We’re sitting in a restaurant in Aguas Calientes, the gateway to the Inca Ruins of Machu Picchu. Around us are five couples, two solo travelers, and two tour guides. All fourteen of them are tired, dirty, and covered in dried sweat. They just finished the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu hike and experienced a life changing experience, an incredible physical and mental challenge that had bonded them as lifelong friends.
As we watch them drinking celebratory beer, retelling stories, and soaking it all in, I’m reminded: this was supposed to be us.
But instead of having a spiritual pilgrimage, we had an expensive failure on attempting to hike the Inca Trail. Instead of hiking to Machu Picchu, we turned around and hiked back after the first day. Here’s why.
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Psst: Planning a trip to Peru? We’ve got a few other posts that might be helpful!
- 13 Things to Know Before You Go to Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru
- Hiking Laguna 69 in Huaraz, Peru: Everything You Need to Know
- The Ultimate Self-Guided Free Walking Tour: Lima, Peru
- 40 Things Nobody Tells You About Backpacking in Peru
The 4-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Hike
We decided to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu months before we started our year-long trip and backpacking South America.
We chose the classic Inca Trail hike: a 4-day, 3-night trek through the Andes that ends at the Sun Gate, an exclusive entrance to Machu Picchu. The trail is part of an ancient pilgrimage, a path walked by thousands of ancient holy men, shamans, and great Incan scholars.
Completing the path is a bucket list item, a dream come true. We were stoked.
Machu Picchu Hiking Tours
After a lot of research (by Lia, the bigger nerd of the two of us), we booked our trek with Alpaca Expeditions, one of the highest rated tour companies. Alpaca Expeditions is amazing.
Their prices are super reasonable, and the services included in your trek are far above the other tour companies. They provide porters for anything you need carrying. They bring a chef – AND a sous chef.
The staff are all paid fair wages, and the company is founded by two former porters themselves (a big problem with tourism in the Sacred Valley is the exploitation of the impoverished local populace, so this is a huge deal).
All of their porters are from the Sacred Valley community. All meals, snacks, camping equipment, and purified water are provided. Hikers just need to bring a day pack with rain and sun protection, while the porters carry everything else.
Makes the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu sound easy, right? We made the same mistaken assumption. Spoilers: we were wrong.
In addition to an excellent company, our tour guide, Jose, was one of the best natural storytellers I’ve ever had on any tour. He was engaging, passionate, incredibly knowledgeable, and funny. Mind you we didn’t get to enjoy much of it.
What to Expect on the Inca Trail To Machu Picchu
Even with an awesome tour company, the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is no joke.
It’s an incredibly difficult hike. Different companies take slightly different approaches to the trail in regards to the length of each of the 4 days, and Alpaca Expeditions happens to have arguably the hardest – something we didn’t realize when we were booking 8 month ago. Cool.
While most companies start short and increase their hiking distance each day, Alpaca Expeditions optimizes campsites to avoid crowds.
Machu Picchu Hike Itinerary
Day 1 is the “training day”; an 8.7 mile long warm up hike. The bulk of this section is lovingly referred to as Andean Flat – meaning, well, not flat. If anyone in Peru ever describes a hike as “mostly flat,” you can safely assume they actually mean “mostly uphill.”
The last stretch of day one is a steady ascent uphill for roughly an hour and a half.
Somehow, we looked at the altitude map of Day 1 and thought, “that doesn’t look too difficult.” Day 1 seemed like a piece of cake. Yup: wrong.
Day 2, we thought, is the big one. It starts with a nearly 4000 foot climb straight uphill – literally stairs – for about four hours, to the cheerfully named Dead Woman’s Pass, situated at 13,500 feet of elevation.
From there, it’s down-up-down on more stairs. The whole day is about 11 grueling miles long, at the most difficult and challenging altitude of the entire hike.
Day 3 is a short 6 mile half day in preparation for the mad dash to The Sun Gate first thing in the morning on Day 4.
We figured, as long as we can get through Day 1, we’ll be OK – it’s just Day 2 we have to worry about. Of course, we were totally wrong and underestimated the Machu Picchu hike difficulty.
Training to Hike the Inca Trail
I know that some of you are only reading this to make sure your Inca Trail hike won’t befall the same fate as ours. (Which is smart. Keep reading!)
Training for Machu Picchu was definitely part of our failure. But not in the way that you might think. The problem wasn’t that we didn’t train for the Inca Trail, or that we were overweight (although yes, in the interest of full disclosure, we’re both mildly overweight).
We trained hard for our backpacking trip … but our Inca Trail hike was 4 months into our trip.
When I signed us up for the hike, 7 months before our trip, failing to complete the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu didn’t even cross my mind as an option. We were regular hikers at home, taking advantage of the myriad hikes around the Bay Area on a weekly basis.
