I hiked the Inca Trail at the end of July 2015. Want to find out how Day 1 & 2 went? Click here…otherwise read on for part two of the epic trek.
Day 3 – Pacamayo (3600masl) to Winay Wayna (2700masl)
Apparently Day 2 was the hardest (and boy were we thankful to have that out of the way), and Day 3 was meant to be the longest day – we had 15km distance to cover, but were descending at what I assumed would be a gradual rate.
HA! How wrong was I?!
After our lovely sweet coca tea wakeup call and a hearty breakfast we launched into 1.5hours of steep uphill. My calves felt painfully tight, but we chugged away on our tired legs, making it to the second pass for a quick morning tea break.
On the way we had passed a small lake which was in the shape of Australia, it even had a tiny Tasmania! We rested at the top of the pass for 10 minutes, but decided to quickly push on – we had a long day ahead of us and resting now would mean a much longer day at the other end!
Over the other side of the pass we started to head down hill, and for me this is when the hard stuff really set in – it was steep steep downhill steps for the next 2 hours, until we reached the ruins of Phuyupatamarka.
We spent an hour exploring these ruins, learning more about Inca construction and rituals that were held in these places. Never used for defence or for warfare, they were structures used for travellers as well as medicinal, astronomical, and philosophical explorations.
As groups marched on past us to the lunch break, it was really peaceful and quiet and a nice spot to enjoy the tranquility of the ruins.
Ahead of us we could see the trail dip down in to the jungle and back up to where the lunch stop was, and were surprised it only took us 20minutes to reach it.
Unfortunately it wasn’t long after lunch that both Jason and I started suffering our earlier symptoms again… and the next section of the trail we split up and both took mad runs to reach the next “pit stop”.
We’d heard horror stories about the toilets along the trail, but actually found them to be clean (enough), and usually with a strong and powerful flush (occasionally there was the bucket/ trough of water style) – but be warned they are of the squat variety rather than a throne!
Another 1.5hours after lunch we hit the Inca Steps, a gruelling 2hour downhill grind of the steepest steps ever – approx 1500 steps with a 1000m descent. I’ve since heard it’s nickname is the gringo killer – my knees certainly thought it lived up to that name! It really was one large uneven step at a time, and we picked our way down. Jase literally flew down this section…emergencies call for fast feet!
We had a choice to split on this part of the trail – to the left was slower but a flatter route to the campsite, whereas to the right was a steeper short cut. I’d spent a lot of today hiking on my own – I was aware of others in my group ahead or behind me, but with the challenging terrain I was much better taking it at my own pace.
My body was aching from the downhill, so I opted to head left at the split – apparently there was better scenery this way too, although I am not sure I was really taking a lot of it in. A few minutes along the trail I came across a pack of llamas and spent a few minutes trying to get a selfie with them – not sure they quite understood though!
I caught up to Jase at the ruins of Intipata, where his earlier exertion (he’d even passed our guide in his rush to find a suitable, erm, bush…) had left him with a blood nose. We think the Diamox (altitude pills) had lowered Jase’s blood pressure too much (he already has low BP) and so he had been getting bleeding noses a few times a day. He decided he better stop the medication as he wasn’t really THAT bad at altitude – his headaches were treatable with regular ibuprofen.
We had to sit for 40minutes while we waited for the bleed to stop, and as most of the hikers had already passed through this area it was lovely and peaceful. It wasn’t long before my friends the llamas just quietly made their way past us, checking out the views of the valley below. We could see the twinkling lights of Aguas Calientes town, and hear the toots of the trains running – we were getting close to civilisation again.
As darkness neared we hobbled in to our campground (our poor guide Santi was just about to send out a search party for us – we had gone from the front of the pack to not showing up at the campground!) and I deposited Jase in the tent before joining a few others to visit the Winay Wayna ruins, or “mini macchu picchu” which was 10mins from the campground.
I’m glad I didn’t have a chance to sit down – I’m not sure I would have gotten back up again! It was really cool to see ancient water channels that had been built by the Incas still running with water from the mountains today, flowing the water in to the ceremonial fountains. Just incredible.
Like total zombies we inhaled dinner (I was too tired to cut my chicken, so only ate what I could fit on my fork or immediately put in my mouth!). We had a quick farewell ceremony with the guides and porters, thanking them and giving them tips, before collapsing in to bed. We had a 3am wake up call the next morning, and by the state of our bodies and minds we all agreed that Day 2 had been a piece of cake (HARD cake), but Day 3 was the killer. Longest AND hardest day, for sure.
