How I Survived Machu Picchu

First off, I barely made it. Whoever told me that anyone with average fitness levels would have no problems is a liar. Hiking the four day, three night Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, mentally and physically.

Maybe it was harder because I had expected it to be easy, and I admit I’ve been in better shape before. It’s not my fault Portland is THE beer mecca and beer is my biggest weakness. Anyways! Hiking Machu Picchu now requires you to go with a guided tour group, and I went with Llamapath. I highly recommend them, because they were amazing. If you want to do the classic 4-day trek that I did, you have to reserve your spot months in advance, like I did. In order to go in November, I paid for my spot in August. Otherwise, you can show up to Cusco, walk up to a tour agency, and buy a day package to go straight into the Machu Picchu ruins via bus. Don’t be lame.

To prepare for this hike, I bought hiking boots and zippy pants, two things I would have never been caught dead wearing a year ago. But I figured everyone else would be wearing the same stuff there, and functionally is the most important thing (IT WAS). I was also convinced into renting hiking poles, and I forgot my sleeping bag so I had to rent that too. HOW did I forget a sleeping bag?! I brought my big Osprey backpack which was incredibly light whenever I had it on due to how the weight was designed to be distributed. Our group had a prep meeting the night before leaving in Cusco, so that they could tell us we were going to meet at 4am the following morning. I didn’t even get a chance to go to the expat Irish bars!

If you go, bring clothing for all four seasons, ’cause the guide said it, and nothing was closer to the truth. Bring sunscreen, bug spray, a poncho, a really warm jacket, sunglasses, everything. Every day was different, but some days it would be scorching hot and then it would hail on us! My tent-mate (I got pitched with the only other single girl traveling alone..she was from Canada and let’s just say we did NOT become best friends) (but I loved everyone else) brought duct tape to wrap around her toes to prevent blisters. Also, I carried my own backpack cause I didn’t want to be a wussy, but in hindsight I wouldn’t recommend it. Hire a porter, a native who works for the company to carry things for you-their calves are bigger than your head! Almost everyone in our group had a porter, and although I’m proud of myself for enduring the massive annoyance, I would have enjoyed the trek more if I had been free to prance around. The path was rocky and steep, with really massive inclines at some points and slippery, narrow descents. It was always changing and some parts were alongside cliff drops, so we had to focus on our footing.

We hiked for hours every day, starting really early in the morning like 5am and then ending around 4-5pm for dinner. I felt like I was in the army or something and we were on a mission, so I rarely complained. Each day we had to cover certain distances in order to reach our next campsite, which the porters would run ahead to set up and prepare for us. We had delicious, elaborate multiple course meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, like ceviches, fried Kondor drumsticks, kababs, pizza, mashed potatoes, steak salads and even cake. It was like a magic show every time they brought out the next dish. Everyone thought we were going to lose weight from hiking all day, but we certainly gained it back during meal times. I guess our excuse was that we needed it for energy, but honestly everything just tasted so good, and it got extremely cold at night so we all almost overdosed on Milo and instant coffee.

And the views really were breathtaking, just like everyone said. It wasn’t overrated at all. We took multiple breaks to drink water, reapply sunscreen, and take photos. I cried often whenever we got to a viewpoint (okay, maybe more like silently shed a few tears) because being amongst the clouds up in the mountains just filled me up with awe and appreciation for the beauty of our earth. And also, it felt really, really good to take my backpack off. Our guide would have us sit in a circle sometimes to tell us stories of the Incas as we overlooked ruins. It was hard for me to pay attention to the history of the stuff, even though I knew it was very important. I would just be the first to walk up and touch the rough stone surfaces and trace the cracks and patterns engraved there from so many years ago. Whenever we got to a site that had homes, I would walk through the doorways and try to picture which room I would want. From what our guide said, the Inca Trail was made to be a pilgrimage for the future rulers of their civilization, and the different sites along the way all served different purposes. He also told us tons of random facts, like how potatoes originated in Peru. Then the Spaniards brought them to Europe. And the Europeans brought them back to the States. Haha!

On Day Four, our whole group decided to be the first ones to reach the Sun Gate. Usually our group would camp at different sites, but on the last night all the other trek groups are at the same site, in order to get to Machu Picchu first thing in the morning. We had to get up at 2:50AM to be the first. WHAT THE HELL. I honestly didn’t really care to be the first group in, but everyone was so adamant about it I just pretended to be excited too. The Sun Gate is a lookout point that overlooks all of Machu Picchu, the entrance. I was drenched in sweat from racing to the top with my group, so disgusting that I didn’t even want to take a photo. OH! Did I mention there were no showers for the duration of the trek? Baby wipes all the way. The view was pretty, but I was so dizzy from it being a weird hour and running with the altitude that I was just happy to enter the site.

You know how they say it’s about the journey, not the destination? This was a perfect example. I’m not saying that Machu Picchu wasn’t impressive, but it wasn’t much different from the other ruins we had passed on our way to get there. It was just a lot bigger, and flooded with tourists. Still, we had to get that money shot. You know, the one on the rock with Machu Picchu in the background. I had spent the entire trek rotating my thoughts between boys and how to post for this photo. There were also a lot of llamas wandering around, just to meet everyone’s expectations. But we were so damn triumphant about completing the journey, I bet we could have ended up anywhere and been happy. 

After a few hours, I got on a bus to take us down to Agua Calientes, a little town 30 minutes away to recoup, eat, and prepare to take the train back to Cusco. I had a beer, but I would recommend skipping it and just getting a piso sour instead.

And that’s it!

Dead Woman’s Pass
Setting up camp after Day 1, a lady with a basket was selling beer haha

Good morning, our base camp of Day 3 and sweaty laundry

Day 3 ruins

Taking a moment to soak in the sun.

We ate well, really well. 

Morning of Day 4, waiting for the Sun Gates to open-almost there! 

Gringo Ladder, how bad do you wanna get there?

Money shot-group photo first. 

It really was all about the journey. 

Look, I found llamas!

Kalong

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