We added backpacking into the mix and hiked with heavy packs on. For almost a year leading up to our travels we also worked out regularly at the gym, doing at least 3x a week of strength training, powerlifting, and cardio to prepare for our Machu Picchu trek. We timed our hikes, aiming continually for a 20-30 minute mile, adding elevation gain and mileage regularly.
We felt fit. We felt ready. And then we left for South America.
In the months leading up to the trek, we planned various hikes and treks throughout South America: La Cuidad Perdida and the Valle de Cocora in Colombia, the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador, and Laguna 69 and Colca Canyon in Peru.
Our goal was to train steadily over our 4 month trip to work up to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, as it is by far the hardest hike we have ever attempted. It all seemed so doable. One trek a month or so. No big deal.
The Reality of Training in South America
The thing is that we could barely handle our training hikes. The hiking in South America is so much more difficult than we had ever experienced.
From the altitude, to the heat, to the actual trails themselves – which seemed to alternate between knee-deep rivers of mud, slippery sand or shale, or just unmarked landslide-covered mountainsides – we were woefully ill-equipped.
We were used to Northern California hiking, with it’s temperate weather, low elevation – except for the challenging mountain peaks, which we, of course hadn’t attempted – and well-marked, comfortable sand or packed dirt trails.
Within the first 2 weeks of our South America trip, we called off our 6-day Ciudad Perdida trek based off of our miserable experience during the relatively “easy” hike to Parque Tayrona.
We managed to hike only half of the Valle de Cocora, defeated by mud, slippery hidden rocks, and our own slow pace.
We successfully hiked 2 out of 3 days of the incredibly difficult Quilotoa Loop trek – if by “successfully hiked” you mean got lost, crawled up a mountainside on our hands and knees, and injured ourselves. On day 2, we took a taxi. By day 3, we were limping so badly that we hitchiked for the last mile of our hike.
Only one of us managed to hike Laguna 69, our first and only high-elevation hike ever, while the other one suffered in bed from debilitating altitude sickness.
By month 4, when it came time to do the 4-day Colca Canyon trek, we opted to take a bus instead. Fit hikers? Ha. Not anymore.
Hiking in South America turned out to be WAY more difficult than hiking in the States. Needless to say, after 4 months of almost no training at all, we were not ready to hike the Inca Trail.
Hiking to Machu Picchu: Off to a Bad Start
I could tell we were out of our league when we showed up to our debriefing session at Alpaca Expeditions the night before the start of our hike of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Everyone but us was in perfect shape. You could just see rippling abs bulging out from every Patagonia and North Face jacket in the room. One guy was casually telling stories about various marathons he’d completed and the time he summitted Mount Fuji. Another couple was late to arrive because they were finishing up another multi-day trek.
It was like walking into a Cross-Fit gym in stained sweats holding a donut and a milkshake. We were in way over our heads.
As we sized up our fellow hikers in dismay, I’m sure they were looking at us with the same dissappointment. As one uber-fit fellow travel blogger put it, there’s “nothing worse that having an out of shape Debbie Downer hiking with you for 4 days in the Peruvian mountains.” Her Inca Trail Trek was far more successful than ours, of course.
Day 1 of the Inca Trail hike is called “Training Day,” and it’s meant to illuminate the difficulty of the trek before you get into the really hard stuff.
Our big problem when it comes to hiking is that we hike SO SLOWLY. We’ve heard so many well-meaning people who successfully finished the Inca Trail trek be like “Oh I’m slow too, it’s no big deal! You can do it!” It’s nice, but it’s wrong. In the words of Beyonce, “You must not know ’bout me,” because we take slow to a new level.
We let our guides know in advance that we are incredibly slow, and they both told us not to worry.
Day 1 of Our Machu Picchu Hike
So as we began our hike to Machu Picchu, we weren’t surprised to find ourselves falling back regularly behind the rest of the group.
The first part of Day 1 is supposed to be from 9 AM-1:30 PM, then an hour break for lunch.
The historical lessons that Alpaca Expeditions includes along the trek ran a little longer than planned, so the group got to lunch around 2 PM. Well, everyone except us, that is.
While the group were sitting down to enjoy a well-deserved break and deliciously cooked meal, Lia and I were slowly making our way up an Andean Flat stretch that became infinitely more difficult because the sun was burning us to oblivion.
We expected rain the whole hike, but instead we were given unrelenting sunshine. I wasn’t sure what I would have preferred, honestly. We were dressed for rain, not sun, and it felt like we were dragging ourselves through the desert in 800 degree heat.
We huffed and puffed and sweated the whole way up what was supposed to be an easy, “flat” section of the Inca Trail. We finally rolled up to lunch just before 3 PM and got the dregs of the leftover food.
I was so exhausted I barely touched the delicious fresh trout. Minutes later, the porters were tearing down, packing up, and (literally) running to set up our camp. Break over.
Our Uphill Battle Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
We didn’t get any time to relax before we had to follow the rest of the group back up the trail.
