INCA TRAIL HIKE – 4 days 3 nights – Alpaca Expedition
Tipping for our Inca Trail Hike
Tipping – we had a group of 14 – 160sols (per person) to porters and chef. 90sol between head and assistant chef & 9 sold divided amongst porters. Tour guides we did 100 sol (per person) for both tour guides (50 sol each).
We booked our 4 day 3 night Inca Trail Hike with Alpaca Expedition. Alpaca expedition was started by a local who started off as a porter than became a tour guide and finally decided to establish his own tour company.
Day 1 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike
We got picked up at 715AM in Ollantaytambo. Arrived at basecamp (Piskacucho – 8923ft/2720m) for breakfast and final packing of the duffel bags that get handed off to the porters. There were 2 things I dreaded for this trip – getting altitude sickness and getting my period. Went to the Banos (washroom) at base camp before we even enter the main gates and my period decided to show up (yes sorry TMI but it happens). Wet wipes are a godsend just to let you know.
We started our hike around 830-9AM. Before we could actually start our hike, we needed to line up at the main gate to ensure the permits are correct and match your passport as well as making sure the porters have under 30 kilo (each duffel needs to be 7 kilo). The porters carry 2 persons duffels plus their own personal bag. They also need to go through a checkpoint to ensure the weight in under before they could continue on. My day pack was 20lb with 2.5L of water plus my camera and snacks and a sweater. It was hot and I did start off at breakfast in just a tank top as today’s trek is a hotter one but decided to wear a long sleeve because there are mosquitos.
We had 14 in our group. Reagan & Matt (Austin, Texas), Lily & Anthony (Switzerland – French speaking side), Kaitlin & George (San Francisco) plus our lot (Sofia & Ronan from San Francisco, Karen, Chi, Patrick, Gayaanan & Andrew) plus our tour guides – Jose and Reynaldo. We had 23 porters accompanying us on our trek including 2 as chef and sous chef. Chef Roger went to school in Cuzco to study culinary and each day, he prepares meals based on what is best for digestion depending on the altitudes.
Day 1 is the longest day for hiking – 14KM. It is broken down into 4.5 hours before we stop for lunch then continue another 2 hours before we end for day 1. This is training day to prepare you for dead woman’s pass. Flat ground for first half then slopey for the second half. Banos stops along the way for 1 sol a visit – remember to bring your own toilet paper!
Sofia is a small Russian woman but man she is a beast keeping up with the lead tour guide with so much ease. Altitude makes the climb just that much more difficult. It’s not like your muscles are sore or anything but the lack of oxygen makes your body feel heavier.
It was sunny and hot but mainly cloudy. When we made it past our first two slopes, we reached a beautiful lookout point of semi ancient ruins.. It’s insane how fast the porters move with that much gear. They carry everything including food for 3 days with them on day 1. People live in the mountains so they can grab fresh ingredients if needed (but no one inhabits the actual Inca Trails). They don’t carry water for the 3 days but get it nearby and boil it for us.
Along the way, we would stop by ruins and Jose would tell us more about the history behind each place. It started to rain at that point and the temperature dropped a bit. All the colourful rain jackets came out at that point. This was a good spot to catch our breaths before we continued on and it kept going higher and higher via a steeper and steeper trail.
The reward for this portion of the hike was the sound of lunch and it did not disappoint. They rent space from locals and setup a Banos for us, a room with a tarp to lay down our bags and water basins to clean ourselves and then into another room for lunch. We started off with a stuffed tomato with some yummy things. Then they brought out the rest – guacamole with chips (so good), their version of a caprese, chicken ceviche, trout, roasted corn nuts, rice, sweet potato soup and finished off the meal with peppermint tea. Apparently this peppermint tea if you are female, if they drink it everyday for 15 years, she will become sterile (used by the incas in the past). We refilled our waters and off we went.
The last leg was the hardest and we were told to go at our own pace to see how it will be for us the following day. Zigzag walking does help. As well, if there is a ramp or small rocks, go for those instead of climbing on the bigger rocks for more efficiency.
It’s tough to hike with a runny & stuffy nose. It does get hard to breathe and my knees were achy. From our last pit stop, it’s just an hour and half of steep uphill. You just need to take it at your pace and stop whenever your need to. My heartbeat was going too fast that that I can feel it pounding in my chest to the point that I would have to take a short break to catch my breathe and slow down my heart rate before continuing. Since this is at your own pace, we ended up passing the other Alpaca group that started 20 minutes before us and another group. You never know when you are reaching your final destination so you just need to keep going and push yourself. After the bridge, you go around a bend and the trail gets windy. Patrick ended up picking up a second wind after lunch and moved to the front at one point so when I was reaching our basecamp, I see him coming back down the path with only his camera in hand. He gives me the news – only 3 more minutes until I’ve reached the final destination for the night. Once I arrived, all the porters are cheering and congratulating me on finishing.