Day 4 – Winay Wayna (2700masl) to Machu Picchu (2400masl) via Inti Punku (Sun Gate)
The 3am wakeup call didn’t actually feel too bad – we dressed, slugged back some coffee, threw our packs on our bags, picked up our poles and marched the 200m to the control gate, which didn’t open until 5.30! The reason we had to be up so early was mainly for the porters – they have to take a different route down from the final campsite, and their train departs at 5am – so they need to get our tents down and skeddaddle early. We were the second group in line for the control, so we had a good start to the trail. We sat huddled in the dark, dozing and trying to keep warm as the coldest part of dawn passed and peeks of sunlight started the day.
After popping a voltaren (my KNEES!) Jase and I broke away from the main group and clattered along the fairly flat trail at quite a fast clip. I was holding on to a small hand torch to light our way – I really wished I had my head torch as it’s a tad difficult with hiking poles in your hand too! However after 10minutes we could put our torches away and enjoy the sunrise coming up over the valley below. The track reminded us a lot more of the type of trail you would find in New Zealand and we really enjoyed it. Flat(ish) path, lots of trees and lovely and cool.
We came to a steep STEEP set of steps which we climbed almost like monkeys – using our hands as much as our feet. We came to an archway and before we really realised where we were, we had stepped out through the Sun Gate and were looking straight at Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the world.
We managed to get a few photos before the rest of the groups caught up with us and flooded the Sun Gate. Up until this point we hadn’t found the track to be that crowded at all – everyone set off at different times and took breaks at different places, so quite often you could be hiking on your own or in a small group.
However on this last morning the competitive nature comes out in some – and it’s almost a race to the Sun Gate. We had a few bolshy people trying to push each other out of the way for photos…I mean, chill out man, we will all get our pictures!
Jase and I took our time descending the last section of trail towards Machu Picchu, watching the sunrise catch the city and spread across the ruins. It was breathtaking and I felt quite emotional, knowing I had hiked for 4 days to be here.
It wasn’t long before we noticed day trippers coming towards us – in their clean clean clothes, and smelling of delicious shampoo! After 4 days in the same clothes, I wasn’t sure we were looking our best… but I felt quite proud of myself regardless.
We reached the ruins and Santi immediately took us to the best spot for “the photo”. After plenty of snaps he led us down through the crowds to meet our 4 other tour group members who had come up via train as they were unable to do the hike due to ability and illness.
I think it was a bit of a shock to us to have hiked for 4 days, and then be surrounded by thousands of tourists, all clambering and pushing each other. 3,500 day tickets are sold to Machu Picchu, and the tourists come up by the busload. I honestly had no idea that this was coming ahead for us (in my ignorance I thought the ONLY way to go to Machu Picchu was to hike the Inca Trail!), and it was hard not to feel a bit underwhelmed and just plain “over it” walking around the city.
Never the less, Santi took us on a 2 hour tour of the ruins, explaining about the different layouts and structures and how the city was found in the early 1900’s by explorers.
We were given more free time to explore on our own, but us weary hikers were well and truly past it (a 3am start does not a tolerant hiker make!) and so we all jumped on a bus down to Aguas Calientes, where we ordered huge pizzas and beers to celebrate. Jase and I also visited a pharmacy and bought a stock of antibiotics – after trying to let our bodies reset naturally, holding off our symptoms as best we could with various pills while on the hike (and failing miserable) – it was time for some (more) intervention.
Our long trek back to Cusco started at 2pm, with a beautiful train ride through the valley to Ollantaytambo, then a bus back to the hotel – finally arriving at 7pm. Weary, dirty, smelly – but super proud of ourselves, the Inca Trail was a trek we will never forget.
The saying “it’s not about the destination, but the journey to get there” really rings true for this experience – while Machu Picchu was huge and amazing and awe inspiring, its the 4 days of hiking that will stick with me for ever more. Nothing beats the satisfaction of seeing the sun rise over that village, knowing you have worked your body hard to be there and experience that. I loved the Inca Trail and I’d highly recommend for any one to add it to your travel bucket list – it’s a must!
Have you hiked the Inca Trail? What part was your favourite? What part was your worst?
We are currently travelling from Lima, Peru to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with Tucan Travel on their 49 day adventure tour Coast to Coast itinerary – which included hiking the Inca Trail.