Franz, our assistant tour guide, was a trooper. He gently strolled alongside us as we huffed and puffed uphill for the next two and a half grueling hours. He was our personal chauffeur throughout the whole ordeal, in charge of our safety and health as the last 2 stragglers in the group.
The section of hike after our lunch break was the beginning of the climb to Dead Woman’s Pass, the section that’s notorious for making the Inca Trail difficult.
The hill alternates between stairs that go up to your knee and an incline so steep that it would make San Francisco say “Nope.”
Franz gave us the advice to take the hills in a zig-zag. This helped a little, but my knee injury was returning mere minutes into the hill (thanks a lot, Quilotoa Loop). The pain sparking in my leg was only mitigated when we were passed by three fabulous, fluffy llamas.
Trying to Remain Optimistic
Lagging behind and struggling, we were already feeling defeated. I asked Franz about the logistics of turning back the next day. Being the determined “we-can-do-it” one on our hikes is usually my job, so we both knew we were in trouble.
But Franz remained optimistic, telling us that our pace was slow but steady, and assuring us that we could do Dead Woman’s Pass. Alpaca Expeditions never wants to send people back (imagine the pain of losing your entire trek fee AND failing at your once-in-a-lifetime bucket list dream – trust me, it hurts), so Franz kept pumping us full of hope.
As time stretched to an hour and a half of slogging up the hill, we found a slow, methodical groove. I was feeling almost meditative, slowly putting one foot in front of the other as we climbed stair after stair with no end in sight.
As the waning sun disappeared behind the majestic mountains apathetically observing our slow struggle, Franz pointed up and around a bend. Finally, he said the words we’d been waiting to hear for hours: “there’s the camp, ahead.” The end was near!
In a last ditch effort to cheer us up, he added, “I actually think you guys can do it tomorrow.” We huffed and puffed and limped into camp, visions of finishing the Inca Trail, arriving at Machu Picchu, and accomplishing the impossible dancing in our heads.
Happy Hour on the Inca Trail
We arrived at camp about 45 minutes after everyone else. It was already dark outside. The porters probably set the tents up 15 minutes after they left lunch, because they’re insanely bad-ass (I’m not exaggerating when I say they were literally running up the trail).
So when we got to camp, everything was already set up for us in our spacious tent. We gratefully accepted a bucket of hot water to soak our feet in and tried to catch our breath.
The group was supportive and friendly, avoiding the slow elephant in the room, and instead asking things like “did you see those fabulous llamas?” It was a forced comradery – they’d just spent 8 hours bonding and chatting as they hiked, while we’d only interacted with them for a few minutes the entire day – but they were a really polite group.
Jose came by our tent and let us know that “happy hour” was in five minutes, followed by dinner. He said we didn’t need to come to happy hour if we needed rest. Then, ominously, he added “After dinner, we need to talk. I will give you suggestions.” Unsure what this meant, we went to happy hour.
Happy hour was hot chocolate, tea, popcorn, deep-fried cheese wontons, and crackers. Honestly, much better than any booze-centric happy hour (especially at 10k feet above sea level).
Dinner, like all Alpaca Expedition meals, was fantastic. We had Chifa style chicken, fried mashed yucca patties, rice, veggies, and fried cheesy cauliflower. Dessert was banana flambeed in pisco tableside.
As we stuffed ourselves, Jose gave the group a pep talk about Day 2: It’s the hardest day of the Inca Trail hike. 5am wakeup. 4 hours of climbing stairs. High altitude. You’ll likely feel sick. You’ll probably lose your appetite. You might throw up. Most of your extremities will be tingly and numb. Drink a lot of water. You know, the usual.
If you read that and thought “oh my god, that sounds like actual hell on earth,” you know exactly how we were feeling.
Facing Reality: Accepting Our Inca Trail Failure
After we ate our fill, Jose pulled us aside. He gave us two options.
Option A was that we pack up that night, sleep in our hiking clothes, and get started on the trail at 4 the next morning to continue our Machu Picchu hike. At our pace, he estimated, we’d be hiking until after sundown.
14 hours of hiking. 4,000 feet of climbing. 14,000 feet above sea level. Oh god.
Option B was that we turn around and hike back. Franz, our assistant guide, and a porter would go with us carrying our stuff. We would spend one night in Ollantaytambo and one night in Aguas Calientes, just outside of Machu Picchu.
On Day 4, we would take the tourist route – the train – to Machu Picchu and reunite with the group early in the morning. “In time for pictures,” Jose assured us, in a voice that hinted that in case it helped ease our pain, there’d be a photo that made it look like we’d hiked the whole way too. Thank god, nobody on Facebook has to know about our failure on the Inca Trail.
I guess that’s probably important for some people, but our first question was: how much is this going to cost us? $400 extra – on top of our $1,200 trekking fee – was the estimate. Ouch.
Deciding to turn back
We took a hard look at ourselves.
I was full on limping. Neither of us have ever hiked for 14 hours straight, much less on such a difficult and high-altitude trail. Lia is about 18 times slower than I am, and I’m slower than everyone else we’ve ever met.
