The Tour Begins: Hiking the Inca Trail

I spent a few days in Lima, Peru touring the city and the impact the sea has on its food, and how its land provides an eye-appealing array of produce, including over 4,000 types of potatoes. 

I am on a small group tour with one of Salt and Sky’s preferred partners, G Adventures, an adventure travel company offering a wide selection of small group tours, safaris, and expeditions to more than 100 countries across seven continents.

Leaving Cusco we traveled to Ollantaytambo. Along the way, we visited Peruvian/Inca history and culture. We saw Sacsayhuaman Inca Stonehenge which was built in the 15th century. For those who enjoy horses there is also a place to enjoy a tour of Sacsayhuaman on horseback. 

We visited the G Adventures-supported women’s weaving co-op and a local pottery-making community. I purchased a beautiful vicuña throw and whistles for the boys from the potters.

Check out an overview of the day on Instagram

After a night’s stay in Ollantaytambo, which is a charming small town and well worth a visit, we were off to start our four-day hike along the Inca Trail covering 26 miles and over 13,000 feet in elevation. 

I live for the adventure of being IN the activity, the experience that can mean being dirty, wet, or uncomfortable. It often means work, hard work. On the flip side, I enjoy a hot soak. A peaceful retreat with pampering and high-touch services. I can’t be in just one of those camps, I feel like I’d be missing so much of life, of people, and experiences.

I like to research things before I go (reason #1 why I started a career in travel). When I started the Inca trail hiking research I was a bit troubled by the reported bathroom horror stories. Keeping in mind this is hiking and camping, I didn’t think the bathrooms were as bad as some blog posts made it out to be. This, of course, is subjective but the photos I saw before which may have been perceived as something gross, were just mud from shoes.

Day one was the easiest. While the temperature was warmer than most were used to, I tend to thrive in the heat. 

Day One
Starting Elevation: 7800 feet
Finishing Elevation: 9800 feet
Total Distance: 8.7 miles

Day two was definitely the hardest. There was a really high ascent that seemed never-ending. Just as I reached the top in joy, I had a really long descent that taxed my already spent legs. They are two types of hikers: those that prefer the climb and those who prefer the trickery of stones and steps on the descent. I am the latter.

Day Two
Starting Elevation: 9800 feet
Highest Elevation: 13,800 feet
Finishing Elevation: 10,000 feet
Total Distance: 7.5 miles

The food on the G tour was surprisingly good. It was varied and they did a great job catering to gluten allergies, vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, you name it. They even baked us a cake on the last full day. How they did that with two propane tanks amazes me. There are no fires allowed on the trail.

Day three was a lot of fun as the trail goes up and down in a rolling fashion to not tax a specific leg muscle. It also winds beautifully around the mountain tossed in with a couple of natural caves to pass through. What the Incas accomplished on this trail is truly astounding.

Day Three
Starting Elevation: 10,000 feet
Highest Elevation: 13,000 feet
Finishing Elevation: 8,000 feet
Total Distance: 10 miles

Being in a small group was great. I met different people from different countries with different interesting and entertaining stories to share. I felt our group was really fantastic. We became family on the trail, looking out for each other, and encouraging each other.

Day Four
Starting Elevation: 8,000 feet
Finishing Elevation: 7,800 feet
Total Distance: 5 miles

Day four started at 3 am to reach the Sun Gate at first light and the first glimpse of our end destination, Machu Picchu. For me, a silent and emotional moment as I reflected on what I had just accomplished and the beauty and amazement of Machhu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world.

If hiking isn’t in your wheelhouse there is a train and if you want to go, first class, the entire way, the Belmond train. While not on the same path as the hike, the train passes various Inca structures along the way.

I did surprise myself. I had zero intentions of taking a frigid shower available on the trail but on the third day after sweating in rain gear, I took a quick rinse. Burr! But totally doable as at that elevation the outside temperature wasn’t too bad.

My trip was in late March and our guide said the best time to visit would be in March or November.

Do you think hiking the Inca Trail is for you, take a look at my packing list for tips. 

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