Tag Archives: Machu Picchu

We Made it to Machu Picchu!

10 Mar

After 4 days of strenuous hiking in sun, rain, fog, and high altitude, we made it to Machu Picchu!

Machu Picchu is one of the seven modern wonders of the world and was used as a wintertime resort for the king and royalty of the Inca (the Andean people call it Inka) civilization. Due to its high altitude and remote location, it was never discovered during the Spanish conquest of Peru and subsequently remains in great condition. Machu Picchu is one of the few sites considered an Inca site, not an Inca ruin because of that reason.

There are two main ways to get to Machu Picchu: take the train/bus combo from Cusco and arrive refreshed and in style, or hike the 28 miles from Ollantaytambo over 3 mountain passes (the highest at 13779 ft), up and down thousands and thousands of granite steps, through blistering heat, pouring rain, and fog, and with no showers for 4 days.

We chose the latter. Hikers on the Inca trail are limited to 500 per day. Because the trail is 4 days long and the are no facilities other than bathrooms, each group must be completely self-sufficient. For this, porters are employed who carry food, tents, personal gear, propane, sleeping bags, chairs, etc. Our team consisted of 11 hikers, and 17 porters, each of whom carried 30 kilos! The porters march ahead of you on the trail, get to the designated lunch spot, set up the dining tent, and cook the food. When you arrive, you just sit down and eat your 3 course meal. When you leave to go hiking again, the porters break down the tent, wash dishes, pack up everything, and hike the same trail, passing you and eventually setting up and doing the same thing for dinner. It’s a lot of hard work! Simply put, these guys are as tough as they come.

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Us and the “red army.”

We booked our hike through Llamapath. I’d recommend them without reservations. Llamapath is an excellent company with all the qualities you look for: organization, informative tour leaders, excellent food cooked in sanitary conditions, and experience to know how to guide a team through a long and arduous trek and to form team unity. Other companies are cheaper, but you end up getting what you pay for essentially.

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Here’s a quick breakdown of the hike day-by-day:

Day 1: Meet at 430am to board the bus to the starting point (“km 82”) on the Inca Trail. Start hiking at 9am after all our gear is settled and organized. We go through the first checkpoint on the Inca trail where our passports are checked, and then we’re off! The first day’s hike is supposed to be an easy day, but both Jeannie and I struggled at the pace and hiking at altitude. We got into lunch tired and wet from the intermittent rain showers. After lunch, the trail went upwards and we gained several thousand feet in altitude. Jeannie managed her pace and breathing better and became a rockstar climber, several times leaving me and half of the party in the dust. We arrived at camp around 4pm and had dinner and prepared for day 2.

Inca Trail start

The start of the Inca Trail at km82.

Jeannie overlooking some old Inca ruins on Day 1.

Our campsite on Day 1.

Day 2: The big climbing day that we were all preparing for. We got up at 530am, had breakfast and then were off again for the big hike. The trail went straight up without any breaks for 4 hours, culminating at “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 13779 feet. Jeannie again found her groove and made it up the mountain without much trouble. Going down was difficult and made much more dangerous due to the rain on the other side of the mountain. Jeannie fell 3 times on the descent (no harm, no foul) and I slipped once. We made it into lunch tired and with sore necks from concentrating down at the rocks for hours at a time. After lunch we climbed again, this time to the 2nd pass– this time not as high. On the descent it rained the heaviest it would for the entire trip. We arrived to camp with everything soaked– clothes, gear, backpack, phones, passports, everything. Quite a miserable afternoon, but we accomplished a lot.

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Day 3: Supposedly an easier day after the ups and downs of the previous day, but we found this day just as challenging because of the 3000+ stairs going downhill and the downhill switchbacks leading into camp. We took a shortcut and skipped seeing the Inca terraces in order to get into camp before rainfall in the late afternoon.

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Day 4: Machu Picchu Day. The day we had all been waiting for and working so hard to get to finally arrived. We woke up at 3:30 am to have breakfast and line up at the entry gate. We were about the 5th group in line, and thanks to our tour leader Santiago’s experience, he knew this would be the latest we could line up and still have some shelter over our heads in case it rained. Once the gates opened at 5:30 am, it was a double time march for an hour to the Sun Gate and then another hour to Machu Picchu itself. We stuck together as a team and avoided the crowds on the trail by staying in front of them. The trail can get very dangerous on the last day because of hoards of hikers all trying to get to the Sun Gate first. There are hundred foot cliffs to the right side and one could easily fall off and die due to the stupidness of another hiker in a hurry. We finally made it to the Sun Gate to see…lots of fog. Santiago knew there was no point in sticking around, so we continued down the trail and arrived at Machu Picchu. What a beautiful sight! It was nice to have Machu Picchu relatively tourist free in the morning, but then the crowds arrived by train at 10 am and loads of tourists started jamming up the stairways. There’s a little bit of satisfaction knowing that you can complain all you want when walking the stairs of Machu Picchu–only you and a couple hundred other hikers that day know of all the suffering and perseverance it took to get where we were that day. The rest of them, well, they will enjoy the site, and enjoy the train ride back down and take a nice hot shower in the evening. But I think for those of who hiked the Inca Trail, we formed a special bond and a certain respect for the Inca people that can’t be appreciated from a one day hike.

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Us at Sungate.

The girls looking over Machu Picchu in the fog.

Promotional picture for Llamapath.

Us jumping on Machu Picchu. We got in trouble for this because apparently you're not allowed to jump because of the sensitivity of the soils.

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One of these guys hikes the Inca Trail every week. The other does not.

Some people may ask– why go through all this when you can take the train/bus combo conveniently to the site? My answer: because the journey is just as rewarding as the destination itself. We got a chance to put both our minds and bodies to the test, and met some people from around the world who struggled with us, pushed us, and shared so many laughs in our dinner tent. We will definitely stay in touch in the future.

To Tour or Not To Tour

15 Feb

image via Cafepress

Many of the vacations I took as a kid were tour-based (6am wake-up call, only 1 hour in a museum that usually takes a solid afternoon to explore, 10 minute pee break or the bus leaves without you, buffets and chains galore).  Tours are a great option for those who like to just show up and leave the planning and itinerary up to someone else.  It’s not really our style to go on such tours, we find many tours to not be at a pace that we like (either way too slow or rushed).  But I know there will be days where I will just want to wake up and let someone show me around for the day.

So in the spirit of trying new things (or giving old things a chance), I’ve researched some tours for South America that I’m pretty excited about!

For Machu Picchu, we booked with Llama Path based on our friends N+M’s recs.
In Santiago, I’m leaning towards the Spicy Chile walking tours, and in Buenos Aires, the Buenos Aires Free Tour has rave reviews.
Hielo y Aventura is a must for Patagonia.

Other places we’ll probably forgo tours are Easter Island and Iguazu Falls.  We’re undecided on whether we’ll go on a favela tour in Rio.  Would you do a favela tour?

So what’s the verdict folks?  Do you love tours for its convenience and ease, stay away cus it’s not your cup of tea, or are you like us and somewhere in between?  Share in the comments or in the poll below!

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