The Inca Trail is seen as a rite of passage for trekkers, and is the classic route to Machu Picchu. It was a route to the famous ruin taken by its inhabitants from centuries ago, and the exact same route and brickwork is largely still intact. 24 miles in length, the path undulates wildly, dipping and peaking at various high altitudes, and breath-taking Andean scenery comes as standard, with regular ruins thrown in enroute to the crowning glory of Machu Picchu itself at the end of it all.
We were obliged to start at about 4:30am to ensure we got breakfast in before our group, with a trio of guides and a huge army of porters overseen by our chief guide Diego, was bussed to the starting point of KM82.
Our group consisted of a diverse range of ages and nationalities. There were quite a few Brits among our number, plus quite a few Europeans – German, Danish, Swedes – and a couple of Americans and an Egyptian thrown in for good measure!
There was strict weighing and measuring of the duffel bags those of us who had opted for superior service had passed on for our porters. My friend who was accompanying me around Peru on this trip tried to cheat at this point by smuggling his extra water in to his duffel bag, but our crew was having none of it. He was duly told off once he’d been caught out!
Once formalities and passport checking was completed we were underway. The route starts gently enough by crossing the bridge and a gentle incline on to a path that passes between the lush walls of the Sacred Valley, rising above the rushing Bamba River below.
Verdant, lush vegetation, including mint tea leaves that Diego picked for us to sample, was everywhere. In glorious sunshine, we spotted our first ruin, Meskay. This was some way from the path and so not especially close up, but was a beguiling appetiser for a more tantalising ruin awaiting us a little further along.
But first, as the sun intensified and the mercury soared, we had two separate steep climbs up rock terrain to negotiate, the first true ‘testing’ section of the Inca Trail. The reward was some fine views of mountain peaks – rocky ones in the foreground, snow-capped ones in the far distance – shrouded by the occasional cloud, as well as some river ranges.
As we sat above, Diego explained how it was a strategic ruin for its fertile land and the ease with which it could be defended. He also expanded on how forts such as this are constructed in animal shapes and to match the movement of celestial bodies. He was also sure to passionately advocate for the ruins at Choquequirau, which Llactapata resembles, which – yep – he said were arguably better than Machu Picchu. I guess if in the years to come we all start hearing more about it, he’ll be proven right.
After a delicious lunch – our cook was fabulous, and consistently whipped up truly excellent food for us throughout – we headed to our first campsite, at Wayllabamba. The sun had slid behind the clouds now, but it was still warm. The porters saw fit to award us with a guard of honour and a round of applause when we arrived at the campsite, as if we’d achieved something already! We knew to take this with a pinch of salt. Tomorrow would be a much tougher day!