One of our WT writers set out to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This is a journey we have honed to perfection, and is the ideal adventure that combines culture and active hiking days. Take a look at some of her favorite photos. When our plane touched down in Cusco, the lofty city perched at 11,000 feet, it felt as if we landed in a different era. The clay-colored buildings snaked and swept through every nook of the mountains, and the narrow streets wove through Cusco as intricately as a tapestry. We arrived after 24 hours of traveling—jet-lagged, a little short of breath from the altitude, and rendered completely speechless by the sights. Cusco is, in fact, the capital of the Inca Empire, and it was the perfect place to begin our adventure following the footsteps of the Incas.
Our first stop was Saqsayhuaman, a marvelous site of massive stonework overlooking Cusco. Blue skies unfurled over the city that is notorious for its ever-changing weather, and we were welcomed by an adorable baby alpaca on the fields between the citadel. We explored Cusco on foot, walking through alleyways lined with Incan stone walls. After the Spanish came through, most of the Inca temples in Cusco now have Spanish cathedrals built directly on top of them, and you can see the distinct difference between Incan and Spanish architecture that forms this city.One day, we visited alpacas, llamas, guanacos, and vicunas. Peruvians create yarn from these animals’ fleece, and we got a glimpse into some of their traditional methods of weaving.All thread is hand-dyed with natural ingredients and woven into stunning scarves, blankets, and other textiles.Heading out on our first “warm up” hike in Pisac, above the Sacred Valley. We hiked along a ridge near these terraced hillsides. The Incas had multiple uses for these terraces, including agriculture and protection.The Pisac temple, and every Inca temple, is situated in a way that the windows and doors align perfectly with the rising and setting sun. Inca culture believes in the power of the sun and moon, and it’s evident in their architecture. After our hike, we had time to explore the markets in town—and purchase some gifts. Alpaca blankets make the perfect souvenir for friends and family!Leaving the markets and cities behind, we set out on our first day of hiking the Inca Trail. The path extends 26 miles and leads right into Machu Picchu. The first day brought us along the Urubamba River to our first campsite.Our first campsite was a private campground for our group alone. We had our own wood-fired sauna, hot showers, and dining hut!Our tents were set within these straw huts.
The view from our tent the next morning. Now this is camping, WT style! Every morning, we were greeted by some of our crew and a cup of hot coffee or tea. My personal favorite was a “mountain mocha” (coffee and Milo chocolate). Our porters on the trail. For our group of nine, we had 19 porters who carried our gear and managed each campsite from set-up to tear-down. We never would have made it to Machu Picchu without them.
One of the amazing things about hiking on the Inca Trail is being able to stop at remote Incan ruins that can only be accessed on foot, and only if you have a permit for the trail. What’s more, WT spends the maximum amount of time on the trail, meaning we can actually stop to enjoy the hike and not rush through the experience. The Spanish never reached the Inca Trail nor Machu Picchu, and I felt like a modern-day Indiana Jones.Here is our group on Day 3 on the Inca Trail. This was the longest, toughest day on the trail, but also one of the most beautiful.
Hiking into the setting sun.
Our campsite on Day 4 on the trail. Our campsite was set at 12,000 feet and we had sweeping views all around the Andes.
At sunrise, we watched the moon set and enjoyed our last breakfast on the trail before entering Machu Picchu. No dining tent needed!Our intrepid guide, Miguel Pacsi. He began hiking the Inca Trail as a porter and worked his way up to Trip Leader. Over the years, he has hiked the Inca Trail more than 500 times!Our final day on the trail brought us down, down, down (almost 5,000 feet in elevation!). At Wiñay Wayna (“Forever Young”), just before the Sun Gate. We made it! Five days of hiking led us to the magnificent Machu Picchu. We arrived in the late afternoon, just as the last visitors were making their way to the buses, and were able to get some of the postcard-perfect views of the entire citadel.
To top it all off, we stayed at the Sanctuary Lodge, the only lodge right outside the ruins!This adventure wouldn’t have been possible without this amazing group and fantastic crew who supported us on the trail. I am forever grateful to have been able to experience this amazing place and learn more about its history and culture.
— Text and photos by WT writer Kirstina Bolton, Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.