Upon arrival, our campsite is setup and all we needed to do was get into our tents and clean up. Baby wipes are key must haves on this trek especially when you are on your period and also to clean your clothing when you can’t do laundry. Everyone had time to relax before we had happy hour in the group tent where they serve drinks and biscuits with fresh popcorn. This downtime was a great opportunity to get to know your group members better. Right at 7PM, our dinner commenced. Starts off with soup then the dishes – yucca buns, rice, chicken curry, bean and something frita and finished off with chef Roger flambaying bananas in pisco.
My phone was sitting in between a towel and shirt in my backpack so at the end of the day, it only read 22000 steps but I know I did at least 29000 steps.
Our wake up time was scheduled for 445AM so after dinner, we all went back to our tents and bedtime at 830PM – the earliest I’ve gone to bed in decades.
Day 2 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike
I woke up 3 times and couldn’t get back to sleep so I ended up being awake and alert around 2-330AM. We were woken up by Reynaldo making his bird noises and delivery of hot coca tea.
We each had 30 minutes to pack up our bags and duffel bags and lay them on the tarp outside before breakfast. Roger aka playboy our chef made a huge breakfast to fuel us for our hike, as it’s the biggest and longest day. I filled 2.5L of water in the morning as it’s the only time for free water and it has to last until lunch time after reaching dead woman’s pass and then going downhill. I also carried a separate water bottle that I used to put Nuun tablets in to give me that little extra boost of caffeine and sodium.
Second day of hiking – 16KM. All up hill to Dead Women’s Pass (13799ft/4200m). After lunch, it was game on. Go at your own pace. I started off strong behind Jose but once we started moving, I had to stop and take off clothing. I had a rain jacket and long sleeve plus tank top on and within 10-15 minutes, I was down to a tank top (I brought a small towel to cover my shoulders and give a layer between skin and straps). There was only one more pit stop on this trek (Llulluchapampa – 12460ft/3800m) where you can purchase water, drinks, snacks etc. It was also a beautiful spot to look at the mountains and see the peak of dead women’s pass with the top that looks like a dead woman and also her nipple. Free clean washrooms here but bring wet wipes or toilet paper.
From there, everyone for themselves and of course with Sofia leading our pack. Your determination lays in your own hands. The tour guides are there to motivate you to keep going but its all a mental game and in the end, you need to rely on yourself to keep going.
It was hard with lots of stops along the way. I wasn’t necessarily tired and not achy but having difficulty breathing makes all the motions react even slower than you would like.
I also learned at this point that if I wanted to drink water from the mouthpiece of my camelpak while simultaneously trying to walk, my body would have small panic attacks because there wasn’t enough oxygen entering into my lungs.
What I have learned about hiking the Inca Trail so far is that it warms up quite quickly and within 10 minutes of hiking, you end up needing to take off all the layers and be in a t-shirt/tank top. I also learned that while you are hiking up and turn a corner, you thinking you are nearing the end to only you aren’t even close but that there is more trail and it gets even steeper.
Slow but steady pace up to Dead Woman’s Pass. You are welcomed by cheering from the porters, your group and others who have also surmounted this feat to the top. It is hard to wrap your head around the fact you started at 8923FT in the early morning to make it up to 13779FT in only a few hours. The view looking back to where you came from is long and far and you need to take in that moment that you indeed hiked all that way and are stronger than you think you are. At the top, it shows two worlds – the hot sunny trail that you conquered but look over the pass, you are in the clouds and it is slowly floating around you. This image was surreal and one of my favourite moments as you see the porters resting on the mountainside with clouds slowly drifting overhead.
From here, it is all downhill to end the first day of your hike. I love downhill so much more. I wore my gloves, sweater, rain jacket going down and within 10 minutes, I had to either take off the jacket or unzip it. Same technique works here as climbing up, you can zigzag to help alleviate the pressure on your knees. I made good time going down and passed almost everyone (we were all so far behind Sofia) in our group but I enjoyed this section the most.
Finally made it to our stop (Pacaymayu – 11700FT/3580M) where Sofia was already there relaxing. I was welcomed with cheers from the porters and a hot cup of lemonade. They also had mats out for us to rest on. Once again, an amazing lunch. A few of us felt off after lunch and I’m blaming that on going from the highest point in altitude and plummeting down to a lower one so quickly.
