Posts Tagged ‘Inca Trail’

It hasn’t been very often in my 30 years that I’ve woken up at 4am (even though I’ve still been awake many times from the previous night), but I actually woke up early the final morning. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning, just knowing that in a matter of hours we would finally see Machu Picchu, which has been a cornerstone of the trip since we first started planning it over a year and a half ago.

After our final breakfast, we were off a little after 5am. We only walked a few minutes until we came to a gate, which didn’t open until 5:30. After that, Cesar told us that it would be about a two hour, up and down hike to get to the Sun Gate, where we would get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu from above. There were about 30 people or so in front of us at the gate, and when it opened, it became a mad dash.


After we entered through the gate, we hiked at a fast and furious pace, with me leading the way. I have to say I’ve never been more impressed with my wife, and she knew how excited and eager I was to get there, and she kept up with me every step of the way, even though I was practically running. It would have been a fairly easy hike if we had taken our time, but the pace took a lot out of us. It was up and down, but nothing too severe until we neared the end.

There was an extremely steep staircase that we practically had to climb up, not walk. After that, it was up, up, up, until I saw a sign. It read “Inti Puku”—or Gate of the Sun. I knew we had arrived. A short walk through the gate, and we would see the ancient city of the Incas for the first time. Megan was a few steps behind me, and we were both out of breath. I looked at my watch. It read 6:25. The supposed two hour hike took us 55 minutes.

As we walked through the gate, we both frantically threw our bags down to the ground, looked at each other, and walked through the gate….


The above picture is the view that greeted us. Now we have both seen countless pictures, posters, postcards, t-shirts, etc. of Machu Picchu, and Cesar told us that none would compare to the real thing, and boy was he right. It was literally breathtaking. It left me speechless. And those of you who know me know that doesn’t happen very often. It was one of the most magical, mystical, moving, and profound few minutes of my entire life. I couldn’t move for a few minutes. All I could do was stare. Everything we had endured over the last 3+ days was worth it. We had arrived.

There wasn’t a whole lot of talk from all the people sitting at the Sun Gate. Most just sat and stared. When one of the girls in our group entered and saw Machu Picchu for the first time, she wept. She was so happy and moved that it literally brought her to tears. And everyone understood why. I’m really trying to do my best to describe the raw emotion I experienced at this time, but really, you have to experience it yourself to truly understand how powerful it was. I could have stayed there all day long and just looked at the amazing views all around me.






After staying up top for a while, it was time to descend to Machu Picchu. It was a 45 minute walk down to the ruins, and as we got closer and closer, the views became better and better.








We finally got down the path (it took a while because we wanted to stop, snap a picture, and enjoy the scenery every corner we turned). When we got into the ruins, we checked our bags (thank God), sunscreened up, got our water, and went with Cesar for our guided tour of the ruins.

Instead of taking you through the entire two-hour tour, I’m going to upload a gallery of my 25 favorite pictures from walking around the Machu Picchu grounds and let the pictures tell the story. Besides, they are much better than my descriptions.

After taking the tour and having a few hours to explore the grounds ourselves, it was time to get on the bus to Aguas Calientes. I honestly felt like a kid having to leave the amusement park. I was not happy and thought about throwing a fit. But I composed myself, and Megan and I enjoyed our final 15 minutes at Machu Picchu sitting in a quiet spot taking in the views. After leaving, we went to Aguas Calientes for lunch with all the Peru Treks’ groups. It was a great end to a magical four days.


If any of you have ever even thought about doing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I strongly urge you to do it. Don’t make excuses, don’t say maybe in a few years, just get a plan together and do it. Sure, it’s not as relaxing as vacationing on the beach in Florida, but trust me, every ounce of sweat and hard work you put into it is rewarded at the end. These four days are something that I will truly never forget, and that first view when entering the Sun Gate is forever etched in my memory.

Until next time…



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Inca Trail-Day Three

We awoke early again for our third and longest day of hiking. Even though this was our longest day, Cesar, our guide, informed us it would be the most enjoyable (and he was correct). We would pass several different Incan ruins along the way, and we would take our time soaking in the atmosphere and learning about the different ruins we saw.

The clouds from the previous night were still around most of the day, as this part of the hike was through the Cloud Forest. The view from camp that morning was stunning yet again. We couldn’t see as far around us, and some might think that would have been disappointing, but to literally be in the clouds and see the landscape change around us each passing minute was an awesome thing to witness. We just don’t get that in Missouri.

