Needless to say, my United Nations business clothing from the conference did not fit into my backpack for the Inca Trail. After jetting off from Lima to Cuzco I had to downsize and take only the hiking necessities for the trail, with the two most important being a 3L water bottle and some cocoa leaves to help adjust to the altitude.
There are a few more things you have to bring in order to complete the 26-mile long trail through the Andes Mountains to the 15th Century Incan Site Machu Picchu.
1. Walking Poles (much needed for the steep stairs with my 5’ 2’’ shorter than average frame)
3. Glasses/contacts or whatever you need in order to see the beauty of the trail in its entirety, because no camera can do it justice
After being at the climate change conference for the week it felt good to get my feet out of my heels and into my hiking boots. My love for hiking and my appreciation for unique ecosystems really began two years ago after I spent a month living and climbing around Yellowstone National Park. I vowed to take any opportunity given to me to see exceptional sites around the world.
Machu Picchu and the other archeological sites I saw along the trek are certainly exceptional.
I made the journey with SAS Travel, a great company that I highly recommend. There were 16 people total in my hiking group plus our 2 tour guides and 17 SAS workers that helped carry everything to make our trip incredible.
We had quite a fantastic group of people from all across the globe including Iceland, Germany, Australia, the U.S, and the UK.
Now the trail itself is not a leisurely walk through a park. You’re hiking anywhere from 7,000 to 14,000 feet and the altitude will take its toll on you. Getting to Cuzco, which is at 11,400 ft, two days before starting the trek was key to getting acclimated to the higher elevation.
Below are a few pictures of Cuzco, a beautiful stone city nestled in the Andean Mountains. It used to be the capital of one of the Incan Empires, and the remnants of their civilization can be found throughout the city.
The start of the trail is just a short two hour drive from Cuzco. On Monday morning when we arrived at the trail head my friend Suki and I couldn't wait to get started.
On the first day of the hike we got a taste for what we would see for the next 4 days. Walking along for the first few miles I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the colossal mountains and the mix of colors from the setting sun over the lush green forests. Every so often we would even see an Incan archeological site, hidden up high above us or in a valley below. This is a picture of Wayllabamba, an Incan site with multiple terraces that the Incans used for agricultural purposes.
On the second day we climbed to Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point of the trek at 14,000 ft. Surprisingly, this was my favorite day. I really thought it was going to be struggle filled, especially with my not so awesome lungs, but I took it nice and slow making sure to enjoy every second. The view getting to the top of the pass was astonishing and I couldn't stop looking back behind me at how high I had climbed. By the time I was nearing the top of the mountain I even had enough lung capacity to sing along to some of my favorite throwback songs.
All we could think of at the top? VICTORY!
Now I have officially decided that going downhill was more challenging than uphill. After descending for a few hundred meters we camped at a site next to a river, in view of one of the only glaciers I spotted during the trail. After cleaning up in the freezing water, I was pretty psyched that the toughest part of the trail was already behind me.
On the third day we hiked in and out of the clouds through a richly diverse and exotic high jungle. Can you spot the Incan site below? Vines and flowers that I never thought I would see at 9,000 ft surrounded the trail.
At the end of the third day we made it to our final camping site. It was only going to take us one hour to reach the Sun gate and another hour to reach our final destination. In order to beat the crowds to Machu Picchu we woke up at 3:30 A.M. and started our last hike.
We conquered the “Gringo Killer” stairs and arrived at the Sun Gate just in time to see all of the clouds roll in. Luckily, we had time to wait. While we waited the couple from Iceland in our trekking group got engaged!
Then the clouds cleared and we saw Machu Picchu from above!
Machu Picchu may have been our final destination but it was the journey to get there that really made the experience worthwhile. I walked in the footsteps of an ancient civilization surrounded by people from around the world, completely immersed in an unfamiliar culture. This is what I live for. So while you can just take the train to see Machu Picchu, I don’t recommend it. If you’re able bodied, no matter what your age, hike the trail.
The most important thing I’ve taken away from my travels in the past year is that we’re a global community. No matter where you go you’ll meet people that share similar goals and values. It’s these conversations and forming relationships that I love most about traveling. Oh, and the food. Ceviche, guinea pig and alpaca are three must trys when you travel to Peru!
I’ll end with a little tidbit about how the Incas lived their lives. They believed in three life pillars.
I think that's a pretty strong foundation.