Another uphill windy trail after lunch with a stop at the ruins Runkuracay. Jose & Reynaldo showed us how their people make rope from grass being woven and braided/rolled together that is strong enough to carry a person with a small section.
We continue uphill for another hour and half before reaching our next peak – Runkuracay (13123FT/4000M). Then downhill for a second time.
The path wasn’t too steep but it was eerie with the clouds/fog rolling in. We went at our own pace and for majority of the this trek, I was alone with no one in sight in front or behind for at least 10 minutes. Jose had mentioned that the ruins right before our basecamp was his favourite. The ruins of a temple were created on top of a cliff and the stairs were built into the mountainside which were very narrow steps. Sayacmarka was a temple where it is said that they found two small children’s bodies in fetal position on an alter that were privileged to be human sacrifices most likely with the aid of drugs like cocaine. The clouds were thick and everything became a blanket of white as we slowly descended those Cliffside stairs.
A little bit of downhill left then to basecamp for the night. This night in particular is one of the coldest but also one of the best views as we were set up in the valley overlooking the mountains. Siesta and dinner which ended off with some concoction of juice, tea and rum. It was significantly colder than the first two nights but for awhile, we stayed out to look and take photos of stars as the sky cleared for a bit
Day 3 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike
530AM Wake up call. Day 3 is the shorter of hike days.
Cold nights makes for a cool morning. Tea served tent side to start our morning. Breakfast was delicious – fruit jello, bread and jam, quinoa oatmeal and pancakes. After breakfast, we were finally introduced to our 22 porters and chefs. Everyone went around and said their name, age and where they are from. Our porters ranged from 18-58?
We picked up our packs and off we went. It was a cold morning but I found after the first little section up hill, I had to stop and take off my rain jacket then stopped again around another bend to take off my longsleeve. I was in a good rhythm from there since it was flat and slowly going down hill until we all stopped to wait for everyone before heading to the cave. The porters are amazing. Running through the trail with 65lb bags like nothing.
Once we all went through the cave, everyone for themselves and luckily it was downhill – my favourite. We came to a campsite with an amazing lookout point. Then downhill again but this time it was incredibly steep and not as nice as yesterday’s. Some sections were tall but very short stone steps to steep rocks with barely any ridge to step onto. Luckily, we had rather good weather. I couldn’t imagine how much more difficult it would have been if it was raining the entire time.
Our first ruins was a watchtower – Phuyupatamarca (12073FT/3680M).
From there, even steeper downhill. Very steep to the point you would need to walk side ways. I think I did well on time but my knee doesn’t like me for it. I was making good time down but parts of the trek were wet. PLEASE BE CAREFUL HIKING DOWN AND WATCH YOUR STEP! I shifted my body weight on a somewhat smooth rock (also don’t go for the smooth rocks when going downhill) and I went down. It was all a blur and happened so quickly but somehow I slipped and rolled off the path. Luckily, it was on a section of the path where there was more ground and not just a cliff although behind one set of trees I would’ve kept going. Luckily my slip, I rolled rather gracefully with camera still in hand but ripped part of my pants and waterproof case. I tried climbing back up but the soil was loose so I jumped back up, checked to see if my camera was fine and continued onward. Now that I think about it, it could’ve been horrible if I had actually fallen down and there was no ground and just cliff because there was no one in front or behind me for a good 15 minutes.
I made really good time going down after my fall that I was able to catch up with Sofia and Reagan. We arrived at our second ruins site of the day – Intipata. The ruins were so beautiful with giant terraces that looked over the sacred river in between Machu Picchu mountain and 2 others. Sofia, Reagan and myself were the first ones from our group with Kaitlin coming in next about 15 minutes later. The girls definitely rule this group. We stayed for awhile waiting for our whole group to gather and took photos before descending.
We descended down to the bottom of those ruins to find ourselves petting llamas. It got incredibly hot and then more downhill to finally reach basecamp for the night.
This basecamp offers cold showered and flushing Banos. This is also the site where about 500 people will be sleeping tonight and all the porters who will need to catch the train going out in the morning.
Big greeting from the porters and Chicha drink on arrival then lunch. A nice salad, soup, Red potato with tuna inside that resembled sushi, mashed potatoes, tomato & cucumbers, then a huge plate of avocado, fried eggs, cheese, sausage, steak, broccoli & yucca fries.
After lunch, we had the option of a shower mind you it is a cold shower. Myself and Sofia decided to do so before our final ruins site of the day. Best decision was to pack flip flops for the shower as you don’t want to step on the ground of the shower.
