The Inca Trail was a dream come true. In fact, I have always dreamed of visiting Machu Picchu, an Inca fortress built in the 15th century just before the Spanish conquest. It is located at an altitude of 2450 meters and was only discovered in 1911 by archaeologist Hiram Bingham. It is the third largest archaeological site in the world after Pompeii and Ostia Antica and is one of the seven wonders of the world.
There are many ways to reach Machu Picchu: given my passion for mountains, I chose to walk the Inca Trail, which allows you to reach the famous archaeological site through a beautiful 4-day, 3-night hike.
In my two days of acclimatization in Cusco, I got to visit the city, appreciate its culinary and nightlife. I was also able to meet Peru Treks, the tour agency with whom I booked the trek.
The first day started at 5:30 a.m., which is when Perutreks picked me up at my hostel in Cusco: there were 16 of us in total. After about 3 hours on the bus (plus an hour breakfast break), we arrived at km 82 of the trail, where we ‘checked in,’ that is, there was a check of our documents. Thus, km 82 is the official start of the Inca Trail. The first day consists of a simple 12-kilometer walk, mostly flat except for a small climb at the end: the Vilcanota River keeps company for much of the way, and it is possible to see the first archaeological site of the trek (Llactapata). Camp is set up in Wayllabamba, at an altitude of 3,000 meters: here you can buy the last snacks.
This is the toughest day of the trek: from the 3000m of Wayllabamba we reach the 4215m of Dead Woman Pass: the views from here are stunning. On this day everyone will answer in their own way the question of whether the Inca Trail is difficult. I had no problem with altitude but for many this day is quite complicated. A descent of about 2 1/2 hours leads down to Pacamayo, thus completing the daily 12 km: the Camp is located at an altitude of 3600 meters.
The third day of the Inca Trail is the most culturally interesting.
After about 45 minutes you reach the site of Runkuracay: these ruins, round in shape, also provide a view of the Pacamayo Valley from above. From here, we climb for 45 minutes until we reach the second pass of the Inca Trail: Abra de Runkuracay. The view from here is simply beautiful. The descent from the pass is definitely interesting: in fact, it features small steps and the nature is very lush in places.
After an hour’s walk we arrive at Sayacmarca, the inaccessible city: indeed, the name describes very well the remote location of this site. From Sayacmarca we climb up to the third pass, located at 3700 meters, from which Mount Salkantay can also be seen. We arrive very quickly at Phuyupatamarca (city in the clouds): it is beautiful to go down the ancient staircase, which passes through ‘The Six Inca Baths,’ probably used for the water ritual.
From Phuyupatamarca we descend, again thanks to magnificent steps (knees don’t thank) to Camp Wiñay Wayna, positioned at 2900 meters: with a short walk we arrive at the site of Wiñay Wayna (which in Quechua means ‘always young,’ probably a name due to the pink orchids) which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful site on the trail, thanks to its magnificent location and excellent preservation.
This is the longest day of the walk: there are 15 km total.
After an early rise at 3 a.m., it is only 5 km to Puerta del Sol: the sunrise from here is something unique and unforgettable. The descent to the ‘center’ of Machu Picchu is comparable to the lap of honor after winning an Olympic race, given the beauty of the place and the satisfaction of what has been done. Here you participate in a guided tour of the magnificent Inca site, which coincides with the end of the Inca Trail.
There is also the optional, paid option of climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu, the mountain behind Machu Picchu: these last 400 meters of ascent provide additional views of this incredible historic city.
From Machu Picchu you go down by bus to Aguas Calientes, from where you return by late-night train to Cusco.
This walk is not technically complicated, however, it is not to be underestimated both because of the maximum altitude of 4420 meters and because of sleeping in a Camp located at 3600 meters.
How to organize the Inca Trail? One must book well in advance (I recommend about six months before the theoretical date). In fact, the Inca Trail can accommodate a maximum of 500 people per day, and despite its high prices (about $550), it is often sold out. To do the Inca Trail in the summer you have to book in October.
I feel like recommending Peru Treks. I have no complaints about them: they were great in explaining to me what needs to be brought, and I always got along well with their meals and tents.