There are two ways to get the Machu Picchu – the easy way of taking a bus to the top or the adventurous 4 day hike through the Andes mountains ending at Machu Picchu for sunrise.
I decided to go all in and do the 4 day hike through the Andes. While I was a little nervous because I had never done a guided hike before and it was pricier than what I normally spend on ANYTHING during my travels, I’m so glad I did! My fiance and I went and we both agreed that we want to do it again, but maybe next time the longer 7 day hike through the Andes.
Where to start
You cannot hike to Machu Picchu without a guide and let me tell you… there are A TON of guide agencies. Some are super expensive for the same experience as the cheaper ones. I honestly don’t know what the expensive ones promise because no matter what group you’re in everyone is camping in the same sites.
I went with Karikuy Tour Peru company mainly because they were one of the cheaper ones and offered the things we needed. Depending on how many people book the same days dictates how many people will be in your group. We were lucky because our group consisted of only one other couple and they were a pleasure to be around.
Cusco will be the town where you will leave from and the night before you leave, the tour guide will meet with you to go over anything you might need to pack with you, the route plan, maps, and when/where to meet for pickup the next morning.
What to pack/bring
In my backpack I packed:
- 3 long workout leggings, 1 capri length (if you have actual hiking pants bring those instead)
- 3 short sleeve gym shirts, 1 racerback, 1 long sleeve
- 1 light zip up jacket, 1 heavier hoodie
- few pairs of socks
- hiking shoes
- toiletries: (toothbrush & toothpaste, deodorant, TP, cleansing wipes) – you won’t have access to running water for 4 days so keep this in mind*
- First Aid Kit & flashlight
- Money (you have to tip the porters on your last day)
- bungee chord or rope to tie the sleeping bag to my backpack
You have the option of renting sleeping bags and hiking sticks which is what we did since we weren’t going to lug around the sleeping bags through Peru!
We woke up super early and headed to Plaza de Armas to meet with our guide, Mario. (Tip: I would recommend bringing gloves and or a winter hat). We went hiking mid May and it got very chilly some of the nights/mornings on the hike. Anyways, we met Mario and our “comrades” (that’s what we called the other couple) and started walking our way through Cusco to the bus.
Our bus picked up the porters (the guys who carry the food and tenting equipment) along the way to our starting location. Its about a 2 hour drive to the starting spot – Pascacucho Km 82.
Day 1 consists of mostly flat land working your way into the mountains and along the Urubamba River. You’ll see a few Inca ruins as you head to the first camp site. On Day 1 rest up and get your energy from dinner and breakfast the next morning because Day 2 is a challenge to say the least. The food the porters made was simple but SO GOOD. Mostly soups, chicken, vegetables and rice. The soups were definitely my favorite and hit the spot after a full days worth of hiking. If you have dietary restrictions, the company will ask you before your trip so no worries! We drank a lot of coca tea whenever we had lunch or dinner. Coca leaves help with altitude sickness and taste just like mint. I personally didn’t have any altitude sickness, but my fiance had headaches almost everyday of our hike.
Day 2 is so memorable because it was very hard, but at the end honestly had the best views and I relished that even over seeing Machu Picchu because you only got to experience it if you had hiked.
We woke up early, had a quick breakfast and started up the mountain towards Warmi Wañusca (Dead Woman’s Pass). Its the most strenuous day out of the Incan trail trek to Machu Picchu, but the views are oh so worth it!!! This leg of the trail is basically straight up and I would recommend to pace yourself – it isn’t a race and keep in mind the altitude is higher than a lot of people are used to (4200 m. or 13,780 ft.). If you decided you cannot continue on the trail for health or whatever reason, you have to walk back or wait for a donkey to come to carry you back. This happened to a woman in a different group than ours, but that made me more eager to not let that be me.
Mario, our trail guide, reminded us to take breaks if we needed it and “pacito pacito” or “step by step”. There are many age groups that do the Inca trail – I saw a boy roughly 10 or 12 along the way and a group of 60 year olds so don’t get discouraged if this sounds too challenging. The porters on the other hand do this with such ease, it makes you feel a little embarrassed for huffing and puffing. Granted they do this hike about once a week, but it’s incredible how fast they pass you with atleast 50lbs on their backs and some are even barefoot!
