Jenny and I were warm & cozy in our little tent high in the Andes mountains, watching in wonder as the mist lifted to reveal the splendour before us. All was still. We sighed as a porter, not an Inca warrior, tiptoed to wake us with coca tea & a bowl of warm water for washing our faces. Time to get back on the trail for Day 2 of our ‘bucket list’ adventure.
Starting at 2,500m above sea level and rising to 4,200m, Machu Picchu was an Inca citadel built in the 15th century. It was abandoned when the Spanish arrived, intent on conquest. When archeologist Hiram Bingham 111 found the ruins in 1911, he realized he had made a spectacular discovery.
Can you just get your backpack & go for a hike on the Inca Trail? I’m afraid not. To slow damage caused by tourism, access is controlled by the government & the limited spots booked about a year ahead. So plan ahead and book early!
The first thing you need to do is book your tour company to look after you. There’re many choices but be sure to choose one that uses local guides & invests in the community. We chose Alpaca Expeditions as they were locally owned & operated plus they give back throughout the year. Raul Ccolque, the owner of Alpaca Expeditions started out as a porter and knows how hard his staff works to make Alpaca #1. We studied Alpaca’s excellent site & chatted with Raul before we decided. Be sure to have a good read about the different treks you can take. You might decide to do something a little more adventurous than the regular trail.
The first day we were up at ridiculous o’clock for our 3 hour drive from Cusco to the start of the trail. Americo weighed our bags on the scale in the lobby to make sure we did not go over the 7kg limit, and at 5:00am we were on our way. It was a beautiful drive even though it was difficult to resist sleep in the warm car. Staying in Ollantaytambo, closer to the start, might have been a good option. Once we arrived at the trail head we tried to calm our nerves and eat the big breakfast that was prepared for us. All the groups leaving that day were gathered at tables on a covered porch. It felt like a big party. Excited, nervous voices filled the air. Cooks whipped up scrambled eggs & porridge as if it was a normal day in the neighbourhood. Which I guess it was for them. We kept checking our bags, looking around at what others had brought. A few confident lads with well-worn gear headed out first. Everyone looked so young & fit & confident. Jenny & I & the ‘Green Machine’ were the last group to go. I was already in love with The Green Machine! This was the plan:
The day before the hike we met with Americo, our fabulous guide, and he explained our route. Alpaca had booked all our campsites ahead of time so we had to follow this plan. Day 1 was the only relatively easy day, and Day 2, Dead Woman’s Pass, was the hardest. I wish I had taken more pictures! There is a ton of excellent information in this guide so you can enlarge it for more important information.
At Machu Picchu you see the sunrise at the citadel and tour through the mysterious ruins. It was hard to believe we were actually walking where the Inca people lived. Jenny also climbed Huaynapicchu! It’s a steep trek in the grounds that takes 2 hours to get up & back. You need to book this when you book your trip. I had a wander around while Jenny got to the top for the best view over the Andes Mountains, the ones we had come to experience. Mission accomplished.
Packing for the Trek
I was obsessed with “getting it right” for this IMPORTANT trek. I read everything I could find and watched about 20 YouTube clips. It wasn’t until I was actually on the trail that I relaxed and realized it was just a camping trip. Wear the same stuff every day. Bring something warm for the high altitude and rain gear in case it rains. Period. OK, you need some equipment, you need to have broken-in boots, you need bug stuff & sunscreen. Maybe poles. I used them,Jenny didn’t.
Super hero porters carry all the equipment: tents (sleeping, dining and even toilet tents), food and cooking gear so you don’t have to even think about that. You rent the sleeping bag (which includes a liner & pillow), sleeping mat, and trekking poles from Alpaca.
Porters carry your personal belongings *up to 7kg (15 pounds). This is how it works: Alpaca gives you a big duffel with your sleeping bag, pad, & pillow already in it. You add anything you want for the trip that you are not wearing or carrying yourself. This includes your extra socks, fleece, shirts, camp sandals, etc. Also your personal needs like toiletres & meds. You leave all your other belongings either at your hotel or with Alpaca. Everyone does it & the hotels are prepared to store your bags.
You wear most of your clothes and carry your own Day Pack. I took a 15L pack & it was too small. Jenny took a 25L & it was perfect. They warn that pack sizes are checked & big ones (45L is the limit) are not allowed but in truth they rarely check.
Your Day Pack has every single thing you think you will need for the day. Water. Do you know how heavy water is?! We used the ‘bladder system’ & it was great. The cook boils water for you to refill your pouch every morning & noon. You also carry your snacks which are provided by the cook. I took my own protein bars just in case & was glad I did. That was heavy enough for me! But you still need lots of things: rain gear (Americo insisted!), sunscreen, bug repellent, meds, blister patches, toilet paper, sunglasses, flashlight in case you’re still on the trail when it gets dark (!), gloves & your fleece in case it gets cold. You get the idea.
*I didn’t think of it until it was too late but I could have hired my very own personal porter to stay with me & CARRY MY PACK! You must book this when you book the trip so Alpaca can put another person on the permit. We went to Patagonia on our next trip & experience taught me to book my own porter! Yes, I’m a 75 yr old wimp.
So here’s my list: good but lightweight trail boots – broken in; good socks – I took 4 pr of light merino liners & 2 pr of boot socks (changed the liners every day) & it was perfect; your favourite pair of comfy, synthetic trail pants (not jeans, not shorts – the sand flies are awful); comfy leggings/running tights that can be used as a base layer, jammies, or regular pants; undies, sports bras; t shirts – 2 short sleeve & 1 long sleeved (not cotton!); hat, scarf or something to save your neck from the sun, the guides wear a hat with a back flap, fleece, puffy jacket – the kind that scrunches into nothing, gloves, lightweight rain jacket & pants; stuff – headlamp, light camp shoes, meds, personal wipes, sunscreen & bug repellent (we took Ben’s bug wipes) & toiletries (lip balm, deodorant, kleenex, toothpaste & brush (I like Lush tooth tablets), moleskin for blisters, advil, etc.
Everyone prepares carefully so if you need something, for sure someone else has brought it. It’s a difficult trek but it’s gorgeous & it’s an adventure & you’re camping. Enjoy!