Machu Picchu easily makes it on the bucket lists of many travel junkies, photographers and spiritual explorers. This Lost City of the Incas was built in the 15th century and never discovered by the Spaniards during their conquests. Although the locals knew about its existence, Machu Picchu was brought to international attention in 1911 by American historian, Hiram Bingham.
To visit this historic site, you could either take a bus from Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu town) or you can be a little more adventurous and do the historic Inca Trail. Often described as the most memorable and exciting hike in the whole world, the typical Inca Trail is a four-day trek that follows the footsteps of the Incas and finishes at Machu Picchu. If you don’t have the time or the physical ability to complete a four-day trek, you can do the one-day Inca Trail from Kilometre 104, which is what we did.
Travellers doing this hike need wake up before sunrise in the town of Ollantaytambo and walk to the train station to catch an early train headed to Kilometre 104 or Chachabamba. Chachabamba is not a train station. It’s a sign in the middle of dense green mountainous terrain that marks the start of the one-day Inca Trail. It is also a check-point that verifies information for all travellers about to embark on the Inca Trail.
Okay… before we continue this journey, time for some FYIs:
- Make sure you have your passport with you because going on the Inca Trail is equivalent to crossing country borders.
- Make sure you bring at least 1.5 litres of water with you; carry all the water that you physically can.
- Even if the morning is chilly, know that you’ll be boiling by noon so dress according; tear-aways are recommended and so is layering.
- Walking stick will be helpful even if you are super-fit; they sell walking sticks for really cheap at the start of the trail or in any of the near-by towns.
A remarkable thing about the Inca Trail is that only 500 people are allowed on the trail everyday. That usually consists of about 200 hikers and 300 tour guides and porters. This ensures that the trail won’t be crowded but can also be an annoyance for those people who tend not to book in advance.
The short Inca Trail is roughly 14 kilometres, the first eight being a vertically upwards hike. Altitude, heat, weight of the water and the scorching sun (on some days) are just some of the factors that make this hike difficult. That being said, the Inca Trail is a prime example of the famous saying, “It’s not about the destination… it’s all about the journey.”
On the way up, we took breaks at rest stops with an incredible view and snacked near a waterfall that cooled us down. We saw beautiful butterflies and weird insects throughout our path. We occasionally took a picture of the dreamy scenery around us and often I thought to myself that it was pointless pulling out a camera because I would never be able to capture the beauty that was before me.
Just in time for an early lunch, we reached the ruins of Winaywayna. Climbing the steep steps and terraces to the top of the ruins was definitely a challenge, but the view from the top made you forget all about how tired you were. We opened our lunches and started eating, pausing only to comment on the beautiful landscape around us.
After learning about the history of Winaywayna and the Inca Trail, we resumed our trek. The following few kilometres were rather easy and flat. The collective pace of the team quickened, partly thanks to the presence of clouds of trees blocking the harsh sunlight.
This whole time we had been walking with an image of Machu Picchu in our minds, without actually having seen the landmark. Like the Incas, we would lay our eyes upon this UNESCO World Heritage site from the famous Sun Gate, also known as Intipunku. The Trail led us to the base of Sun Gate, where we were faced with 50 steep steps to get to the top. Not being the fittest of the bunch, I was may be on the 30th step when I started hearing cheers and sighs and awes from the people at the top who had just seen Machu Picchu for the first time in person.
I dragged myself to the top and looking at Machu Picchu for the first time was everything I had expected it to be and more. I felt like I was living in the pages of a cheesy guidebook that read “this moment would change your life and perspective forever.” While I didn’t feel an instant spiritual kick, the first glimpse of Machu Picchu from Sun Gate was definitely the highlight of my Peruvian journey [Read my other Top Five highlights here].
With the destination in sight, the walk from Sun Gate to Machu Picchu is a breeze. I found myself almost jogging at some points to get to Machu Picchu quickly. Once we were at the Lost City, photo session, self-reflection time and “we did it” cheers ensued (not necessarily in that particular order).
The Inca Trail is a beautiful hike and what makes it so epic is that it leads to one of the most mystical modern wonders of the world. You may embark on this journey to check something off your bucket list, but it’s more than a scribble on a paper by the time you are done. It’s a powerful travel memories that is bound to stick with you forever.