From an easy hike to the tough stretch up Dead Woman’s Pass, the first two days along the Inca Trail were eye-opening. It was hard to believe that we were actually there in South America, finally ticking this adventure off the bucket list. Click here to read about my experience on the first two days hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
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INCA TRAIL DAY 3: THE SPECTACULAR
Pacaymayo to Wiñaywayna • Distance: 16km
This morning began differently to the previous day. Disaster had struck. Rather than the usual morning wakeup call from the porters, I awoke to the sound of my churning stomach and an awful pain in the gut. I guess you could say that the chances of getting sick while travelling through South America are pretty high. Unfortunately for me, my spout of what I will just call ‘Peruvian Belly’ hit me on the third morning of the Inca Trail. Talk about excellent timing!
I was not in a good state at 5.30am, so that morning all I managed to do was quickly get changed into my walking gear, throw in my contacts and pack my day bag. Despite my best efforts to eat breakfast, instead I found myself making my way down in a scuffle to the filthy campsite toilets. It was in that moment that I knew today was not going to be a good one – healthwise anyways. All I could do was pop a few tablets and hope for the best.
We were in for our longest day of hiking – leaving the campsite at 7am and arriving at 5:30pm that evening. The first section of the hike was slightly uphill, but it was nothing compared to the previous day. We had a brief stop at the Inca site, Runkaracay. This would be the first of many Inca sites we would pass on the third day, a sign that we were getting closer to the one and only Machu Picchu.
We began on the Runkurakay Pass which would lead to the highest point of the day (3950m), before making our way down the descent. I stuck towards the back of the group for this section. We were determined to keep going, and we made it easier for ourselves by breaking the hike into different sections. With the aim of reaching a certain section of the trail insight, we continued on and would have a short break at each of our marking points. We were completing the trail quite well this way, and our constant short stops gave us time to enjoy the landscape of the trail, the mystical mountains surrounding us and spot the few lakes hidden within the mountains on the way up.
Making it to the highest point of the day was such a relief, it was only going to get easier from now on – even if my stomach was killing me! After a quick nibble of a muesli bar and rehydrating, I met the rest of our group on a higher spot amongst the rocks at the top of the path. One by one, I scaled the edge of each rock to the peak of the rock formation. What an amazing view of the mountain valleys on each side this point gave!
It was mostly downhill from there, this was made easier by my sister who lent me another walking stick to help me out. We reached the Inca site, Sayacmarca, which is only accessible by climbing up a steep, narrow staircase. Our guides explained more of the Inca culture and the purpose of the layout of this particular site, before our group was given time to explore. Many people of the group agreed that this was their favourite Inca ruin along the trail.
Back down the terrifying steps we went, and veered left of the trail. I had previously read on other travel blogs that the third day is the one full of incredible views, and I was not disappointed; this part of the trail constantly left me in awe of the beautiful sights. We wound our way around the mountains, along the cliff side and through caves. We were literally walking amongst the clouds, it’s no surprise why they call this section the cloud forest. Surrounded by plenty of greenery and flora, the trail was so tranquil and lovely. It wasn’t too difficult either – no wonder it was my favourite part of the trail.
We stopped for our last lunch with the porters, with the chefs treating everyone to a special buffet meal. Despite how delicious it looked, I kept with some asparagus soup and tea (a mixture of black tea and celery) to help settle my stomach. From our lunch spot, we had our first view of the Machu Picchu mountain – we were so close!
We set off again just after it started to drizzle. It was only a light shower, so it didn’t warrant us to pull out our bright blue ponchos (unfortunately). From here, the only direction we would be walking was down! Picking up a great rhythm and walking speed, we absolutely gunned it down the slope and surprisingly, we didn’t have to rely on our walking sticks to keep it steady. After a quick stop at the Phuyupatamarca Ruins, off we went again at a good pace. Despite being known as the Gringo Killer, the trail wasn’t too hard or bumpy. Our main concern was being bowled over by one of the porters who would whiz past us at an incredible pace. We must have been moving pretty fast ourselves, with one group calling out ‘porters’ as we moved up to over take them – yes, what an ego boost!
Passing by an electricity tower made us aware that we were getting close to civilisation. In the distance we could see a magnificent Inca site. Intipata and Wiñay Wayna would be the last ruins we visited along the Inca Trail before Machu Picchu. This site was the most impressive one we had seen along the Inca Trail so far. Not only were the staggered terraces on the steep mountain front quite remarkable, the view ahead of us of the mountain valley was majestic. From within the thick vegetation, we could see our campsite in the distance. Our group spent quite a bit of time just admiring the site and the view, as well as taking advantage of the time for the perfect photo-ops.
After settling in to our campsite and having our final dinner along the trail, our chefs and porters surprised us with a little something they had baked up. They brought out a chocolate sponge-cake with pink jelly and our family name Sexy Alpacas iced on the top in pink. We were all in bed very early this evening, with the final day starting very soon.
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INCA TRAIL DAY 4: THE HOME STRETCH
Wiñaywayna to Machu Picchu • Distance: 11km
The final day actually began in the middle of the night, with our early morning wakeup call at 3.30am. We quickly scoffed down our breakfast and said our final goodbyes to the porters who would be leaving on the train back to Cusco at 5:30am. With our headlamps on, we set off down the dimly lit trail to the camp gate by 4:30am. All of the hiking groups were to queue up from the gate, and would continue in this order while hiking to Machu Picchu. We were amongst the first in line at the gate to begin the final leg of the hike at 5:30am.
We were warned by our guides to be careful in the last section of the hike, as it is notoriously known for being one of the dangerous areas. This is due to those who try to race each other to be the first person to reach the Sun Gate and get the first view of Machu Picchu. We set off along the trail at a faster speed than normal, which was a little disappointing because we didn’t really get the chance to stop and admire the beautiful scenery of the day. We tried to keep to the mountain-side of the trail, as many eager hikers tried to scramble past us in the dark on the narrow, cliff side trail.
It took us about an hour to reach the Sun Gate. In order to reach this point, we had to climb up a set of monkey steps with our hands. I would’ve taken a photo to show you how steep these steps were, but I was too busy concentrating on avoiding slipping and tumbling down the rocks. When we finally reached the Sun Gate and were able to get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu – there in the distance was the what we had been waiting for. All of the difficulties and challenges we faced during the previous few days were forgotten and every difficult part of the trail was completely worth it! After taking a few group photos, we continued on down the trail for an hour before arriving at Machu Picchu. We had conquered the Inca Trail and made it to one of the Wonders of the World – without too many difficulties!
It was there that we were met with the sudden crowds of people who had arrived by train that morning. I think people felt a little sympathetic for us as we had hiked the four days here, and they could tell by the state of our appearance, despite our freshness from our baby wipe showers! Many of the other tourists, moved aside to let our group get the token ‘Machu Picchu’ shot before we headed down to the entrance for a quick refresher. We then realised how gross we were looking and feeling, and it’s funny, I don’t think anyone in our group had ever been so happy to see a clean, flushing toilet. Sorry to the people we frightened with our high-pitched squeals when we walked into the spotless restrooms.
After grabbing a bite to eat, we reentered the site and continued on a walking tour around Machu Picchu before exploring the site ourselves. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the site and discovering all of the different parts of the huge Inca city. No words are needed to describe this historic place, instead I will share with you how we captured it in pictures…
Have you hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu? How did you find the trek?