We were both filled with dread at the thought of Dead Woman’s Pass. Our optimistic visions of completing the Inca Trai hike faded and vanished.
With a heavy heart, we told Jose we would be leaving the next day. Our failure on the Inca Trail was set in stone.
Return Hike to Ollantaytambo
We had breakfast with the group and told them we wouldn’t be joining them that day. They were understanding and sympathetic. A few of them definitely saw it coming. Jose gave us each a bagged lunch and wished us well.
The way back was much easier. Maybe it was because we knew that once we were done hiking that day, we were done hiking for a long time. Maybe it was because the way back is all downhill.
Either way, we returned to KM 82 (The Inca Trail trail-head) in just 6 hours, compared to yesterday’s 8.
At the trailhead, we were joined by a Danish couple who had turned around due to altitude sickness: they’d spent night 1 throwing up. The four of us, our porters, Franz, and some others from the small town jumped in a combi and headed to Ollantaytambo.
When we arrived, we got a surprise from Franz – and it wasn’t just 2 bright green t-shirts proclaiming that we’d “Survived the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.” Thank god, no one at the gym has to know about our failure on the Inca Trail!
No, the surprise was that apparently we were expected to pay for Franz’s hotels and transportation during the 3 days while we were off the trail. Surprise! We were pissed. We didn’t even NEED a guide, and we were already out enough money (*cough*$1,200*cough*).
I guess if you’re the kind of traveler who flew into Peru just to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (which describes everyone else in our hiking group) you might feel more comfortable with a guide tagging along, but we were 4 months in and perfectly capable of finding our own way.
The two Danes, who were on their honeymoon, got a nice hotel. We – on our much grungier honeymoon – found the cheapest piece of crap hotel we could. $5 for Franz, $10 for us. Sorry, Franz. If we’re paying, you’re roughing it too.
We also, inadvertently, discovered what some people already know: Ollantaytambo is the cheapest place to stay close to Machu Picchu.
Although it’s not quite as close as Aguas Calientes, it’s still on the train line to Machu Picchu and makes for an excellent base for visiting the Sacred Valley – which is the same conclusion that Amateur Traveler came to in his guide to planning a trip to Machu Picchu.
Ollantaytambo is quite similiar to so many Peruvian small towns we’ve been in. There is a main square surrounded by local restaurants and traditional craft markets. There is a looming mountain covered in picturesque ruins that we were in no mood to explore (side note: the Ollantaytambo Ruins are actually awesome, and make a great – and cheaper – alternative to Machu Picchu, as it turns out. Oh well. Next time, I guess.)
Trying to make the best of a bad situation, Lia and I tried some Alpaca Saltado, one of the local typical foods. We’ve been asked repeatedly if we’ve tried any bizarre foods in South America. Alpaca now tops the list. But it was super gross. It tastes like gamy overcooked beef. We like alpacas way better alive.
We bought our tickets for the train to Aguas Calientes and spent the rest of the day trying to find a cell phone charger and a wi-fi signal.
We drifted off to sleep around 8pm, only to be awakened 3 times (3 TIMES) by the owner of the hotel, who apparently thought we were going to bounce without paying.
He would shine a flashlight in our room, ask if we were still there or when we were going to pay, and then shuffle off. Early in the morning, he knocked on the door with the same routine. We eventually found him sitting motionless outside of our room, waiting to take his money. I guess not many gringos go with the super cheap hotel option in Ollantaytambo.
Aguas Calientes, Peru
We boarded a train the next afternoon across from the Danish couple. We enjoyed the scenic ride through the Sacred Valley from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, despite the awkwardness I brought on by bragging about how cheap our hotel was (theirs wasn’t, and we ended up looking like cheap traveling dickbags. New blog name?)
During our train journey, as we sipped our free passion fruit juice and nibbled our free cookies (actually, “cookies” is a stretch. It was stale bread with 4 chocolate chips on top) we passed the beginning of the Inca Trail again.
You know that feeling when you spend hours hiking a difficult trail, only to drive past it on the way home and realize it only took you 10 freaking minutes by car? We watched 16 miles and 14 difficult hours of our life pass by us in the blink of an eye. No wonder they stuck a train track on one of the most-used Inca Trails to Machu Picchu.
Arriving in Aguas Calientes
When we arrived at Aguas Calientes, Franz met us at the station. We had pre-booked our beds at Super Tramp, a hostel that was in partnership with other hostels we’ve loved in Cusco and Arequipa. Again: we were in major penny-pinching mode.
Franz escorted us through Aguas Calientes to find the hostel, making himself as useful as he possibly could. Turns out we’d managed to out-cheap him: he took one look at the graffiti-covered hostel filled with grungy lounging backpackers and announced he’d booked his own hotel. We were off the hook for his room bill! I guess he didn’t want to stay with us in a 10-bed dorm. Can’t blame him.
