By Cedrik - California, USA
Your 43 kilometer, 4 day journey along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu will start in Cuzco, at 3,399 meters. Exploring the historic Quechua town will help acclimate you to the Andes and give you the opportunity to sample some of the local cuisine, like roast guinea pig or stir-fried alpaca. I passed on the guinea pig, it looked far too bony, but the alpaca was excellent; sort of like a combination of chicken and elk, lean and tasty. Add some Peruvian potatoes, onions, bell peppers and a pisco sour and you’ve got a fine lunch indeed. My general rule for alcohol is to drink whatever is local and the pisco sours didn’t disappoint.
Llama in Cuzco, Peru
Just getting onto the Inca Trail is a bit of an ordeal. With the increased popularity, trekkers are strictly limited. The days of just showing up in Ollantaytambo and doing the hike on your own are over. A quality outfitter will take care of the red tape and rent you a tent, sleeping bag, and pad. They’ll also feed you well and will follow the rules regarding how much weight the porters carry.
Porter with his 25kg load
Cocoa tea is bitter and astringent and I’m a coffee guy. But in the pre-dawn chill above 3,000 meters on the Inca Trail, when the porters hand you a steaming hot cup it suddenly tastes all right. The small basin of warm water they also bring so you can wash up is a welcome luxury. Altitude sickness isn’t a worry for the porters and guides, for me, there was the tea! While they engage in a vigorous game of soccer against the village locals, I'm left breathlessly walking over to watch the game.
Brewing coca tea on the Inca Trail
Days were mostly warm, the evenings and nights were chilly and it rained most of one day. With such a variety of weather on the trail, I was happy to have my Pick-Pocket Proof Business Traveler pants, which hardly got wet and dried very quickly on our day of rain. On the last day of the trek, you need to arise at 3:30, so it’s nice to have dry gear for your final day. The goal is to reach the Sun Gate at, um, sunrise, but you still need to pace yourself although you’re just carrying about 7 kg in your daypack. Those sprightly porters hauling the group gear will be jogging past you with their 25 kg loads, but now you know you’ll make it to Machu Picchu.
Walking up to the Sun Gate
You’ve seen the view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate innumerable times, but in person it’s even more spectacular. Descending to Machu Picchu proper, you’ll join the busloads of tourists coming up from Aguas Calientes. You’ve now completed the Inca Trail and it’s time to take the scenic train ride back to Ollantaytambo, then a bus back to Cuzco. The hotel breakfast buffet will have all the standard items, as well as local Peruvian specialties. But as I was ready to fill my mug with hot coffee, oh yes coffee, I spied a small bowl of green leaves. As I reflected on the last four days of wonderful trekking, I passed on the coffee and had one last cup of now-tasty coca tea.
Cedrik sporting his Pick-Pocket Proof Business Travel Pants