Our final site of the day – Winay Huaayna. As we were just about to leave, the rain started up and the temperature dropped. Jose said it if was dry season, it would be sweltering hot.
Winay Huaayna wasn’t completed as the Spaniards conquered them but the Quechuas took a 100 years to build it and it was said to be a temple and a hospital with an irrigation system as well as agriculture on the different terraces.
Siesta at 530PM then dinner following. Kaitlin and George weren’t feeling well and same with Ronan and skipped dinner. Dinner was great. Started off with mushroom soup, pizza, quinoa squares, rice with ham and Eggplant, pizza with pineapple and ham and stuffed peppers. They finished off the meal with a wonderful orange cake.
After Jose briefed us about tomorrow morning, we did a farewell celebration with the porters and chefs. The porters must leave during the night and hike down as the train company only allows the first train out for porters as the other times are for visitors. This rule applies to all porters from all companies.
By 9PM, everyone went to bed but before that, Banos and packing as much as possible as we wake for 3AM and are off.
Day 4 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike
3AM wake up call. Our morning began with walking about 5-10 minutes to the main gate /office where we wait 2 hours for the Rangers to open the gate with their magical key. Bring your rain ponchos to sit on while you wait. You can use the Banos stalls up the path if needed. It is freezing at 3AM so wear all your layers but be ready to strip down as the hike does get warm quickly.
We were probably hysterical at 3AM but our conversations were great. The sun started to come up around 430AM. We waited until 530AM before the Ranger came to open the gate. Jose and Reynaldo signed us in and off to the races. From this gate to the sun gate is an hour hike.
We for a while we all had good pace and stayed together momentarily turning our heads from the trail to capture a glimpse of the sun peaking over the mountain range casting gorgeous light enticing you to stop and take a photo.
We stopped as a group to take off layers in which I took off my toque, rain jacket, sweater but not t-shirt and immediately regretted it once I strapped my backpack back on. This is where our group started separating. I had to stop again to remove my t-shirt and got up to the sun gate in a tank top. The trail gets steep – like tall stones with little ledges to step on steep. The view is gorgeous from above as the sun starts to hit Machu Picchu and slowly spread to the rest of the surrounding mountains. I am so happy that it wasn’t cloudy and that we were fortunate enough to see this view.
Leaving the sun gate towards the main gate for Machu Picchu, it is downhill and is a decent decline which is about a 40 minute hike. Coming from the sun gate, you arrive to Machu Picchu already inside but we exited to use the Banos (1 sol but first time, no line up for women, only men’s). This is where you can stamp your passport for free with the Machu Picchu stamp and also where you can get food and catch the bus afterwards.
We went back in the correct way with tickets. The tickets allow only 3 entries (no hiking sticks allowed or food and no Banos inside). Jose took us to a terrace and started our lesson for the day. Machu Picchu was made to house the scholars. It got extremely hot once we got into Machu Picchu and I’m sure a few suffered heat exhaustion. By the time Jose finished taking us around and it was free time, I had already run out of water.
We ended up eating at the only snack shop outside the main gate with overpriced food. Hot dog, small water and large Inca kola for 36sol. Reagan, Sofia, Ronan and myself ended up staying there and chatting about everything for over an hour then Matt joined us after conquering the other high hike. At this point, we were exhausted and took the bus down to Aguas Caliente where we were to meet Jose and Reynaldo at a restaurant to grab our duffels and also have final lunch together. I got an alpaca burger 30 sol and shared a jarra of pisco sour with the girls. Another perk of this restaurant is that they allow Alpaca Expedition (and Im sure other companies) to store our duffel bags and also have free WIFI.
After filling out a survey and adding people to Facebook and email exchange, Jose and Reynaldo were off.
We left and checked into our hotel for the night Panorama B&B (Av. Hermanos Ayar N°305, Machu Picchu Pueblo, Peru) A cute little hotel with balconies and comfy beds. Everyone either slept or caught up on life with WiFi. We went back to the train ticket booth to purchase 2 way tickets back to Machu Picchu for 24USD for the following day.
We went for dinner at El Indio Feliz restaurant (No 3y4M-12, Aguas Calientes, Peru) that Karen had recommended. It looks very kitschy but awesome at the same time. The main floor walls were covered in business cards and foreign currency.
With all 8 of us, we feasted. I got the French onion soup 30 sol and we also shared a nice white Peruvian wine (19sol pp of 5). They even gave us some complimentary appetizers. We wandered the streets and found ourselves in the main square before heading back home to sleep.