May 09 29
It had always been on my list of challenges, so when I recently booked a trip to walk the Inca trail I could hardly contain my excitement. This was a classic 4 day hike with a day’s rest in Machu Picchu to explore the ruins. The actual trek itself was 45 km, just a tiny part of the incredible 14,000 mile Inca road; it starts from the sacred valley of the Urubamba River ending in the stunning ruins of Machu Picchu village. I was keen to go by myself; this type of adventure holiday is ideal for singles and solo holidays as you meet great like-minded people hungry for adventure.
Machu Picchu is an ancient Peruvian village which was abandoned by the Incans in the 17th century. The trek takes you through a combination of high altitude mountain ranges in the Andes and into dense subtropical forests. I was aware that I needed a good level of fitness; the altitude which rises at times in excess of 4,000 m is tricky for an unprepared hiker; the going was tough but unbelievably rewarding. The trek starts in Cusco (3350 m), and I was relieved to arrive 2 days earlier as I had a bad headache. You need to acclimatise, if you haven’t the change of altitude can be unpleasant. After a good sleep on my second night in Cusco I felt better and ready to get started.
I travelled 3 weeks ago in early May; it’s the best time to travel as the scenery was lush and green following the wet season. The hike was crowded but I did not mind at all as I was travelling solo and made some great friends. The first day was fine and our group of ten seemed to stride along quite happily. Our guide, “Ro” was very experienced as he had been leading this particular trek for over 20 years. As we followed the Inca road we saw how it was built to last and marvelled at the ingenuous building structures along the way; the Incas did not use mortar, they just cut the stone to fit together perfectly like a jigsaw puzzle.
Our second day was hard as we had two climbs; the first was an ascent of 1000m into Deadwomen’s Pass (4,125m) aptly named as I felt fairly lifeless as I got to the top! Next we descended 900m followed by another ascent of 700m across to the second pass. Sleep came easily that particular night as we all tried to gather strength for the following day.
On the last evening we camped at Winay Wayna site, an elevated perch overlooking the Urubamba River. It was a stark contrast to the remote sites we had stayed at the previous nights. Winay Wayna houses an amazing ruin which looked like a spectacular amphitheatre nestled into the curve of the vast Mountain; it was a beautiful and memorable sight as we arrived at sunset. We actually got to enjoy our first hot shower in 3 days and there was a general buzz in the air as all the hikers were gathered here before the final ascent into Machu Picchu.
We rose at 4.30am on the final morning to reach the last checkpoint which opened at 5.30am. It felt like a bit of a race with everybody desperate to reach their final destination. On arrival at the Sun Gate, nothing could quite prepare us for the views over Machu Picchu. It was a dramatic sight, the whole valley shrouded in a mist which gradually lifted its veil over the hidden village. We spent a few wonderful hours exploring before it opened to the public; this is one of the many benefits of doing the Inca trail. We also hiked up the Funerary Rock to take spectacular photos, and took a 20 min walk from a path at the top of the citadel to the Inca Bridge; definitely worth that extra effort as must be a thousand feet tall and spans a sheer cliff face. Within the village my favourite sights were the Royal tomb, Sacred Plaza and Temple of Condor and their fascinating history. Here was a place with structures which had withstood the passing of time without suffering, a place with a magical essence, I was on top of the world and not disappointed.