My family and I decided to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We thought we were relatively fit having climbed Mt Adams, WA in August. I have to say the four day hike was the most challenging thing I have ever done! Our children (24 & 22) found it strenuous but had no problems at all. My husband suffered terribly from altitude sickness which slowed him down and made it more of a challenge, but he survived to tell the tale! I was fine, breathless but fine! I have the utmost respect for our guide, the porters and our chef! Yes, we had a chef who cooked the most amazing meals each evening. The porters were the real heroes hiking the trail ahead of us lugging 20kg, always smiling and offering us encouragement as they passed us!
If you have the desire to see Machu Picchu do consider hiking the trail. There are many companies offering tours from individual to large groups. We opted for a private tour which meant that we had a guide, a chef and four porters, and the four of us. It really was a very personal experience.
The first day is a relatively easy one, stopping for lunch part way - the dining tent was erected and a two course meal appeared, fresh water to wash our hands and even flushing toilets! Extremely civilized! Day two was the challenge day, a hike up to 14,000ft and then down to around 12,00ft to the camp. No time to stop for lunch but we were given a pack lunch to eat at our leisure. I thought this day would never end, it was exhausting! The trail is well defined, for those wary of heights there's absolutely no chance of falling off it at any point! The Peruvian authorities are very strict about the number of people on the trail at any one time, limiting it to 500 per day including porters. It was by no means crowded, I was pleased to be able to overtake younger hikers at times and at other times pleased to have someone ahead of me to aim for! The encouraging and sympathetic smiles from porters as they raced past with their loads (fancy carrying a gas bottle for cooking, not to mention the pots, pans, tents etc?) made me feel pathetically inadequate at times! With a smile and determination I made it, family and dignity in tact!
On the third day we set off at 5 a.m. having helped pack up the camp. The porters have to dash down to the train station as there is only one train for them, if they miss it they are left to walk back! Seems rather unfair considering how hard they have worked and that some of them start the journey all over again once the get back down! We joined the queue to go through the check point, all passes checked, a two hour hike to the Sun Gate and the prize of Machu Picchu! Great feeling of anticipation spurring us all on, head lamps glistening in the morning dew! Our guide, joker that he was, had promised no more hills. He lied! The first incline made us all grown, everyone on the trail was feeling the same way. We had had enough, it was laughable - thankfully! The final climb up a very steep staircase and through the Sun Gate, the clouds parted and......................WOW!
Machu Picchu in all it's glory. Phenomenal! I'm not going to say any more about it, you will have to discover it for yourself!
For those who don't wish to do the trail you can get there by train. It's about 3.5 hrs from Cusco. We had the luxury of taking the train on the return journey. I'd still be on the mountains if I had to do the reverse hike!
My recommendation is to make all the arrangements yourself. I booked all our flights except the internal one from Lima to Cusco. Big mistake. The tour company informed us that the airline no longer flew to Cusco and that we would have to go on standby for them to get us on another flight. Four hours in Lima no available flights, we ended up purchasing new tickets and then getting a refund for the others, this only covered half the cost. Our tour company (Peru Gateway Travel) didn't want to know and insisted on keeping their handling charges some $350! Due to flight delays, missed hotel rooms and extra air tickets our trip cost us a further $2,000. I would recommend taking out insurance, flights are often delayed resulting in lost hotel accommodation etc. Below I've given the web-site for our tour guide, Ro, rather than the attraction, there's so much information on the web. Most guides work independently of the tour companies. The chef's hire the porters and pick the camp sights, once you have a guide the rest falls into place.
Peru is fascinating for history buffs, students, backpackers, people of all ages and interests. Hotels vary from hostels costing $20 a night to five star hotels that cost over $400. We stayed in The Rumi Punku, two blocks from the main square in Cusco, great location, reasonably priced about $100 per night, clean and comfortable a very attractive hotel, we left our suitcase with them while we hiked the trail. In Lima we stayed at the Ramada, Costa Del Sol which is right outside the terminal, excellent restaurant and you can just walk across when you arrive late or depart early ($200 p.n. approx). On our return journey we stayed at the El Patio in the old part of Lima, an oasis! Inexpensive ($45) , walking distance to everything. We only spent one night there which was enough to see the city and do some shopping in the Indian markets (better prices than Cusco, same products with a little variation, no hustling, the people were friendlier and pleased to talk to you - in Cusco they just want your money). The fresh food market is worth a visit also.
We took stickers with us for the children we met, they all enjoyed having them stuck on their hands and faces! My husband says make sure you give yourself at least three days to acclimatise before attempting the hike or suffer like he did!
I hope this is helpful, have fun!
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