape all scream special to these unaccustomed eyes. Even the air I breathe feels fresher or could that simply be the light-headedness talking?
Yesterday I arrived in Cusco, a Peruvian town around 3,500 metres above sea level. My ears had been ringing and my head thumping since I’d arrived. I looked around the rest of my hiking group and, annoyingly, no one else seemed to be suffering as much as me. Thankfully, two fellow travellers gave me some ibuprofen, so by this morning the problem was solved. Today was a kind of acclimatisation day, with little on the itinerary apart from a tour of Cusco and the Cocoa Museum. Cusco is a stunning little town perched high in the Andes Mountains, almost romantic with its quaint churches and town square. The Cocoa Museum was less inspiring but very informative and at least it’s time spent well recuperating from my long haul flight.
Woman weaving in the Sacred Valley
Day 2: Sacred Valley
Today I travelled by bus to the Sacred Valley, the former heart of the Incan Empire. As a typical Incan settlement, the sides of the hills have been made into stepped terraces for growing crops; quite inventive when you consider the terrain. Mountains are seemingly around us all the time and it makes for some excellent photo opportunities. Later we visited a local community who were dressed up in colourful traditional clothing. The sceptic in me told me that this was purely a rouse to sell their goods, but nevertheless I chose to embrace my romantic side and see it as more of a ‘historical re-enactment’ than a sales pitch. I bought a traditional hand-woven throw as a memento of the occasion. Later we were shown how locals would farm the fields and I was given the chance to cut some crops, which I obligingly did but, to be honest, at this point I just wanted to get started on the hike.
Campsite on the Inca Trail
Day 3: Starting the Inca Trail
Today was the start of the hike on the Inca Trail. I was full of anticipation and eager to get out there and discover! Deciding what to put in my day bag was a dilemma. Energy bars, gels and fluids were a must, as well as a rain jacket, but I refrained from taking anything too bulky, weighty or unnecessary. I deliberately brought my smallest day bag along, considering I’d be the one carrying it countless kilometres a day. I did pick up a last-minute purchase at the picturesque start point, in the form of a tubular neck scarf, which proved useful, as it saved me from having to stop and constantly put sun cream on. Along the way, we saw the now-familiar stepped Incan terraces, archaeological sites and mountain peaks. My camera was busy!
Hiking the Dead Woman's Pass, Peru
Day 4: Dead Woman’s Pass
Day four is often described as the toughest day, so I was psyched up for a challenge and that’s exactly what got. We had to hike to place known as ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ - the name says it all! Naturally you get short of breath quite easily at these high altitudes but it still came as a shock to some members of the group who presumed they were about to topple over. At times I was breathing heavily but this didn’t stop me from getting to Dead Woman’s Pass first, not that it was a race, mind you. One advantage of getting there first were the unobstructed views of the valley beneath me and, perhaps more importantly, no queues for the bathroom. I politely waited for the rest of my group whilst consuming as much as food as I could, as I figured it would be less to carry. From here it was downhill for the rest of the day as we descended to our campsite in the valley below.
Rob's llama selfie (image: Rob Bradley)
Day 5: Wiñay Wayna
Admittedly I was a little sore today but hey, there’s no turning back now! I’m methodically rationing my supply of energy bars and gels so I have enough to last the trip. I bought £20 worth including some hydration pills to pop into my water and so far, so good. All the wonders of nature were on view today; rivers, mountains, ruins and animals. When we got to Wiñay Wayna, a crumbling Inca relic near our campsite, we were greeted by group of wandering Llamas who were grazing on the steep terraces of these ancient ruins – I even took a selfie with one. This definitely lifted the group’s spirits after a long day’s trekking leaving us ready for the final day tomorrow.Rob at Machu Picchu (image: Rob Bradley)
Day 6: Machu Picchu
We had to wake up pre-dawn this morning in order to get to Machu Picchu by sunrise. This was tough but we were promised that it would be worth it. Took us two or three hours to get to the Sun Gate, from where we got our first view of Machu Picchu. And boy was it spectacular! I captured, a great shot of me leaning against a pillar with Machu Picchu in the background, something most of the bus tourists won’t get. Once at Machu Picchu, we took photos from the viewpoints and then spent a while looking around the site. It is possible to take a bus from Machu Picchu to nearby Aguas Calientes, but despite having trekked for four days’ straight, I avoided the long bus queues and walked back to the hotel - heck, why not? And once there, I treated myself to a Peruvian delicacy: roasted guinea pig!