View from camp-morning 3

View from camp-morning 3

View from camp

View from camp

We had to hike about an hour and a half uphill from camp, and halfway up we came upon the Runkuracay Ruins, the first of four ruins we would see that day. These ruins overlooked the valley below and were used as a watchtower during the Incan times (even though it wouldn’t do much good on a cloudy day like it was the day we hiked it.

Runkuracay Ruins

Runkuracay Ruins

Runkuracay Ruins

Runkuracay Ruins

Another 45 minute hike brought us to the second pass, Abra de Runkuracay. Megan had made a new friend in Lisa, and so I decided to hike ahead. I arrived to second pass about 20 minutes before the rest of our group, and I found myself at the top with a group of porters. I soon noticed they had a Gatorade bottle that was clearly not filled with Gatorade. They were pouring this unknown substance into the cap of the bottle and passing it around, taking shots. They saw I was up there by myself and decided to wave me over and offer some to me. Now I’m not one to turn down a cultural experience, so I accepted their invitation, 8am be damned. It was a potent Pisco that they were drinking, and it was quite warming on the windy top of the mountain. I was quite grateful for their invitation.

When everyone else in our group arrived, we rested and took many pictures. Then Cesar asked us to take part in a ceremony with him, which was quite powerful ( Megan will explain more about this in her upcoming post).



After the ceremony, it was back downhill for a while to get to our next meeting point, the ruins of Sayaqmarca. Stunning scenery greeted us again on our hike down, and it was even better when two different sets of ruins came into our view. Again the clouds provided for some great views and even better pictures, so I’ll just let Megan’s pictures do the talking here.






When everyone from our group arrived at the Sayaqmarca ruins, Cesar gave us a tour. Sayaqmarca means “Inaccessible Town”, and they were surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs. Experts aren’t in agreement on the exact purpose of these ruins, but Cesar did say they were a sacred place (you will see in one of the pictures below that mummies were kept here as Cesar demonstrated for us). Again, I’ll let my wife’s pictures tell the story.





After spending some time at Sayaqmarca, we had another hour or so hike until we reached our lunch meeting spot. The third day really stood out to me because of the vast difference in our surroundings throughout the hike. At first we were hiking up and down mountains. Then out of almost nowhere, we were in the jungle. There was lush green all around us. It was humid and damp and moist, and there were all types of new flora and fauna surrounding us. Remarkable.





After another fantastic lunch (and our last), we were back off as we still had quite a hike ahead of us. We had been hiking for almost 6 hours at this point, and we were only a little over halfway to camp. We had another few hours to get to our next pass, Phuyupatamarca, which was the most remarkable of the ruins we had seen up to that point (until the granddaddy of them all, Machu Picchu, of course). We encountered a tiny bit of rain getting to the third pass, but the clouds did clear for a bit to show the surrounding snow-capped mountains and the town of Aguas Calientes below.



We then descended to the Phuyupatamarca, the “Town in the Clouds”, and that name was never more appropriate than the day we were there. Again Cesar gave us a tour of the ruins, and we had a chance to sit and listen to him speak to us about the ruins. As he was talking, almost on cue, the clouds rolled in and practically consumed him. I could have sworn there was a smoke machine nearby, and it was quite a dramatic site to see.







After the ruins, we had a little more than a two hour descent to our final camping spot on the trek. This next section of the trail was known as the “Gringo Killer”, mainly because it was straight down a very steep set of man-made stairs. It was very tough on the knees, and the rain and moisture from the clouds didn’t help matters. Even though it was quite difficult, we were again rewarded with views that made us forget the soreness all over our bodies. It’s amazing how nature’s beauty can make you forget about the pain we were feeling in our legs.








We finally arrived at camp at about 5:30 after nearly 12 hours of hiking. I can’t explain the elation we all felt upon seeing our campsite. It was a long, tough, arduous day of hiking, and we finally made it. Of course our porters were there again to give us a standing ovation, and they had some snacks awaiting us. Another great thing about this campsite was that they had a BAR!! BEERS!! WOOOHOOO!! Maddy, Megan, and I decided to bypass the tea this time for a few well deserved beers as we sat and pondered what was ahead. We could see Machu Picchu Mountain from our campsite, and it finally hit us that we were only a mere two hours away from the site we all came to see. Suddenly the soreness wasn’t so sore (and I don’t think it was the beer), the tiredness, not so tired. A quick burst of energy and excitement came upon us as we realized that we would see Machu Picchu in person in a little over 12 hours. It was an exhilarating feeling, to say the least.

