We just got back from an unforgettable experience hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We spent a few days in Cusco and Lima. I've detailed our itinerary below to show what's possible for 8 days. It was totally worth the experience. If you've been, what are your thoughts?
We arrived in Cusco early in the morning. In fact, we were on the first flight from Lima to Cusco. We hung out at the airport from 11PM until our flight at 5AM. The airport is connected to a mall with a food court so that allowed us some time to explore without stepping outside.
When we arrived in Cusco, we spent some time in our hotel and ate breakfast around the Plaza de Armas. I am a big fan of fresh squeezed orange juice and of course had some of that at the restaurant we went to.
The change in altitude is serious business so we took it slow and kept our sightseeing to a minimum. For altitude sickness, I just drank lots of water, some coca tea and added chlorophyll drops to my water. Others in the group took prescription Diamox.
We traveled as a group of 12 people and once everyone arrived in the afternoon, we had dinner together.
We ate at Granja Heidi. The owner was very nice and accommodating. We told him we just arrived and he insisted that we keep our meals light in order to prevent more altitude sickness. Thankfully, we heeded his advice. Most of us had soups or salads and lots of tea and water. The restaurant offers a wide range of vegetarian options so a good place to have something small and light on the first day.
We were all acclimating slowly.
My husband and I woke up early and we had breakfast at the Plaza Cafe. We got lucky and were able to sit outside overlooking the square. It was cloudy and slightly misting, but the clouds eventually disappeared and the sun came out.
We hustled back to our hotel for 10:30AM to get an overview of our Inca Trail hike.
For lunch, we got some empanadas at a cafe.
We also toured the Choco Museo and had some samples of chocolate. Can't go wrong there.
After lunch, we did some shopping for alpaca hats and hopped on the Cusco Tour Bus. It gave us a chance to check out the high parts of Cusco that we probably would not have wanted to walk to. The nighttime gets cold though so be prepared and wear those new alpaca hats or sweaters.
On the bus tour, we visited the San Cristobal Church which provides a nice view overlooking the Plaza de Armas, Cristo Blanco, and participated in a native Quechua ceremony
For dinner, we checked out Moreno Peruvian Kitchen. The food tasted excellent, but in hindsight, we should not have ordered too much as we felt the food and salt the next day, the first day of our hike
Altitude at this point was still tough to get used to.
Day 3 (Day 1 of the Inca Trail)
We got picked up from our hotel in Cusco at 5:30AM
We drove for 2 hours to Ollantaytambo where we had breakfast in the small town.
Ollantaytambo is the last main town you will see before the trail. They recommend buying essentials items here. Don't shop excessively though because you'll have to carry some of your pack. Water and snacks can be purchased on the trail for the first 2 days. Get your soles here though so that you have change for smaller items and for tipping your porters and guides.
We checked in at the Guide Station with our Passports and started the trail at around 10:30AM.
On the first day of the hike, we started at elevation 8,923 ft. We hiked for around 6 hours and ended at elevation 9,842 ft. The trail itself if not that hard, but you start feeling the elevation and the sun early on. I had a hard time towards the end with breathing properly. My legs were getting tired very quickly.
Day 4 (Day 2 of the Inca Trail)
We woke up around 6am
The crew provided us pancakes and porridge for breakfast. The pancakes were a treat!
This second day was the hardest day of the hike. The altitude change was crazy. We started at elevation 9,842 ft., up to 13,779 ft. at Dead Woman's Pass and then back to 11,700 ft for a total hike of around 9 hours. Dead Woman's Pass is tough. You are basically ascending all morning. I struggled a little bit and my husband had to carry my pack for a few meters.
Once we, got to the top, it was a welcome sight. The top is cold and we needed to put on our jackets and hats.
After you reach Dead Woman's Pass, the rest of the trail is downhill via rocky stones. I felt better going down.
Day 5 (Day 3 of the Inca Trail)
We woke up at 6:30 AM.
Day 3 was somewhat the easiest. We started at elevation 11,700 ft, climbed to elevation 13,123 ft., then back at 11,800 ft for a total hike of 6 hours. We ended at Phuyupatamarca. We were very lucky as the skies were somewhat clear and we got to see a beautiful sunset over the mountains.
Day 6 (Day 4 of the Inca Trail)
We woke up at around 2:30am.
No breakfast. Tea was provided as we got ready and and ready to go snacks were given.
We started our hike at 3:30AM in the dark. Your head lights are essential for the hike down. The descent can be treacherous especially since it's vertical and uneven, rocky, narrow steps. We started at elevation 12,073 ft and traveled down to 7,873 ft. for around 5 hours.
We made it to the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu at 8:30AM. Woohoo! We walked another hour to get to the actual site. This was a bit painful for me because I felt so tired due to the lack of breakfast and the heat. Truthfully, I was in a bad mood after reaching the Sun Gate and I didn't want to walk down. I walked anyways, but my toes were hurting so much.
If you are thinking, my God, this is a lot, the alternative is taking the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. After our trek, we took the bus down to Aguas Calientes and had a good meal. A few people from our group got massages and showered. I was jealous, but I didn't have an extra set of clothes so had to wait to get to our hotel. We boarded the train back to Ollantaytambo for 2 hours, then another 2 hour ride back to Cusco. We arrived back at Cusco at around 10pm and took some very well deserved hot showers and got a good night's rest.
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It's time to see the world!
- We left Cusco in the morning for a flight to Lima.
- We arrived in Miraflores, Lima at around 2PM bearing some traffic along the way. Lima traffic is rough.
- We had a well deserved dinner at Saqra and finally had some alcohol.
- If you can prepare ahead of time, make a reservation at Central Restaurante in Lima. It is the #4 rated restaurant in the world and the tasting menu is very reasonnable. I wish we were able to go, but just didn't have time.
Sea level air was definitely needed and we took time to enjoy Lima. We took it slow.
We explored the coastline. It was chilly, but nice.
My husband and I took the red eye back to New Jersey while the rest of the group continued on to Buenos Aires.
The trip felt like it flew by. Perhaps we were having way too much fun. The experience hiking on the Inca Trail was one I will never forget and one that pushed me to my physical and mental limit. The altitude, the rough terrain, the cold nights and mornings, the narrow paths can make you question why you are doing this in the first place. At the end of each day, when we finally reached our camp site for the day, I was grateful and thankful I didn't fall off the cliff or gave up. The Inca Trail itself isn't that hard of a trek, but combined with the altitude, the trek can be exhausting. We were lucky enough to have good weather for the 4 days were were on the trail and were able to see some amazing scenery. When we did finally got to Machu Picchu, I just felt tired. Sometimes, it's really not about the destination, but the journey itself. Machu Picchu was a sight to behold, but after walking 5 hours in the dark without eating as much as a protein bar, my spirits were a little shot. I was thankful to have seen the great wonder of the world, but even more grateful to have taken this journey as it proved what I was capable of. Overall a once in a lifetime experience.