The long-awaited report; it’s actually taken me so long to get this done simply because I wanted it to be really good for you guys (and because I haven’t been well).
First: Some facts you need to know
– If you’re planning to do any trek to the Machu Picchu you need to book early as they only allow 500 people (that includes the porters as well) on the site every day. As you can imagine, the permissions run out quite quickly.
– There will be many “travel agents” trying to sell you dirty cheap tickets for treks and whatnot when you arrive in Cusco, but mind you that these may just as well be fake and may not guarantee you an entrance to the site.
– After throughout research, SAS travel agency came out as the best agent to go with (for the classical four day Inca Trek) as they were from 1-200£/$ more than the cheapest and 1-200£/$ less than the most expensive. Basically, their price range was on the Middle of the tree, but I can guarantee that your experience with them will be worth every pence, penny -whatever coin you have- and you won’t be missing out on anything! For prices and more tour options, please visit their page here. For an insight into the trek itself, please keep reading!
1st Day: from Km. 82 to Wayllabamba
The first day of 12km with walking started with a 4h drive from Cusco at 5.30am (including a stop for breakfast and picking up the porters).
I think we were all a pretty excited and an energetic bunch at the beginning, yet perfectly aware it would be four days before we’d return to the civilisation.
The first day is what they call the test day. How does the group work together, how fast do we walk, getting used to the altitude, etc. – basically it is the day preparing you for the tough trek ahead. There is a second guide with in case someone fall behind or has to turn because of altitude sickness.
The first day was by far my favourite. We got snacks and stopped often to rest; Either the guides gave us information about an area we passed or there were planned stops. The terrain this day was Peruvian flat (meaning manageable up and down) and the scenery was incredible.
We saw two Inca sites, Patallacta and Llaqtapata (don’t quote me on the names, I was terrible in taking those down), which I honestly think were almost as big of a deal as Machu Picchu (when you’ve seen one terrace you’ve seen them all). The appearing view of Patallacta is something you don’t want to miss and neither is the scenery around it and when walking down from the Inca ruins.
Tip of the day (which you won’t hear anywhere else!): download Harry-Gregson Williams’ “Only the beginning of the adventure”, “Evacuating London” and “Battle” from the Narnia soundtrack and play these on you ears as you’re walking in and away from this area. The sight of the mountains opening and stretching wide in front of you will be magnified and you’ll feel as if you’re a wanderer in the Lord of the Rings or a discoverer of Jurassic Park (an actual statement from someone in my group when I let them listen with me).
From this point onwards you’ll be “hiking freely” without a guide at the front (dw, you’re told where to wait) and at your own pace. We walked for a total 6hours this day.
2nd day: Day of Death
My whole life, friends and family have referred to me as a weakling. Yet, in later years I’ve proved people wrong many times. I won 3out of 3 rounds in a jelly-wrestling competition; I worked just as hard as anyone else when I did conservation volunteered in NZ; and I didn’t die in social rugby7s. A year ago I started lifting (and thank god for that because If not the 7kg backpack I carried would’ve bothered me). Since then, none of my friends have called me weak. Yet, I knew this day would be a challenge and that is why this review will be different from the reviews of experienced hikers. I’ve never been a mountain climber. I’ve never even been good at walking uphill and this was my first ever hike (I know right, talk about throwing myself into the deep end). 9-10km of a steep uphill and 2-3km of steep downhill with “the dead woman’s pass” (13,776 feet above sea level) as meeting point. I believe we set out at 7 or 8am and arrived around 5pm to the main camp.
For me, the day was a nightmare. The whole uphill and downhill were stone block steps. No flat, but an everlasting staircase.
It came as no surprise that I ended up hanging behind. I walked super slow; I believe turtles came up from the sea and trotted past me. Struggling with deep breaths from before, I simply couldn’t get enough oxygen to find energy for the steps. Every ten steps would leave me breathless for air. Every step I kept thinking that the dead woman’s pass (famous for its nipple shape) would actually get a dead woman to be famous for.
This is when you shall be glad you go with SAS if you’re a struggler like me. Both our guides, Rojo and Javier, and also one of my team mates shall have all credit for pushing me to put one foot infront of the other. They consistently encouraged me, comforted me when I got worried I’d delay all the others (which I did, I think they had about an hour’s rest while waiting at each of the designated stops) and persistently offered to take my bag. Now it would take three panic attacks (because of the lack of oxygen) and me almost fainting before I allowed them to take my bag (don’t think they’ve encountered Viking pride before) – and that was still only on the condition that I could swap bags with my guide. It didn’t help tho – even though his bag was super light – I kept struggling, but I made it in the end. Funnily enough, it wasn’t reaching the top that was the best part – but the encouraging and supportive hurrahs of my group. I really was lucky with my group on this trek. So full of banter, yet also unbelievable understanding.
On the two hour walk down I took my own backpack back and ran. Literally ran. Me and gravity get along better when we’re not fighting each other. I couldn’t be happier reaching the camp (which we, unlike the previous night, now shared with 500 other Trekkers).
Day 3: 16km a-hoi!
I’d been looking forward to this day all of yesterday. It was supposed to be easier. With more variations in the terrain. Yet, guess who froze her brittle bones and spent the night awake with a fever that didn’t subside the next day? Yup, moi.
