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Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu


Close to five years ago, I heard about the idea of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and, while I knew very little detail beyond its existence, I had it in my mind that I wanted to experience this hike first hand.  Between that time, I’ve had some amazing trips around the globe – Costa Rica, Russia, Italy, trips to celebrate the nuptials of friends and family near and far – but for one reason or another, this hike never made it to the top of our list.

But one day last June, on the Thursday just prior to our engagement, I saw a deal on The Clymb that just felt right.  A deal through amazing Valencia Travel Cusco that included round trip flights from Miami (where my dad lives), hotels before and after the trek, and the full guide for an incredibly affordable cost.  But most importantly, I had such a strong feeling that I was supposed to be a part of this group that I almost had to go.  Nine months later, just a few months before our wedding, and Ray and I were on a flight ready to experience the trip of a lifetime.

Below, I’ll walk through the daily schedule, but I cannot put into words what this experience has meant to me.  This four day, three night hike was the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done (Ray said that the Triple Bypass bike ride was more difficult for him… show off), and I came back a changed, much more confident person.  The group of 14 of us that were randomly put together could not stop talking about how everything happens for a reason – we all happened to attend a week in rainy season, had to change the itinerary due to some camp sites being closed, and most of us are not the stereotypical “outdoorsy” people.  But it just so happened that we ended up all having a relatively similar athletic level, got along incredibly well, had an amazing guide that kept our confidence and spirits up through some very difficult experiences, and the change in schedule allowed us to see Machu Picchu on a sunny, gorgeous day, rather than our originally planned day that ended up being cloudy and filled with rain.  Nothing is a coincidence.

IMG_4890 Our full, amazing group at Machu PIcchu!

**Side note: I’m not even going to talk here about how amazing our porters and cooks were.  Valencia was a FANTASTIC tour group that I cannot recommend enough.  The porters ranged in age from 19 to 60 and literally sprinted the hills I struggled on while rockin’ Converses and flip flops.  Their cardio capabilities were other-wordly.**

Day 1: Getting to Machu Picchu and a supposedly “easy” day of hiking

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Step one, hop on a random bus that drives two-ish hours to a small town called Ollantaytambo where they’re casually blasting traditional Peruvian tunes in the town square at 6:30am.  Eat breakfast, buy hiking poles for 20 soles (Peruvian currency), then hop back on the bus for 45 minutes down a dirt path that I’m fairly certain is someone’s reeeeeeally long unpaved highway that they decided to put 2 centimeters away from a massive ravine.  Then we’re off!

For whatever reason, they claim day number one is “easy,” and I’d agree that it starts off as such.  Relatively flat terrain, gorgeous views with few hills, and then you’re done with the first 1/3 of the day.  After that, there’s a mixture of flats, but get ready for some hills, too.  If you’re on this hike though, trust me that you’ll start to love going uphill instead of downhill – get out your poles and rock it!

On this day, you’ll also see your first Incan ruins on the trail.  Remember that this trek is meant to be a pilgrimage – the Incans could spend up to 15 days going along the trail, having fiestas and reflecting spiritually each day and evening.  (Though the world record was set by a porter and he finished the full trail in 3 hours 42 minutes.  WTF mate?!)  These ruins should be a reminder to take this time to reflect and separate yourself from the outside world.  It’ll be worth it. 🙂

IMG_4732 - Copy Our camp site on day, with a gorgeous river flowing right next to our tents

The evening of day one was what really set the tone for the rest of the trip.  While we were incredibly tired, our whole group made a point of attending dinner and laughing together the full night.  Dessert was amazing, but over the course, we were told that our originally scheduled camp site for night two (of three nights) was closed.  Our choices were to stop day two of hiking short and make a longer fourth day at 3:30am (woof), or have a super intense day two, including two mountain passes (double woof), and make it to Machu Picchu on day three (instead of our originally planned day four).  Our full group voted and we all unanimously voted to hike two mountain passes the next day.  Working together and having confidence in each other immediately was what made this level of intensity possible.

IMG_4737 Dinner in our meal tent night one.  While there was a light provided, we regularly ate with our head lamps on because we’d get out of the meal in pure darkness.  Alex, our guide, is the man standing up and you can see the chef standing in the background with 2 of the 19 other porters.

