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Hiking PERU's Inca Trail
Hiking PERU's Inca Trail

# Hiking the Incan TRAIL to Machu Picchu

Scott and I were awoken from a deep sleep in our warm, cozy tent at 4:30 a.m. Our group camp spot at Lares Hot Springs was set up between the restroom and the pools of hot water. The hot springs were open 24 hours a day, so it was a good thing I had ear plugs. I’m sure we would have slept well no matter what, after completing the Lares Valley Trek the day before.

We only had time for a quick breakfast of tea, bread and butter and an oatmeal like porridge made of the local staple, quinoa.

Our destination today? Machu Picchu!

Cross the Mountains

First, our group boarded a bus for a three hour ride, as we crossed over the mountains and into the Sacred Valley.

Most people slept, but I quietly watched our zigzagging ascent and descent over the mountains. Sometimes I glimpsed snow in the headlights of the bus, as we were at high elevation.


Finally, we arrived at the town of Ollantaytambo. It looked to be a great hub for all outdoor activities. Isas our guide from SAS Travel, gave us our tickets to ride PeruRail through the Sacred Valley.

We were also given a sack lunch that contained a sandwich, juice and fruit to take on our hike.

Everyone boarded the train and we proceeded to relax and chat with our friends as we made our way by train through the Sacred Valley. We rode along the Urubamba River the entire time and it was really flowing. The area was so picturesque with lush green mountains, which surrounded the valley.

The ride was comfortable on the narrow gauge railway, and the time passed quickly.

[inca trail] Peru Rail
KM 106

An hour and a half later we reached our destination. Isas told us we must exit the train at kilometer 106. So, when the stop was announced our group exited quickly. KM 106 doesn’t have a station, so when the train pulled away, it was only our group left to stand on the lonesome tracks.

Isas then led us to a bridge and we crossed the river. Officials stood ready at the Inca Trail checkpoint. We showed our passports and necessary paperwork from SAS Travel. They gave us the go ahead to proceed up the mountain.

[inca trail]
Our group crossing the river.
Inca Trail

Isas explained how we would hike uphill for a couple of hours, at our own pace. There would be many switchbacks to lead us up the mountain. Then, we would all gather for a snack and rest before we hiked across the mountain to the Sun Gate, also known as Inti Punku.

There was a total of nineteen people in our group, with Scott and I and four of our friends from home included.

Everyone hiked at a different pace, so we split up and made our own way up the mountain.

The Hike

Right away, Scott and I realized it would be a much different hike than we had just done on the Lares Valley Trek. The climate was tropical and hot on the Inca Trail, with humidity we hadn’t yet experienced in Peru. We removed our layers of clothing and applied sunscreen and bug spray.

The hike itself was on a nice trail, and it did have switchbacks all the way up the mountain. Isas neglected to tell us how many stairs there were as well. Switchbacks made of stairs! It made for slow going, but we were excited to finally realize our dream of seeing Machu Picchu.

Rest Stop

After 1-2 hours of hiking, we waited for our leader Isas and the rest of our group. We were so hot, sweat poured from our bodies, at least we were well hydrated! A few people had gone ahead and we all eventually met up for our lunch break. There was some confusion as to if we were at the top of the mountain, as Scott and I didn’t think it was as long of a hike as we had imagined.

As we waited, we saw a lot of other groups from different travel agencies. Only human porters are allowed on the Inca Trail, which meant no animals, so we saw porters carry huge amounts of gear on their backs.

I was impatient to get going on the trail. It was difficult for my body to take a long break in the middle of our hikes. This was a common occurrence for me with group hikes, which I would really need to consider when planning future treks.

[inca trail]
Hiking across the saddle section.
The Saddle

Isas gathered us all together and we went through another passport check point.

So many people hike the Inca Trail every day, and it’s their way to control the number of hikers on the trail.

The saddle is what Isas called the next section of trail. It was more narrow and relatively flat. We enjoyed hiking across the mountain side in the shade.

Suddenly, I saw movement from the corner of my eye, an animal moved smoothly away from us. My friend Shayni saw it too. It was a black puma! We were pretty excited to see a puma.

There was so much to see along the trail; orchids, bromeliads and other jungle plants.

[inca trail]
Ups and downs along the saddle.
The Stone Ladder

At last, we reached a set of steep, narrow steps Isas called the Stone Ladder. Once we climbed to the top, we were at the Sun Gate-Inti Punku.

[inca trail]
Our friend Jeff on the stone ladder.

Inti Punku was the original main entrance to Machu Picchu. Imperial guards used the gate to control who came and went.

[inca trail]
Sun Gate from the Machu Picchu side.

It was such a surreal feeling as we walked through the gate and overlooked the entire complex of Machu Picchu in the distance.

After we took a million pictures, we began to descend the stone steps toward Machu Picchu. It was quite hot and in full sun, but we were so happy to take in the glorious views of the area.

[inca trail]
Machu Picchu

As a group we met at a lower overlook just above the complex. Our guide told us stories of the Incas and we took more pictures.

[inca trail]
Machu Picchu from above!

Unfortunately, it was time for us to leave. We wouldn’t tour Machu Picchu until tomorrow and it requires a whole new blog post!

Out the exit we went and onto a bus, and down many more switchbacks to the town of Aguas Calientes.

[inca trail]
The switchbacks you see go down to the valley floor.

To read more about our time in Peru, please click here.

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I'm just one of the many contributors to FollowthePIN who have crisscrossed the globe. Our international swagger and expertise will serve to encourage and challenge you in your wanderlust and personal journeys.

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