As for us, we took one look at Super Tramp hostel – with its graffiti and travel-quote covered walls, free breakfast, and crowds of friendly lounging backpackers – and thought, oh thank god, we’re home. (Every time we stay in a hotel, we end up missing hostels. Seriously!)
The town of Aguas Calientes is actually pretty cool looking. It’s built in the rainforest at the base of a waterfall. Due to its location, there are no cars in town, so the streets are narrow with tall buildings. The only vehicles in town are buses to and from Machu Picchu.
The downside of staying at a tourist hotspot
The major downside to Aguas Calientes? The price.
The entire town is marked up like crazy to take advantage of the crowds of tourists who tromp through on their way to Machu Picchu and have no idea what a regularly priced Peruvian meal is like. Hint: it’s usually a lot less than 30 soles for a plate.
Franz offered to take us on a 3-hour hike to see a waterfall or to visit the local thermal baths. I’m sure those things are lovely, especially for people who are only in Peru to see Machu Picchu, but we were short on cash and … I realize this sounds super obnoxious … we’ve seen a lot of waterfalls and thermal baths during our 4 month backpacking trip through South America.
Also, we were cranky. Sorry, Aguas Calientes. We opted to sit inside the hostel doing absolutely nothing – and trying not to dwell on our failure on the Inca Trail – and it was great.
Finally in Machu Picchu
We woke up at 4am the next morning, along with everyone else in our 10-person dorm room, and scarfed down the super early free breakfast from the hostel.
We met with Franz and waited in the long line for the bus to Machu Picchu. The bus was bouncy, but the scenery was beautiful: low-lying fog nestling up against gigantic, steep mountains blanketed with rainforest.
Anyone who has ever been to Disney or somewhere similarly packed with tourists knows that whenever people flock to a tourist attraction, they turn off their brain and tend to believe this experience is just for them. Arriving in Machu Picchu felt just like that.
In the low season, 3,000 people are let into Machu Picchu a day – 5,000 in high season.
After the 45 minute wait for the bus, 30-minute wait in the line, and 20 minute crowded uphill walk to Machu Picchu, it was…disappointing.
Why Machu Picchu wasn’t all we thought it would be
Don’t get me wrong. Machu Picchu is beautiful, and a truly breathtaking sight. But it’s so crowded.
In order to appreciate the quiet majesty of the ruins, you have to avoid selfie sticks, tour groups, and hoards of people trying to take THAT picture. Which is impossible.
Without firsthand experience, I think it’s safe to say that Machu Picchu is way, WAY more satisfying after a grueling 4-day pilgrimage along the Inca Trail.
After kicking out a couple who were attempting to meditate in one of the most popular designated picture spots, Franz helped us take our own obnoxious Machu Picchu picture.
We got a few minutes to explore the Guard’s House – hands-down the best spot for photos AND the least crowded, as it’s all the way up the hill – before finally reuniting with our group as they walked down the hill from the Sun Gate, the entrance from the Inca Trail.
Reuniting with our tour group
The group was starry-eyed and excited. They were seeing Machu Picchu with completely different eyes than we were. And we felt the difference.
Despite their friendliness, it seemed like we were being pitied. Our questions of “Oh my god, was it amazing?” were met with a polite and uncomfortable “so how was…your time? Was the town nice?”
We also stupidly wore our complementary “I Survived The Inca Trail” t-shirts… but nobody else did. Awkward.
We took our group picture, imagining that for years to come, whenever the rest of the group shared this photo with their impressed friends and family, they’d say, “See those two in the bright green “I survived the Inca Trail” shirts? It’s so ironic. They were the only ones who didn’t make it.”
The group left us again to check in at the office. In the meantime, Lia and I got to do what we were looking forward to the most: making llama friends.
As anyone who has been to Machu Picchu will tell you, there are llamas everywhere. The llamas even have the right of way throughout the ruins. We found some particularly friendly llamas (that’s a lie, all llamas are sassy and rude and it makes us love them so much more) and finally got the picture that we’d always dreamed of.
The best way to experience Machu Picchu
Once Jose and the group returned, we were treated to a two hour tour of the village of Machu Picchu.
Everything Jose said put the group in awe and built upon 4 days of in-depth cultural lessons that we had missed (and I do mean in-depth. Jose went to college for this. He is insanely knowledgeable.)
As we passed ruin after ruin, not quite grasping the significance of subtle architectural details that made the rest of the group gasp in delight, I realized that everyone else had experienced Machu Picchu the right way.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was a pilgrimage, and here they were reaping the benefits.
4 days of dust, sweat and tears. 4 days of viewing progressively larger and more interesting ruins, and hearing the stories of the people who once lived there. 4 days of fully embracing Pachamama and deeply resonating with how Sacred the Sacred Valley truly is.
All we’d done was sit around bored for 2 days.
After the tour, most of the group continued to Wayna Picchu, an hour hike (more stairs!) uphill for a sweeping view of the village and surrounding area.