Along with dragging my arse on uphill and downhill steps, I had to stop every ten or so to try and throw up or wait for my stomach ache to persist. My face and hands had pins and needles and I consistently felt like blood was disappearing from my face. I hate being ill in the first place; I become the most petty full person there ever is and restraining my negative thoughts is close to impossible something which “won’t do on a trek like this”. Again, Rojo and Javier’s patience with me astounded me. Like the day before they would wait, support me, pull me by the hand or take my bag up the hill (even though my level of struggles had no difference with or without the bag, but I was too weak to protest). Downhill they would give it back and watch the bird fly – although not as fast as yesterday, I coped with downhill a lot better despite my knees shivering and buckling like they do when you walk several Kms of stairs.
I got even worse around lunch time – at which point Rojo took out a mattress for me to sleep on until we’d walk again. It was a bliss until the sun got so hot I thought I was going to pass out. Then another three hours of uphill zickzack walking had me arrive to someone else’s camp, collapse and shake with full body panic over the pain of exhaustion I was in; at this point I hadn’t managed to keep or get down food since yesterday’s dinner.
Some guides helped my guide analyse what was really wrong with me: the answers ranged from altitude sickness, dehydration and stomach parasite. I don’t really know which one was correct, but they gave me a salt solution drink that got me on my feet for the remaining three hours it would take me to reach the others at the camp. I’m really happy it did as well because now I got to enjoy some beautiful scenery and Inca sites which I hadn’t been able to do since the first day.
I reached the camp with the biggest grin on my face, managed to stay up for dinner (even though I still couldn’t keep it down) and participated in a couple rounds of cards. Finally I felt alive again.
Day 4: reaching Machu Picchu
Two hours more with Peruvian flat walking sounds alright considering everything we’d been through, but I think exhaustion was tearing at all of us. I managed on the other hand to keep up with all the others until half an hour before the Sun Gate as we had to climb the steps of “the gringo killer”. I crawled them like Spider-Man, keeping my backpack on the entire time. I think the group lost a lot of its spirit as there was nothing but fog meeting us at the Sun Gate. We couldn’t see anything. Another 40min would take us to Machu Picchu. Tears were welling up with every step and upon arrival I couldn’t hold them back: I was so bloody relieved to have made it!!
SAS provided us snacks before we entered and Rojo was an excellent guide during our tour around Machu Picchu. Everyone was given an hour to wander after and some had tickets for Huanmacichu. I, on the other hand, had no more energy to explore, sat and enjoyed the view until the sun become too much, and headed for the bus back to Aguas Calientes where we’d all meet again for lunch, goodbyes and to receive our tickets for transportation back to Cusco. Finally on the next day were I able to keep some bread down.
It has to be said that I’m so proud of everyone in my group. The hike isn’t easy, but they all made it look so. It is important to understand that my experience of the tour is the worst possible scenario and yet you’ll have a super team of guides and fellow Trekkers behind you to make sure you reach the end. You’ll also meet many other Trekkers who have fallen behind and, because you’re sharing the same shoes, these will be great allies in your fight against the trek.
Was it all worth it? Definitely. I spent four days so far out of my comfort zone that I’m still looking for it. You get pushed to a primitive level; doing a Nr 2 in the woods or almost falling in a “hole in the ground” while you’re hunching over the toilet becomes natural. Although SAS provides you boiled water, you’re still finding yourself choosing between a quick wash or staying warm. Moreover you learn there’s next to no return and that pushing yourself is the only way forward to achievement. I’m still in shock over what my body managed to do without food or sleep. I’ll always be grateful I now know my survival instincts are greater than my fears and worries.
I probably wouldn’t do it again in the nearest future, but I don’t regret a second for doing it. The trek made “a man out of me”!
Why choose SAS travel?
Simple, because at least then you have the chance of getting Rojo and Javier as your guides. Apart from qualities already mentioned, both have incredible amount of historical knowledge, speaks English perfectly well and are more than happy to join in on the banter wagon.
Moreover, SAS take good care of you before and after the trek; your belongings can be safely stored (for free) at the high star hotel they work with and they provide you with transportation all the way back to Cusco.
Even more importantly for the trek, they have a superb team of a main chef, assistant chef, porters and a waiter that will make sure you arrive during lunch and dinner to a fully prepped meal tent with a table and chairs; gourmet food will be served and after you’ll retreat to tents already put up for you.
What should I pack?
Rule Nr 1: don’t do like me and pack for a couple weeks in the woods (also trust SAS that their hotel will keep your belongings safe. Apparently valuables takes up a lot of weight).
Rule Nr 2: if it’s your first hike or you find carrying heavy backpacks troublesome then hire a porter for your evening belongings.
Things to keep in your daypack:
– (small) emergency kit
– 1l water which you fill up as you go along. After the second day, SAS will provide you with boiled water as the stands where they sell water stops.
– mosquito repellent
– travel journal if you keep one.
– cameras, passport and money.
– one toilet roll.
Also bring rain clothes just in case. We had sun the entire days we were walking, but this is quite rare.
Things to keep in your porter’s bag (either 5 or 9kg according to what you book; I had to upgrade to 9kg):
– sleeping bag
– sleeping mattress
– travel pillow
– extra change of clothes
– medicine and toiletries for 4 days (and not your entire 2 month supply as I did).
– head torch (believe me, you’re gonna need it when hitting the toilets at the camps).
– deck of cards to use between “happy hour” and dinner. I wouldn’t bother bringing any other night activities because you’ll be knackered and falling asleep after dinner!
Most important thing to bring: positive attitude and preferably some extra too as a backup! Have a wonderful trip!