To be honest, I didn’t take many photos going up on Day 2 because I was focused on breathing LOL, but once you’re at the top the feeling is seriously indescribable. Extreme satisfaction and pride for making it to the top, gorgeous mountainous views and a cool, constant wind cooling you off from your sweaty, struggle of a hike.
Our group and many other groups hung out on the top for a break either snacking, hydrating, and/or taking a bunch of pictures. Once we were done resting and taking it all in we starting our trek down the other side of the mountain towards the campsite. Honestly, it took us maybe an hour tops to hike down to the campsite to have lunch and relax. While Day 2 is hard, it’s the shortest km you’ll hike ironically.
Alright Day 3! Made it past the hardest part and now you’re more than halfway to the goal: Machu Picchu. It’s the longest day of hiking – approximately 13km, but it’s not strenuous (but after Day 2 you honestly feel like you can tackle anything) and there are a few Incan town ruins that you can explore along the way to the next campsite.
The trail on Day 3 will take you through more of a jungle environment while literally walking the path is literally on the side of mountains. At one point you will reach the Inca tunnel which is a tunnel carved out from the mountain you walk through to continue on the trail – really cool! The Inca trail was used as a route between other towns and worshiping areas, they were probably the most in shape humans!
The campsite is next to Wiñay Wayna so when you get your bag situated in your tent, you can wander a couple minutes over to check it out. It was probably my favorite Inca ruin and you can reach it doing a 1 Day hike that includes Machu Picchu and Wiñay Wayna (Mario told us this).
After we explored Wiñay Wayna we ate our last dinner with Mario and our “comrades”, tipped the porters, and just relaxed. While we were talking Mario mentioned how his least favorite day was going to Machu Picchu so I asked him why and he said because of ALL the people… We went to bed and was told it would be an early start (4 am early) to get in the beginning of the line for the gate.
Day 4 (Machu Picchu)
We woke up 4 am, packed up our items, and walked to the gate to let you continue to trail to Machu Picchu. I’m not exactly sure how long we stood in line, but I’m glad we woke up early because we beat most of the other campers.
Once the gate opens the park ranger will check your permit to enter Machu Picchu (your trail guide will have your permit). After the go ahead, the trail continues for about an hour until theres a clearing and you see Machu Picchu right in the center of the Andes at sunrise!
We trekked down the short trail to the ruin and immediately was greeted by a llama wandering around.
It is a stunning place to be and a definite bucket list item. If you’re feeling up for it there is a second hike up the tall pointy mountain that we recognize Machu Picchu by called Huayna Picchu. If you’d like to hike this too then you should tell the trail guide company because they only let 100 people a day hike up it!
Walking around Machu Picchu was crazy and exciting! We had made it! I will say that it’s best to get there as early as possible because only shortly after we had arrived the buses we letting off the swarms of people…
After taking it all in, we took the bus down to Machu Picchu Town (Aguas Calientes), ate a goodbye lunch with our comrades and trail guide Mario, and explored the town/ market place. Its called Aguas Calientes because there are famous hot springs there which definitely feel good after a 4 day hike!
One of the coolest things I learned on our hike was the Inca Trilogy. The Inca people believed the world was divided into three planes and each animal (condor, puma, snake) represented those sections. The snake was the symbol for the Underworld and the dead, the puma is the living/earthly world, and the condor is the symbol for the World Above and gods. Machu Picchu is dedicated to the condor and was one of the most important temples to the Inca. Only priests or very important/ respected people lived in Machu Picchu.
Heading back to Cusco
There is a train station in Aguas Calientes and the trail guide company will supply you train tickets and a bus ride to drop you back off in Plaza de Armas in Cusco.
Bathrooms/ Running Water
Okay, so I’m sure you’re wondering about this… but there isn’t any running water aka no showers/bathrooms. You go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground (there’s privacy) it’s basically like stalls and when you open the door you’ll see a hole LOL. I recommend bringing cleaning wipes to act as your “shower”. If you need to fill up your water bottle for the next day, you need to let the trail guide know during dinner so the porters can sanitize it.
I kept my phone off the entire hike and it was so nice not being able to be reached LOL. I recommend everyone do it. I did bring an extra battery pack for my camera since I knew I’d be taking a bunch of pictures.
I hope you guys enjoyed reading about my Inca Trail Adventure to Machu Picchu. If you’ve trekked it yourself or would love to go, leave a comment below!