You know that tall pointy mountain in the back of any photograph of Machu Picchu? That’s Wayna Picchu. We decided not to do the hike, because it’s extra money and who are we kidding.
Instead we opted for the Inca Bridge, a derelict stone pathway that hugs the side of a cliff face. As we hiked the hour to the Inca Bridge, we realized we were both feeling the same disappointment about not finishing the trail.
We hadn’t just failed at hiking Machu Picchu. We had ruined our destination, too.
Return to Aguas Calientes
We left Machu Picchu before most of the others, sick of the crowds and the overall feeling of regret.
Jose told us to meet at a restaurant called Tupana Wasi. If there was any doubt that Alpaca Expeditions is used to gringos with money, this restaurant confirmed it. We took one look at the menu and nearly choked: it was SO far out of our budget.
We spent the hour waiting for the rest of the group eating raisins and nuts like chipmunks storing up for winter so we would be less envious of everyone else’s food.
As the others arrived, hugs were had, beers were consumed, and contact information was exchanged.
Well, except ours.
This was the most awkward part of the entire day. The group tried to be polite about avoiding getting our Facebook information, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t even remember our names. Which is OK, because we didn’t remember any of theirs, either.
It felt like we had stumbled into the cast party of a close-knit group of actors in a play we’d only caught the first 10 minutes of. We sat awkwardly trying to join in as much as we could as the rest of the group retold stories, shared laughs, and reveled in the life changing experience they had shared. I mean literally life changing, you all. One couple in the group actually got engaged at The Sun Gate!
We killed time in town after lunch until our train ride. Finally, after four days of lucky weather, the skies had opened up into the torrential rain we’d been expecting all along.
On the train ride back to Ollantaytambo, we passed KM 82 and the start of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu for the FOURTH time. It was like we were reliving our Greatest Hits of Inca Trail Failure over and over again.
Finally, after four hours of transit, we arrived back in Kokopelli Cusco, finally done with one of our most expensive failures ever.*
*Surprisingly, this was not THE most expensive failure we’ve had. We once bought a used car for $5,000 cash. It lasted for 2 months, then inexplicably died. RIP, Loretta the Jetta.
How to Not Fail on the Inca Trail Hike: Tips For Machu Picchu
The 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Piccha is no joke. It is a grueling four-day fight against time and altitude.
Of the group who actually completed the Inca Trail, 3 felt the effects of altitude sickness on Dead Woman’s Pass, and 1 spent a whole day throwing up as he hiked. I mean, he DID finish, though.
If you plan to take on this challenge, here are our tips for hiking Machu Picchu. Follow our advice and you’ll be far more prepared than we were!
- Arrive in Cusco at least 4 days in advance in order to acclimatize. We gave ourselves 5 days and did not feel any of the effects of altitude sickness.
- Take altitude sickness pills, from the time you arrive in Cusco up through the ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass.
- Hit the gym. The Machu Picchu hike is insanely difficult and gets even harder if you happen to be overweight. At a minimum, you should be able to run a mile without needing to stop (which we still struggle with). You should be able to do around an hour on the Stairmaster (especially helpful for Dead Woman’s Pass). When it comes to strength training, focus on your hamstrings, quads, and calves. We recommend deadlifts, squats, and weighted calf raises. The stronger your legs are, the less likely your knees will get injured.
- Train like your life (and your trekking fee) depends on it. At a minimum: hike like crazy. Hike weekly. Hike for speed, hike for altitude, hike the hardest hikes you’ve ever done, and master them. If you’ve never done a 4,000 foot incline (and decline), find one and do it. If you can find some high-altitude hikes to do – even a gentle stroll at high altitude will help – do them as often as you can. We’ve also heard swimming can help with altitude training, so long as you’re working hard and holding your breath at the same time.
- Train with a respiratory restriction mask, like this one. Wearing this ridiculous looking mask might make you feel like Bane from Batman, but it’ll turn you into an altitude-mastering hiking beast. If I had 1 thing that I’d try if I could go back and do it all over again, it would be to buy one of these and wear it on every single one of my training hikes. Altitude was by FAR the most difficult factor in our Inca Trail failure, and if you’re training at a low-altitude area like we were in California, this will be crucial to make sure you’re able to complete your hike to Machu Picchu!
- Research the hiking route. This is something we didn’t do – we assumed all trekking companies did the same route on the Inca Trail from day to day. We didn’t realize we’d be covering more ground than every other company in the first 2 days. Many companies spread the 26 miles out evenly over 4 days, or give you 2 days of warmup before a long day. If 12 hours of hiking (the plan for day 2) sounds like too much, go with a different company than Alpaca Expeditions.
