Welcome to Ollantaytambo, where your Inca Trail experience no doubt begins. This van (or one like it) is going to take you to the start of your trail. In actuality, there are several ways to get to Machu Picchu. One is by train, which is about $100, but brings you straight to the little town of Machu Picchu, where you are the first person the next morning to reach the ruins by bus. The second way is by Lars Trek, a much less strenuous trail for those who want something in-between. The last is the famous Inca Trail, which is a four day and three night trek on a real Inca stone-paved path, and a massive amount of stairs.
Porters (the people who carry your food, tents, and some of your stuff in a duffel up and down the trail at a run) are cool. Honestly, this is one of the most important things to remember. Porters are locals who run up and down this trail for months at a time before they return to see their families. Yes, they are payed, but tip those guys anyway! You need to bring at least 40USD worth of tipping money for your porters, and I wish I had brought more. Clap when they pass you, because they will pass you, and they need encouragement too, I’m sure. If you want to do something super cool bring them some snacks. I highly recommend freeze-dried or dehydrated fruit, because it’s delicious and it’s so very light. Break it out the first night and hand it out to them. They loved the pineapple ones I gave out, and I’m so sad I only had one bag. This trail is not easy. These guys are carrying your stuff so you don’t have to. If your trail guide sees you paying attention to the porters, they may even have an introduction so you can thank them all and find out which ones speak English or Spanish.
Necessities Only! Chao (our Gadventures CEO guide) told us a story about when he was a guide, in which a woman was struggling so hard to get up the hill the first (easiest) day, that he opened her bag. Lo and behold, here’s a make-up kit, a blow drier, the whole shabang! Not only is there no electricity on the trail and bringing electronics is a waste of space and energy, but lugging your cover up and eyeshadow is a bad, bad move. If you really can’t live without your make-up for four days, I suggest you reconsider the trail, because the sheer weight is too much, and the trail itself will have you sweating like a pig and dripping everywhere. There was a group that really did wear their makeup on the trail and they looked miserable.
PMA. Speaking of miserable, keep this one very important item with you at all times! It’s lightweight, simple and makes the whole trail worth walking! It’s call “Positive Mental Attitude.” Even if you have to play a game (the second day, I played a game where I looked around and pointed out in my head all the things I loved) to keep up your PMA, without this your trip will be an even tougher road! Tucking away your pride is also important. Make sure you communicate with your guide about what is happening with you, especially if you are in some sort of pain. If your guide asks you to hand some stuff over to the assistant to help you along, take that advice.
The first day of the Inca Trail seems to start a little rough, but quickly turns very easy and enjoyable. You will probably hike with your group most of the day. People may drop out (two members of our group were very sick and had to turn back), but don’t be discouraged (one was my mother and I went on without her, so you can certainly soldier on)! Your guide will probably stop you a lot too, and explain various ruins you will see. I think we saw at least four ruins the first day. There is one steeper part after your snack break (Gadventures only, I’m not sure what other companies do). Consider this your warm up.
The first day you will see locals on the trail. Donkeys, small villages, and women carrying children on their backs wrapped in wonderful blankets are everywhere, because this is the part of the trail that has already been damaged by traffic. The sheer number of people on the trek, and especially animal hooves, have broken up the old trail. On the second day you pass the point where people live, and where domestic animals are not allowed. However, you may see some random wild alpacas wandering.
Your surroundings are stunning! Especially the second and third day, but starting even from the trail point. I suggest the low season for going, not because there are less people (thought that’s true) but because the earth is so green there during rainy season. We had wonderful weather, but make sure you bring a rain poncho. I’ll be covering day two, three and four in much more detail. The first day only takes a few hours (read: six) to hike compared to the longer days (read: eight and nine hour days) ahead. Welcome to the trail!
- Positive Mental Attitude
- Tip and respect your porters.
- Don’t bring anything unnecessary like make-up, blow dryers, etc.
- The first day is about 6 hours, and it’s the shortest.