Our last dinner was great, and after dinner we were greeted with a cake. Yeah, you read that right, a cake. It also had the message “Welcome to Machu Picchu” written in caramel. How they managed to bake a cake in the middle of the Andes Mountains, I’ll never know, but it was fantastic. After desert, Cesar brought in all 11 porters and the cook for a farewell ceremony. About a minute before he brought them all in, Cesar informed us that someone would have to speak, expressing our thanks for the remarkable job they did for us. I was nominated speaker, but everyone had the chance to express their thanks, and it turned out to be a very special moment. This was when we gave them their tips, and one of the porters spoke to us as well, thanking us for the tip that would help their families. It was a humbling experience, and one that I will never forget.

After that, it was off to bed. Exhausted, we went to our tents, knowing we would wake up at 4 the next morning and have a short hike to our final destination, the reason we all took part in this trek, MACHU PICCHU!

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Inca Trail-Day Two

We awoke on the second day at 5am, had a great breakfast, and we were off on what was supposed to be (and was) the most difficult day. We camped at 3000 meters, and we would climb to the highest pass of the trek at 4200 meters (nearly 14,000 feet). The thing that made it most difficult was that when we started from camp, there was no up and down to get to Dead Woman’s Pass (the highest pass); it was all straight up, for about five hours. We had the option again to hire porters just for this day since it was so difficult, and after a small disagreement, we decided not to (I still can’t decide if this showed our toughness or stupidity). Although the hike was really difficult, the views were stunning.

trail-day-2-on-the-way-up-3 trail-day-2-on-the-way-up-11


The first day we all hiked together as a group, but because this was going to be longer and tougher, we all hiked at our own pace, with several meeting points along the way. One of these meeting points, about halfway up to Dead Woman’s Pass, had some truly amazing views. In addition to the views, all groups hiking the Inca Trail met here. Of course our porters arrived first, and had a table set up in the middle of the field with sandwiches, tea, and popcorn all ready when we arrived. It was a well deserved break before the two hour hike ahead of us to the first pass.


After the break, we continued our hike straight up. We knew it was difficult when we saw some of the porters breathing heavily and struggling. We knew this would be one of, if not the, toughest part of the hike, but we were rewarded when we got to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass and were able to take in some astounding views and another well deserved break before we had to descend two hours to our camp.

view-from-dead-womans-pass-highest-point-day-2 view-from-dead-womans-pass-highest-point-day-2-5view-from-dead-womans-pass-highest-point-day-2-4

It was great to see the looks on people’s faces as they arrived at the top, including a 60-year-old man from Chicago who was hiking the Inca Trail with his son, and a 5-month pregnant woman from Belgium (who was actually sitting there at the top before we arrived). So many things impressed during these four days, and the melting pot of people who accomplished this goal of hiking the Inca Trail was certainly one of them.

After resting at the top for a while, it was all downhill to our camp, which sounds like it would be easy, but it wasn’t a pleasant stroll down a grassy hill. It was steep, rocky, gravelly at times, and with HUGE man-made steps along the way (that can prove pretty tough for people with short legs, not that I’m singling anyone out). Downhills like this can really beat up your legs, especially your knees, and the full, heavy backpacks were really starting to be a burden.



But we finally arrived to camp at about 5pm, just as the sun was going down. We were again greeted to a standing ovation by our porters (it really never got old), and they had some cookies, popcorn, juice, and tea to tide us over until the rest of our group arrived to eat dinner. We were completely exhausted, and the thought of having to hike 15 kilometers (9 miles) the next day seemed daunting.

camp-night-2-1 camp-night-2

We camped at 3600 meters the second night, so it was significantly cooler than the first night. Another cool thing about being at that high altitude was that we were literally in the clouds. It was amazing to see the landscape change every few seconds as clouds rolled in and out, and that would also be a theme for our third day as we hiked through the cloud forest, which looks exactly as it sounds.