- Consider your options for hiking Machu Picchu. You should know that the 4-day Inca Trail is not the only way to hike to Machu Picchu. There are other treks that get you to Machu Picchu, like the Lares Trek, the Salkantay Trek, and the Inca Jungle Trek, just to name a few. There’s also a 2-day Inca Trail hike option. It is my understanding that these all end at Aguas Calientes, then a bus continues the trip to Machu Picchu. The 4-day Inca Trail is the only one that ends at the Sun Gate and continues straight into the ruins of Machu Picchu.
- Choose your tour company carefully. If you are planning on doing the Machu Picchu hike, you’ll find many options for tour companies. I can’t praise Alpaca Expeditions enough. They were open, honest, patient, and helpful, from booking to when we were dropped at our hostel. With most South American tour companies, you get what you pay for. But with them, it felt like we got more than we paid for. We are big proponents of sustainable and equitable companies. Alpaca Expeditions are one of the only Machu Picchu tour companies to treat their porters fairly, and it shows in the happiness and demeanor of the porters.
- Do some reading to prepare for visiting Machu Picchu. I don’t mean like reading a blog post, y’all. I mean books! I highly recommend this excellent, expertly-researched primer on Incan culture and history: The Incas by Terence N. D’Altroy. No book opened my eyes to the incredible, forgotten reality of how insanely advanced, high-tech, and populous pre-Columbian societies such as the Incas were prior to the invasion of European colonists more than 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. And if you’re looking for something a little less research-based and a little more humorous, Turn Right at Machu Picchu is a fantastic read.
Inca Trail Packing List That Will Get You To Machu Picchu
One thing that we felt well-prepared with was our hiking gear! Peru, much like the rest of South America, is the land of every kind of weather you can imagine.
It’s hot during the day, cold at night, even colder if you climb higher, and can rain in an instant – which becomes even more likely depending in the time of year you choose to hike the Inca Trail.
You’ll need to bring gear that can withstand anything that gets thrown at it, and keep you comfortable to boot.
Here’s what we recommend throughout all of our trials (and failures) hiking both in the US and in South America.
Note: we had a porter carrying our belongings, which we STRONGLY recommend – even though some companies charge extra for this service, it is worth it.
- 50-100oz of water: We have a Camelbak Hydration Pack that fits 100oz of water, snacks, AND has some room for gear, too. This was all we carried with us during the day, to keep things as lightweight as possible.
- Trekking poles are a huge help when it comes to tricky terrain and climbing both up and downhill, such as Dead Woman’s Pass. We brought our Black Diamond trekking poles with us, folded down and tucked into a side pocket of our backpacks, for our entire 5 months in South America and they were SO useful on hikes.
- Rain Gear: We love our Ultra-Light Packable Rain Jackets (His & Hers) and we bring Waterproof Socks to wear under our Trail Runners, just in case. These are small enough to roll up and tuck right into our CamelBak.
- Hiking Clothes: We prefer wool hiking gear thanks to its ability to cool you down in the heat and keep you warm in the rain – totally necessary for high-altitude hiking in Peru, where the weather can change in a minute. We’ve tried a lot of different hiking clothing over the years, and these are our favorite tried and true picks.
- Hiking Clothing for Her: T-shirt | Sports Bra | Half Zip | Hiking Pants
- Hiking Clothing for Him: Short Sleeve shirt | Long Sleeve Shirt | Hiking Pants
- Hiking Shoes & Socks: We both hike in Trail Runners rather than heavy duty hiking boots – they’re lightweight and travel friendly, more flexible and comfortable, and they dry super quickly when it rains or after a water crossing, so your feet will stay toasty and try. Pair them with well-made wool socks. Our favorite wool sock brand is Darn Tough: soft, durable, and they come with a lifetime guarantee in the event of holes (that’s how you know it’s real).
- Coca Leaves to chew during your hike. The guides will give you Coca Tea and a special hand spray that will help clear your lungs on day 2, but bringing extra Coca Leaves to chew as you walked will really helped with the altitude. You’ll find Coca Leaves all over Peru, including mercados and even supermarkets. If the leaves are too gross for you (they taste like … well, leaves) there’s also Coca Leaf candy and gum.
- Sunscreen and a Hat or Sunglasses: Many parts of the Inca Trail are exposed and sunny.
- Camera: Machu Picchu is stunning, so don’t forget to pack a camera for that once-in-a-lifetime shot! We recommend bringing a tiny, lightweight GoPro – the wide panoramic angle is perfect for the sweeping wide-angle shots of Machu Picchu. Our other fave is the Canon Powershot. It’s the perfect lightweight, hike-friendly camera that takes amazing photos while still fitting comfortably into your pocket. We used this camera exclusively during our 5 months backpacking South America and were extremely pleased with it.
An Honest Assessment of Our Utter Failure on the Inca Trail
So you might read this and think we’re saying not to try hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. In fact, the opposite is true. We now firmly believe that Machu Picchu should be done by way of the Inca Trail, if possible.
Seeing the ruins through a crowd felt cheap and touristy, and much of the magic and awe shared by the rest of the group was lost on us (in hindsight, I wish we’d known more about making the most of Machu Picchu in a day).
