We had 4 days to kill in Cusco before starting the Inca trail, so we passed the days wandering around the town exploring and eating and drinking in some brilliant bars and restaurants. I had wanted to try guinea pig, which the locals eat here….but then I saw a picture of it in a menu and changed my mind. They serve the guinea pig whole, still with it’s little head looking up at you and it’s legs sprawled out over the rice. Don’t think I can do it. Apparently it tastes like chicken skin.
We realised on the canyon trek that our little day packs were not remotely suitable for trekking, so before we started the Inca Trail we went to the markets and bought new small backpacks with lots of straps for attaching the sleeping bags and mats that the company would be providing. We also grabbed a trekking pole each, as we’d been told they made a huge difference on the trail.
Finally, our Inca trail day came around, and we got up mega early and waited for our pick up. The bus took us to a little town where we had breakfast and met our guide and our group. We went with Peru Treks and had a group of 16. Everyone was really nice and friendly and there was lots of chatting straight away. Our guide was called Carlos and he was amazing, and completely made our trip. After breakfast we got back in the bus and drove another hour or so along a very dodgy dirt track, to the start of the Inca trail. Once there we were given our sleeping bags and mats, at which point we regretted not hiring an extra porter as they were really heavy!!
The trek on the first day was pretty easy, and we passed our first lot of Inca ruins. After a couple of hours, we arrived at the lunch camp and immediately fell in love with porters. They are amazing. They carry giant 25 kilo backpacks crammed full and run along the trail ahead of the Trekkers to set up camps and cook food. As we all arrived at the lunch camp, they all stood up and applauded us. The food was amazing and it came constantly, and in huge portions! After lunch we headed off again, while the porters packed up and then ran past us on their way to the first camp. The camp site had amazing views and all of our tents were set up and waiting for us when we arrived in the late afternoon. We had a tasty dinner, and then passed out early, nice and snug in our tent.
The next morning was an early start and we were woken up to steaming mugs of tea by the assistant guide, Martin, and one of the porters. We were a bit nervous about the 2nd day as we’d been warned it was the hardest – with 5 hours of uphill, to the top of the highest point of Inca Trail, Dead Womans Pass. After breakfast we started walking and it was quite steep straight away. We walked for around an hour until we came to a clearing with toilets and women selling drinking and snacks from little stalls. After a short break here, Carlos told us to take our own pace to the next break, where the porters would meet us with hot drinks and snacks, and it would take around 2 hours. So we headed off and it was STEEP! The fastest of our group made it in 40 minutes and we took an hour. So we drank some coca tea, ate some popcorn, and waited for the rest of the group. After about an hour, we headed off again and Carlos told us it would take another 2 hours to reach the top of dead womans pass, then another 2 hours to reach the camp site at the bottom. It took us an hour to reach the top, but it was pretty tough. We had to stop regularly to try and catch our breath as we got higher and higher in altitude. At the top we took some photos, but it was drizzling and cold, so we didn’t hang about, and headed down the other side. The down part was actually harder than the up, with massive Inca steps and a scary sheer drop the other side. Again, it took us about an hour to get to camp. At the camp, the porters gave us hot drinks and we sat down and waited for the rest of our group to arrive. They were about an hour and a half behind, so we were starving and desperate for lunch by the time they got there. In the afternoon, we took naps and then got up to play cards before dinner.
The third day was the longest day, we got up really early and went straight up to the top of the first pass. After that it was downhill to some ruins that we wandered around. Then we had a really long, gently sloping walk to the lunch site at the top of the second pass. It was a cool walk, along cobble stones, through little caves. After lunch it was a couple of hours of very steep downhill, mostly steps, to the third and final camp site. We arrived at the camp site in the late afternoon and all sat around drinking beer, enjoying the stunning view. There was lots of cheering and everyone was feeling proud of themselves, as we were now only 2 hours from Machu Picchu. That night we had another amazing dinner and got all the porters together to tip them and say thanks.
On the last morning we got up at 3.45 as we wanted to be among the first to go through the check point when it opened at 5.30. So we spent an hour queuing in the dark, then sped off at hiking speed to try and reach the sun gate as soon as possible. The first view of Machu Picchu from the sun gate was awesome, and we took heaps of photos, before heading down to Machu Picchu itself. By the time we got there, we were all exhausted and didn’t really have the energy to walk around it!! But we grabbed some food and headed in. Carlos spent a couple of hours showing us around and telling us all about the Incas. It was incredible. After that we caught the bus down to Aquas Calientes and sat in the street enjoying some beers. We all had lunch together and Carlos and Marin gave us little certificates to say we completed the Inca trail, very cute. After lunch we went to the hot springs for a long soak before catching the train and then a bus back to Cusco. We arrived, exhausted and in desperate need of a shower, at our hostel around 11pm.
After some recovery time in Cusco, we travelled overnight to a tiny little town called Huacachina, which is built around a lagoon and surrounded by giant sand dunes. We stayed there a few days and on the afternoon of the second day, went on a sand buggy and boarding trip in to the dunes. It was INSANE! The buggy driver was mental and had us flying over the dunes, getting air and swerving all over the place. It was terrifying and awesome – there was lots of screaming and nervous laughing. We stopped at various spots along the way to either sand board or lie flat on the boards and throw ourselves down the tunes head first!! It was an amazing afternoon, the dunes seemed endless!
The next day we went on a wine and pisco (the local booze) tour around the area with a couple of Norwegian girls we’d met on the bus. It was ok, but quite different to the wine tours in Margs and the Swan Valley! The only wine they make in Peru is really sweet and nasty, so mostly we were just tasting different types of pisco…so basically doing shots instead of tasting wine!
After Huacachina, we went to Lima for a couple of days and then headed north to Mancora – our last spot in Peru. Mancora was a brilliant little town on the north coast, just before the border of Ecuador. We stayed in an fun hostel, called Kokopelli’s which had a nice little bar and swimming pool, perfect for a few days of chilling out – it’s a hard life!