Day 2: OMG Two Mountain Passes… & One is Called “Dead Woman’s Pass”

4:30am came really quickly the next day, and the uphill started immediately.  In the first half of the day, we were hiking legitimately uphill for ~2.5 hours.  I was in tears close to the top, but I still wouldn’t hand anybody my massive pack 30+ lbs pack.  (Especially after some guy from another tour group said, “want me to carry your pack?  You look like you’re struggling.” Knowing me well, Ray thought I was about to break my pole because I was so mad.)  Getting to the top of this mountain, the fastest of the group was playing “started from the bottom now we’re here” from their iPod and I just sat and reflected.  After a sip of hot tea and a cheese sandwich, I was willing to talk to people again before quickly started our first downhill.  1.5 hours of steep stairs later, our knees were feeling the pain, but our porters were amazing and set out mattresses for us to take small siestas.

IMG_4763 Making it to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass… it took a good 30 minutes before that smile would come to my face.  The siesta spot I mention is in the pictures section below.

After a large lunch, we were ready for mountain pass number two.  This one was shorter (about an hour and a half to the top), but a lot steeper.  What was most amazing to me was the amount of climates we travelled through!  We started in some massive heat, then on the way up, we magically transitioned to hiking next to a lake filled with bullfrogs in the middle of a cloud, then we hiked back down to some massive heat.  It made no sense to me, but I loved it!

10+ miles (I couldn’t tell you how many) later and we finished the day incredibly proud and accomplished.  We were so tired that we were laughing to the point of tears throughout dinner, but we were ready to take on the rest of the hike!

Day 3: The Most Gorgeous Day, “Gringo Killer,” & Reaching Machu Picchu!


FullSizeRender - CopyOur campsite on day three

On the third day, we woke up early enough to see the full moon over the mountains while we woke up literally on top of the clouds.  It was just the beginning of a full day of gorgeous views.  We hiked along the edge of a cliff most of the morning, leaving us with the ability to feel surrounded by the snowcapped mountains.  Trekking through clouds and caves, with the end being ~3,000 vertical feet of steep stairs downhill called “gringo killer,” until finally making our way to an incredibly sunny lunch spot. Lunch was followed by around two hours of hiking – the last 20 minutes were straight uphill, including bear climbing up a staircase, but then… we made it to the Sungate.

Seeing Machu Picchu was one of my proudest moments to this point in my life.  I accomplished something I did not know I was capable of and came out to see the gorgeous sun of the sacred valley on the other side.

We camped that evening at the base of Machu Picchu, waking up in the early hours to head back into the sacred valley.  Seeing Machu Picchu was an experience in itself, but I feel that it was nothing compared to the full Inca Trail.  While only three days, our group of 14 felt banded together and like we were a family that nobody else could understand.  If you’re going to Machu Picchu, I highly recommend at least considering hiking the Inca Trail.  It’s the trip of a lifetime.

IMG_4835 Our group part way through day three overlooking part of the trail and one of the rivers in the middle of the sacred valley.  I am so proud to be a part of this crew!


IMG_4718 - Copy Day 1 with my 30+ lb pack – and yes, it was over half the size of my body

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Our meal tent that was ready to go by the time we made it to each camp site… and below is an example of one meal with three of the four courses pictured.  All of the food was fantastic and so fresh!

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Because I don’t drink coffee, Coca Tea and Coca Leaves were my source of caffeine each day.  Once you are done drinking the tea, you roll up the leaves and stick them under your lower lip like you’re dipping.  Pure class.


Just the very beginning of the uphill portion of day 2

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The siesta spot that the porters set up for us after Dead Woman’s Pass on day two

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We had a bathroom tent at each camp site with a little, portable toilet.  Although it was surrounded by llamas or alpacas on our second night


Our view on the third morning waking up

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Al fresco dining on our third morning

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Hiking on three… sore and defeated, but so excited!!


Lunch our third day was SO HOT… but the chef still rocked his chef gear and made AMAZING food… over a camp stove.


Lunch our third day was near a Incan farm about a two hour hike from Machu Picchu.  The terraces were so steep that they could farm different foods, requiring different climates, depending on the level


Bear crawling on a final staircase close to the sungate!


Have you ever participated in a multi-day hike?

Do you have any recommendations for similar trips to consider?

Create a great life!

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