- 45 km: 3.5 days of walking
- Highest point of the trail: Dead Woman's Pass at 4,215m
- Settings: very diverse - from the Pandora-like rainforest to bare hilltops
- Temperature: at night as low as 0C (32F), during the day as high as 30C (86F)
- Accommodations: tents and hole-in-the-floor-style toilets at campsites
- People: everyone is a traveler, finally I'm in heaven!
Day 1: Easy
From Cusco we were brought by bus to Ollantaytambo where the Inca trail officially starts. The walk from here is pretty easy and very scenic because the trail goes along the wide and fast part of Urubamba river through multiple local communities. At this point, drinks and snacks can be purchased in many places right on the trail. There are also a few bathrooms where 1 sole (50c) would buy you some privacy and the best view a bathroom could ever have. Noticed how I didn't say "comfort"?
From the first overnight camp the trail goes all the way up to the highest point of the whole trek at 4,215m. This place is called Dead Woman's Pass because the mountains look like a silhouette of a woman resting on her back. Let's see if you can figure this out:
The second night was the coldest as the camp is located at 3,800m. Apparently, keeping the inner layer of a tent a little bit unzipped (about 2 inches) helps against dew accumulation and, hence, cooling of the air inside the tent.
Day 3: Unforgettable
The third day is the longest in terms of walking (16 km), but is also quite easy and interesting. The trail goes through several large Inca sites that served as security posts, overnight stopovers, religious places, or terraces.
or wash your face...
Contrary to popular belief, there are no warm showers at Winay Wayna camp. There are a few tiny cabins with cold running water, but no light or place to hang/put your clothes.
On the last night of the Inca trail the dinner is traditionally special. It also coincided with Canada Day, so the cook made us a cake with a special message on it.
The third night is also the point when porters and the cook get their tips. I should say right away: seeing how much stuff they carry, how little they sleep, and how friendly and thoughtful they are, I WANTED to give a good
tip to encourage them. We've been told by the guide that a decent amount would be approx. 50 soles for each porter from the whole group, and about twice that much for the cook. But the whole process of organizing the tip was pretty awkward, just because people have very different attitudes to tipping. As a way to prepare yourself for this unavoidable moment, I would recommend having a stack of local cash put aside for the trek.
Day 4: Special
The last day of the trail starts a little before 5 am. The check point is open at 5:30, but we had to make it there at 5:00 to get in line. The less people are in front of you, the faster the whole group will walk and the faster everyone will make it to the Sun Gate for the sunrise. At this point it's still completely dark and the headlamps really help!
The Sun Gate is famous because that's where you can get the first glimpse of Machu Picchu. But it is also quite far for the view to be spectacular, so it may be a better idea to watch the sunrise from another small ruin about half way between the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu.
During the winter month (May-August) it gets dark at about 6:30 pm. The washrooms at campsites have sinks and running cold water, but no light. I found it very useful to have a headlamp versus a regular flashlight just
because it frees your hands.
NeoCitran/Theraflu/any other hot liquid medicine
Great to have if you feel under weather because of the cold nights in a tent. We regretted not bringing any. Little sachets don't weight much, but would be more useful on the trail than Tylenol or Pepto-Bismol.
What not to bring:
Water purification pills/filter
Don't bother caring them around because you will never use them. On the first two days you are expected to have your own water, and there are plenty of chances to buy it along the trail. During the last two days, we were given boiled water in the morning and at lunch. And that was more than enough. I had a Lifestraw with me and was very curious to try it out but decided against it because the last thing I would want on this facilities-less trail is stomach problems.
While almost everyone in our group had a stick or two, I opted against it after seeing that none of the porters or the guides used one. And I was fine! It was nice not to carry extra weight and have my hands free. It is also much easier to climb very steep stairs without them.
P.S. I used Peru Treks for the Inca trail and was extremely satisfied with the whole experience! Food was plentiful and tasty, the guide (Carlos) was very knowledgeable and fun to be around, porters were nice and
hardworking, and there were no issues whatsoever... Every morning we were woken up with a cup of hot chocolate in bed... ummmm, can I stay here forever?