As I begin writing this blog post, I can’t help struggling to find the right words. The magic and beauty which is Peru is hard to put into words. Machu Picchu had long been on my bucket-list and when I heard Inca Trail permits and Machu Picchu visitations were getting restricted, I panicked. I HAD to go before they closed the trail and potentially Machu Picchu…something they’ve been moving closer and closer to each year. As time goes on, their restrictions get worse. When we went, the amount of visitors on the Inca Trail and to Machu Picchu had decreased by 75%! Bare this in mind when planning your trip to Peru.
Ian and I traveled to Peru late June, early July. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for our trip! We had sunshine for the most part and minimal snow and rain. In order to get to Cusco (the town which eventually connects everyone to Machu Picchu) we had to fly through Lima, the country’s capital. A lot of people spend time in Lima, but we chose to only spend an evening here. Overall impression of Lima is that the driving is crazy! There are no regards for lanes on the freeways!
When we finally arrived in Cusco, we were at 11,000 feet of elevation. We went straight to our hotel, Casa San Blas Boutique Hotel. This hotel was precious and located in the heart of Cusco. We were able to walk from our hotel and explore our surroundings.
Narrow cobblestoned streets lead us to the town square. We didn’t feel the altitude until it was time to walk up the street to our hotel. We had to stop and take many breaks and eventually a long nap!
Cusco has delicious restaurants. For lunch, we ate at Jack’s Cafe. This was a quick and easy meal that hit the spot. We thought the meal was great until we ate at Greens for dinner. Greens was incredible! Greens offered all the traditional Peruvian meals: alpaca, guinea pig, corn, and quinoa. We stuck to what we knew and ordered chicken for dinner. This was a smart move the night before hiking the Inca Trail and is some of the best advice I can give. Don’t try new foods until the end of your trip!
Anyone interested in hiking the Inca Trail MUST go through a tour company. There is no option of doing the trail on your own. We went with Alpaca Expeditions and had to book the day they released tour dates in order to get permits as they sell out so quickly…especially for the American summer which is the Peruvian winter.
We cannot say enough wonderful things about Alpaca Expeditions. They picked us up from our hotel at 4AM and drove us from Cusco to the opening of the Inca Trail. There were two tour guides for eight hikers. Alpaca Expeditions had porters called the “green machines” that would carry all the food, tents, sleeping bags, and even a toilet for us! They are the only tour company that provides a toilet. By the time we would make it to our camp sites, everything would be set up for us, warm water basins for washing would be at our tents, and our dinner would be prepared. And these dinners were incredible! I still don’t understand how they were able to make so many delicious meals without an oven and on a trail! More so, this was my first ever experience camping. Alpaca Expeditions made the process fun and easy for me!
Day 1 on the Inca Trail was the easiest. We only hiked nine miles and our excitement pushed us through! Along the entire Inca Trail you will find Inca ruins. The Incas used THIS very trail to bring the perfectly aligned and situated rocks to Machu Picchu. They even laid down every stone on this path! They created many stopping points along the trail to lookout for invaders. More so, everything on the trail is aligned with the stars. They even have a Sun and Moon Temple along the trail to show their thanks to the gods. Having our tour guide teach us about the history affiliated with where we were was irreplaceable. We got to our tents to prepare for our biggest day of hiking yet.
Day 2 was one of the most physical days of my life. We began the morning at 4AM to eat before we began our journey. Meals like quinoa apple porridge filled us up for this day! What I found so incredible about day 2 was how the scenery changed. The first day was more of dry, dirt terrain. But as we came closer to the Amazon Jungle, things got greener, rivers appeared, and the temperature dropped. No wonder they call this portion the cloud forest. With every turn on day 2, there was something new to see and I was so blown away. The scenery definitely helped us get through the rigor of this day. We reached two summits and gained 15,000 feet of elevation. The first summit was Dead Woman’s Pass. We ended up being the first ones at the top for our group, partly because we trained for this very moment! Waiting at the top for us was coca tea to help with the altitude we gained. After recovering, we descended to our lunch spot nestled in the most gorgeous valley. I can’t put into words the beauty of this day. I felt like I was dreaming despite my legs shaking so much that they could have fallen off! After fueling up, we continued on to reach our second summit. At the top we were given peppermint to inhale to help with the altitude. Once again, the entire trail is bordered with ruins that you can explore along the way.
Day 3 was an easy day. On this day, we saw our first Inca Tunnels. The tunnels are small holes in massive rocks. The traditional Incas that built the trail were less than 5ft tall with larger than average hearts to help them with the altitude. This explains the tunnel entrance shape! We barely gained elevation however the day’s theme was ruins. We explored Phuyupatamarka and Initpata. We made it to our camp site with time to spare so we went to Wiñay Wayna, one of the most peaceful ruins I have ever seen. We were the only ones there and if you follow it down, you hit a hidden waterfall. We washed up there and went back to camp to recover before seeing Machu Picchu in the morning. The night ended with a cake. That was not a typo. Somehow, someway they were able to make a cake on the trail! I neglected to mention that our tour group had a designated chef (complete with a chef hat) and waiter (the only porter wearing a vest and bowtie).
Day 4 was dedicated to Machu Picchu. We woke up at 3AM to hike in complete darkness to the Sun Gate entrance. There was a sense of urgency to be the first ones here because you would then be the first ones at the Sun Gate to see Machu Picchu uninhabited. Our tour guide purposely didn’t mention how hard this part of the hike was so that we wouldn’t get discouraged. The darkness alone was hard enough, but the hike was also extremely challenging. There were portions I was literally crawling up! We made it to the Sun Gate at sunrise and were able to so Machu Picchu before anyone entered. The Sun Gate looks down on Machu Picchu and is only accessible through the Inca Trail. After taking in the site we were about to explore, we took the trail down to enter the wonder which is Machu Picchu. Seeing this once civilization nestled in the Andes as the sun broke through the breaking clouds was magical.
If you want to hike the Death Stairs, Huayana Picchu, you HAVE to book tickets when you buy your Inca Trail permits. They sell out so quickly. We purchased them right away and were so happy we did! This was the sketchiest hike we have ever been on. We were crawling up this mountain, without railings and without guides. Nothing was keeping us safe on this mountain except for us. Hiking in Peru is at your own risk. This mountain gave us a bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu, and since it was the Fourth of July we whipped out our American flags.
When it was time to leave, we stamped our passports with Machu Picchu stamps and took the bus down the mountain to Aguas Calientes, the tiny town at the base of Machu Picchu. We ate lunch and explored a little bit before jumping on the train out. For those of you not wanting to hike, the train is an excellent option. You can take the train into Aguas Calientes, see Machu Picchu, then hop back onto the train all in one day! After our car ride from the train station to Cusco, we finally made it back to our hotel. The hotel had hot packs waiting for us.
The next day we were off to the Amazon Jungle. Machu Picchu was just the beginning of the adventure for us!
To say I was impressed with Peru would be an understatement. Part of what made this trip so incredible as that we did our research. We knew what to pack and how to pack smartly. We had studied the Incas beforehand and also knew what to expect from Peru as a whole. We anticipated tipping Peruvians and we knew the altitude could be troubling for us if we didn’t prepare. This trip took a lot of planning so before you go, make sure you read Planning Your Trip To Peru.