A trek to Machu Picchu, the sacred city of the Incas, is more than just a 30-mile hike. It is a 5-day journey through a natural museum. The route includes numerous lesser-known ruins and features some very rare and beautiful biodiversity. It is a journey that can be completed by individuals who are in moderate health yet still reward a seasoned athlete.
When I started researching The Inca Trail, I was disappointed to learn that you were required to journey down the path with an official guiding outfit. I pride myself on being able to navigate unknown trails in different parts of the world. However, like always, I soon learned that having other people to share the experience with only enhanced the trip.
The guides on the Inca Trail have to attend an intensive guiding school to become certified hike leaders. This education includes far more than wilderness first aid, the guides are versed in flora, fauna, and history – even pre-Inca history!
I initially thought the hike would simply be a beautiful walk through the Peruvian mountains that lead to the main attraction – the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. However, within three hours we had already come to a 1,500-year old set of stone buildings. The historic sites along the trail felt intimate and intriguing. I know that I would not have enjoyed the ruins at Machu Picchu as much, without first learning about these small villages and outposts.
Because I was on a backpacker’s budget, I hiked the trail in March, which is technically considered the off-season, otherwise known as the rainy season. Even though it sprinkled everyday, the mist filled valleys only added to the majesty of the mountain vistas. Plus the rainy season is also the time when some of the most beautiful wildflowers spring up along the path. The Inca Trail is one of the only places in the world you can find several rare varieties of orchids.
The highest point on the trail around 13,000 feet. This location is known to cause heavy breathing and slight headaches, but because you have a team of porters carrying your gear and encouraging you up the mountain, most hikers who are in good health can successfully reach the pass.
The most rewarding part of my trek to Machu Picchu was found in the journey and not the destination. That said, on the morning of the fifth day, our group enjoyed a magical descent into the ruins of the sacred city. The scene was spectacular, and for thirty minutes we had it all to ourselves. I kept switching my glare between the ruins, the mountains, and the caravan of tourist buses climbing the steep and windy road up to the city. I just don’t think those visitors could ever truly appreciate the site, as much as someone who walked there.