Always on the list to tick off! Many have done it and raved about it. The Inca Trail is 40km long and on average takes 4 days. The distance spread over the days is easy to manage and roughly equates to 6 hours of walking per day with the added notion that you walk at your own pace. It’s not technically a difficult walk though there are three high passes and a steep climb on the second day, so a good level of fitness is required.
Early morning start, a 30min bus ride to the start of the Inca Trail at km82 of the railway line. I made the unfortunate mistake of consuming 1kg of chewy sweets the night before and I looked worse for wear, my friend saying I looked somewhat on death’s knoll, it didn’t help that our guide questioned my fitness, saying to my friend ‘he ok, he doesn’t look like he will make it’. Lesson learned here is don’t stuff your face with food the night before a long, 4 day trek! Everyone was pretty stoked, our group were of all ages, the youngest being 11yrs old to the oldest being 78yrs.
Photo below: The start of the trail, a steady stream of intrepid hikers. This is where we got our passport checked, its important that you have your passport otherwise you won't allowed to go, a photocopy will not be accepted. It's here I got a souvenir passport stamp, after all who wouldn't want one in their passport!
Photo below: With the passport checked, the only thing stopping you and the start of the trail is this bridge. A nice way to start the adventure, this is it, from here onwards, upwards and downwards.
Photo below: The landscape is stunning and to think I was going to see this for the next few days was a nice feeling. This photo was taken relatively early on, just few hundred metres from the bridge. We would walk for a few hours and took a short rest and then carried on walking.
Photo below: Our first stop for some lunch. We had porters who carried our tents and food and they would race ahead to make sure camp was set in time for when we arrived, such amazing people to be with. Again the landscape was breathtaking.
Photo below: At our first camp after 6 hours of walking , it was nice to relax and actually get into the spirit of camping with my fellow travellers.
I was told and read about that day 2 of this trek would be the toughest. At first I dismissed the notion, after all, I’d survived day 1 relatively easily. So I was ready to rock. It’s these times when you really should heed the advice and listen to others who have done it before you. We left camp at 6am and it was a solid 4 hours of climbing and going up.
Photo below: Just when you think you've reached the top, a look round the corner reveals that you're legs aren't going to rest that easy. It's not a race, so my advice is to walk at your own pace, a pace your comfortable with.
Photo below: About 800 meters away from seeing Warmiwañusqa also known as Dead Women’s Pass, which is the highest point of the trail. It took me about an hour to reach the pass. Being so close and seeing it, but with the altitude and needing to find strength in my legs and mind to push me upwards and forwards it was painstaking. Physical fitness, however, is no indicator of susceptibility to altitude sickness which affects everyone differently and its not to be skimmed over as symptoms include headaches, dizziness, feeling weak and short of breath, nausea, insomnia and constipation or diarrhoea. I can attest to feeling weak and short of breath in the last hundred meters of reaching the pass.
Photo below: Looking down Dead Women's Pass, if you look closely you can see climbers dotted along the path.
Photo below: On our way from from Warmiwañusqa, took a brief stop and to take in the view of the mountains and of course take some photos.
Photo below: It had started to rain and carried on raining till we reached into the Valley of the Pacamayo River where we camped up. The views from here were breath-taking, seeing the valleys and mountains was awe-inspiring.
Photo below: Every 20 minutes or so, these rolling clouds would just glide by camp, at first it seemed eerie then the more it happened you become mesmerized by it.
Waking up to the fresh mountain air then realising that it was still chilly was a knock to the body. With everyone ready, there were other trekkers dotted around the area, so it was a staggered flow of trekkers going in groups often 30 mins apart.
Photo below: To give a sense of scale, can you notice the climbers on the bottom left hand corner of this photo?
Photo below: We went through an Inca tunnel in the mountain, at first it looked like a small opening and not for those who were claustrophobic. Once through, we came to the third pass at 3,700m and laid eyes on the magnificent Vilcabamba mountain range was in view along with the cloud forest.
Photo below: The magnificent Vilcabamba mountain range.
Photo below: Before we got to our camp we visited the Phuyupatamarca ruins. This ruin contains terraces, a serpentine vantage point, and an intricate series of ceremonial baths connected by water channels.
Camp was set at Winay Wayna, which also had a visitors centre, selling much needed food and snacks for people as well as hot showers, but on this occasion, the hot water wasn’t working so those who wanted to be fresh, made do with a 5 minute cold shower.
At last, what I’ve been waiting for, the whole purpose of this trip, the 3 days spent hiking up and down mountains, through rain, sun and sweat whilst taking photos along the way. It was an earlier wake up than before as we wanted to catch the sunrise, so we set out before dawn to the Intipunku (sun gate) for sunrise. Being up in the cloud forest, you felt you were in another world, the change in scenery you see along the inca trail, from heat, rain and to cloud forests. Felt like getting values worth. Upon reaching the final steps at the sun gate, it was still cloudy with no signs of it disappearing. After the brief climb to the top, I was greeted with a sea of cloud with the odd hill peak coming through. Somewhere in there was Machu Picchu, as the sun slowly rose, it started to poke very small holes in the cloud, and as it was a tease show the might ruins was slowly unravelling itself to me. Never in its entirety but mere flashes. Our guide said it’s best to make a move to the site as he said we would be waiting here for ages to see it in full. So we took the 30min walk down and experienced this great UNESCO World Heritage Site
Photo below: Waiting for the clouds to disappear and the sun to rise.
Photo below: You could just make out in the bottom right of this photo the ruins coming out through the clouds
Photo below: I always wanted to capture Machu Picchu differently to how its used being captured. I wanted to capture the essence of discovery of the ruins, then sense of adventure and in a way that you've just stumbled across it. So when I was making my way down to the ruins, I walked past this opening in which through the trees Machu Picchu was framed perfectly for me and so took the photo and is my photo of Machu Picchu.
What I packed for the trail?
This list below is what I had in my backpack for the Inca Trail;
Camera wise, I took my 5D mk1 along with 4 batteries and 4 8gb CF cards and one lens which was the 24-105.
I would advise on several layers of clothing as you will come across a wide range of temperatures, with layering you can easily control your temperature.
Give your porters, cooks and guides a generous tip plus clothes and items that you don't need – as you’ll discover, they do an amazing job and really deserve it!
Enjoy the Inca Trail!
If you liked this post, then please check out my post on 'Travel Experiences that changed my life'
If you have any questions about the trek or other questions, then feel free to email me on [email protected]
Check out my other travel photos here http://www.m24instudiophotography.com