The two pics below were taken less than a minute apart. That’s how fast the clouds were moving. It was awesome to see. Stay tuned for days three and four, including Machu Picchu.

view-from-camp-night-2-2 view-from-camp-night-2-31

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Inca Trail-Day One

When talking about how we were going to chronicle this journey, we decided to do it two different ways. Since my wife isn’t a big fan of writing big, long posts, and since she says I can be a little long-winded (I like to say descriptive), we decided that I would post a recap of the entire four-day trek, and then she will post a cliff-notes, highlights version of our experience. So if you don’t like my thousand-plus word posts describing everything in detail, you may want to wait for her highlights, which will come soon. So without further ado…

Day One

We had to wake up early on Wednesday as our bus picked us up at 5:15am. We knew it was going to be a good day as we watched coverage of President Elect Barack Obama before we left. After getting picked up, we went to pick up the other members of our group. We somehow got very lucky as we only had five people in our group, as compared to 16 in the other two Peru Treks groups. Not only were we lucky to only have five people, but the five we had were great. We all got along very well, and it was fantastic to have such a great group of people to share this experience with.

After about a two hour bus ride, we stopped in Ollantaytambo for breakfast, then continued on the way to the starting point for the Inca Trail trek. We talked to the rest of our group for the first time and also started getting to know our guide, Cesar (who was incredible, but you’ll hear more about that later). It was rough for me, as I was the only guy in the group along with my wife, Maddy (from Holland), Lisa, and Jackie (both from the Bay area in California).


After the obligatory picture at the start of the trek, we were off. After crossing a bridge, we got a glimpse of the views that would become common to us throughout our trek. The first day was the easiest day, but we still covered 12 kilometers.




Anyone hiking the Inca Trail has to go with a company as the trail is regulated, and the government only allows a certain number of hikers per day. We went with Peru Treks, who was absolutely amazing from start to finish and from top to bottom. As I mentioned earlier, Cesar was our guide, and he had a great knowledge and passion throughout all four days of our trek. He made the trek so special for us, and I truly believe it would not have been the same without him.

In addition to Cesar, we also had 11 porters and one cook for the five people in our group. One thing that interested me on that first day, and would continue to amaze me throughout our trek, was the porters. These guys are tough, hard-working farmers who carry 25 kilos per man, and they don’t do it with ergonomic backpacks like we had. They carry our tents, our food, the cooking gear, chairs, and even some of the trekkers gear (each trekker had the choice to pay extra to have porters carry their stuff; we’re tough, so we chose to carry our own stuff). These men not only carried over 50 pounds of gear, but they would practically run the entire time as to get ahead of us to set up camp and get our meals prepared. It was truly remarkable.

We hiked for several hours that first day before coming to a stopping point for lunch. It was at this point that we had our first taste of the fantastic food we would be eating throughout the next four days. We started off with an avocado salad that was one of the highlights of the food for me. Next was a bowl of soup and garlic bread. Then they brought out a huge plate of fried rice, grilled chicken in a tasty sauce, fries, lightly battered and fried trout, and fresh veggies. Are you kidding me? Unbelievable!!



The only downfall of lunch was that we still had several hours of hiking to go, and we were all stuffed. After we finished our meal, the porters broke down the “dining tent”, tables, chairs, and all the cooking equipment. They packed it up and raced ahead of us so they could get to our campsite and set up our individual tents, the dining tent, and start preparing our dinner. Though the hike itself was extremely tough, Peru Treks made sure we were pampered when it was time to rest. You will not hear me say one single negative thing about Peru Treks throughout my review of this trek. If anyone is considering hiking the Inca Trail, I STRONGLY urge you to go with this company. They were spectacular.

The rest of the hike on day one was rather uneventful. It was up and down, but the terrain was manageable, and it was nothing compared to the next two days. We made it to camp by about 4pm, and we arrived to find all of our tents set up, chairs set out, the dining tent set up, and the porters standing there clapping for us as we arrived (not to make this sound like an advertisement for Peru Treks, but seriously, where do you get customer service like this, much less in the middle of the Andes?). We had several hours to rest and check out our campsite, which was in someone’s backyard (along with their kids and many animals, including the roosters and dogs that would serve as our alarm clocks the next morning).




We got to chill out and get to know each other better before dinner, including our guide, Cesar. The conversation spanned a multitude of topics, including our careers, the election, Peruvian politics, history of the Inca Trail, and many other interesting tidbits about each other. It was a great first day, and after another fantastic dinner, we were off to bed pretty early, as the next day would prove to be the most grueling and challenging.

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