Let me start by saying there is so much more to Peru than the Inca trail. Admittedly, the trail is probably the most touristy part of the whole trip. I mean, our group of 14 hikers were all Americans. But that doesn’t discount the experience. Not in the slightest.
So who do you trust with a life altering adventure?
We went with Alpaca Expeditions and we couldn’t be happier. From the food and supplies to the tour guides and porters, the logistics were in perfect harmony. They are one of the few Peruvian tour operators and take good care of their porters so your conscience can enjoy the trip too.
We chose the 4 day/3 night classic Inca trail although if we were aware of the other treks we might have planned differently. The Choquequirao and Salkantay treks are equally challenging and the former—still relatively unknown—leads to the second most famous Inca ruins in Peru and the last bastion of the Inca empire.
Our impressions before the trek:
- We expected the trail to be crowded
- We expected the trek to be tiring but not difficult
- We expected to feel an air of superiority at the end
Although the first impression was partly true, here’s what the Inca trail imparted to us:
Park your pride
The difficulty level of the Inca trail can be summarized in two words: altitude and stairs. Even the most experienced hikers will be challenged by 4 hours of uneven, tall, stone steps. And if that doesn’t do it for you, the altitude sure will.
Don’t get discouraged by false peaks
The first two days of the hike are mostly uphill, especially Day 2. The Inca’s must have loved to play games because every time we thought we had reached the highest point, a new set of stairs would magically appear. False peaks should still be celebrated because getting there was hard work, but set your sights on the road ahead with renewed vigor.
Enjoy the moments of solitude
One of the things I was most worried about the Inka trail was that it sounded like a very crowded hike. Our group was 14 people along with 20 porters and about 200 other hikers who started the trail the same day we did. Sounds like a lot of people, right? Luckily, the Inca trail was big enough for all of us. Don’t race to the next stop in search of solitude because you will miss 99% of what makes the hike worthwhile. Break away from the group along the way. Hang back and appreciate your surroundings. You can’t really get lost on the trail!
Don’t forget to look back
Although you really want to reach the destination, it’s important to look back (literally and metaphorically) for two reasons. Even when you feel you’re progressing very slowly, especially on Day 2 (I hope you’ve caught the hint by now that Day 2 sucks), you need only look back to see how far you’ve climbed to appreciate what you’ve accomplished. And quite often, the views behind you are more breathtaking than the daunting set of stairs ahead of you.
Appreciate the small things
Like oxygen. Or functioning knees. Savor the amazing food far away from civilization and the countless stars you will never see once you’re back home. Appreciate the fact that regardless of the pain your body goes through, there is no where else you’d rather be. Appreciate the beautiful ruins along the way – you can quite potentially have it to yourself whereas you have to share Machu Picchu with a few thousand tourists taking the easy way up.
Resourcefulness has a whole new meaning
Can you bake a delicious cake with multi-colored frosting in a tent equipped only with a cooking pot and a kerosene stove? It’s more than most of us can do in a fully stocked kitchen but our resourceful chef made it happen.
Be humbled over and over again
You think you’re a big shot trudging up the Andes with your day pack? Wait until one of the porters run by you with a 20kg load on their back and a smile on their face.
The real reason to walk the Inca trail is not to conquer it but to appreciate the journey the way the Incas deemed it. The trip to Machu Picchu was, after all, a pilgrimage – a quest for spiritual or moral significance. And if you finish the trek four days later as the same person who started it, you have not done it right.