It felt like our hiking group truly earned the sight of this ancient village. We just showed up and tagged along.
On a positive note, our love for hiking hasn’t been dampened by our failure on the Inca Trail. We plan to continue slowly plodding along on progressively more challenging hikes, keeping our expectations reasonably low to match our abilities.
So if you’re reading this and wondering, “Should I hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?” Well, we really can’t answer that for you! We can only speak for our own experience. The only one who’s really able to assess your physical abilities is you.
If you think you can do the Inca Trail, and you’re committed to trying, we wholeheartedly say “go forth and f**king slay, you athletic warrior god/goddess!”
But if you’re not feelin’ it after reading our experience … well, that’s OK too. You can sit with us at the “maybe one day” table and we’ll all have a beer and hang out.
We hope reading about our failure to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu made you laugh. Or maybe it helped you assess your own physical abilities. Either way, let us know in the comments!
Psst: Planning a trip to Peru? We’ve got a few other posts that might be helpful!
- 13 Things to Know Before You Go to Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru
- Hiking Laguna 69 in Huaraz, Peru: Everything You Need to Know
- 40 Things Nobody Tells You About Backpacking in Peru
- What to Pack for South America: 32 Backpacking Essentials
Did you get a sick sense of satisfaction from reading about our failure on the Inca Trail? (Hey, that’s what we’re here for.)Share it on Pinterest or Facebook so everyone else can judge us, too!
Our Top Travel Tips & Resources
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- Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor's office or a walk-in pharmacy.
- Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local's perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
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- What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!
I read this post so many times since (I want to say?) 2019 when I was dreaming of and planning my own South America backpacking trip. Not because I was even considering the Inca Trail but because I just love how you guys tell stories! Now I’m actually on my trip and I just visited Machu Picchu this morning – taking the train to Aguas Calientes and then the bus 🙂 A lot of people I met seemed surprised I wouldn’t be doing the trek because I’m young and look fit but I know my limits lol and there’s no way I could hike 3 hours much less 3 days. Anyway thanks for writing this post and sharing all your South America tips, I’m so glad I can finally put them into use while traveling!
Lia Garcia says
I’m so excited for you, Eloise!! I hope you’re having an amazing trip. Say hi to some llamas for us!!
Just saw this post come up after I googled something about recovering your knees from doing the trail. Had a very similar reality check when I had thought I was fit enough for the trail (for reference, I primarily strength train 4-5x a week with little cardio unless you count walking around NYC 10ksteps daily).
When I got to talking with my group it was clear how under-prepared, I was. There were people who did Ironman races, marathons, even the least fit among us (self-proclaimed) did Muay Thai, which arguably provided more cardio and endurance training than what I did.
Day 1 I barely kept up on Inca/Andean Flat (but at least I kept up). I ended up struggling up Dead Woman’s Pass Day 2 without my Diamox as I had found out I may be allergic to it. The assistant guide provided me some Florida water to smell when we were on the last leg and the encouragement/cheers from the rest of the group powered me up.
Those downhill steps from Day 2 (and on subsequent days) are absolute killers on the knees (even with poles) and I consistently fell behind, mostly because I had neglected to break in my hiking shoes with my hiking socks pre-hike and ended up with nails that bumped into the front of my shoes all the way down (and resulted in toenail removal on both feet when I got back to the States). Funny story, on Day 3, the assistant guide sent me ahead of the main group who were taking in a history lesson at one of the ruins so as to keep schedule and the rest of the group ended up being quite worried about me.
I think you’re quite right about how all the lessons and your eventual awe of the destination is built up by the experience of the trip and those history lessons you have on the way.
I also felt quite overheated most of the time, dressed for rain and brisk weather and half the time you have the sun beating down on you but then half the other time you’re cold and the wind is blowing hard enough to almost take off your cap.
Forgot to mention, there were so many times along the trail I thought…what made me think I was prepared for this and what made me think this was a good vacation at all (considering that the most I’ve ever hiked was 3 short day hikes in the Hudson Valley back in 2019). I had originally wanted to do the Inca Trail in 2020 but COVID got in the way (thank god I waited until now where I am in better shape than in 2020, but no the right kind of in shape).
But man, when you make it to Machu Picchu and we sat on one of the terraces for our last couple of history lessons..you are just awe inspired by the journey and the view.
Lindsy Gardner says
Lia & Jeremy – Thank you for your very honest and humorous post. I, too, am a very slow hiker. I hiked the Inca Trial in August 2021. I trained, but I’m not sure that any amount of training would have really helped me. I immediately fell behind the group on Day 1 even though this was a “warm-up” day. On Day2, I made it to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, but only after my guide gave me a shot of oxygen. We were told they only need to do this about once every five years. Well, I was the lucky one. I didn’t throw up but I was very weak and fuzzy-headed. My group finished Day 2 in 5 hours – it took me 10. I loved Day 3 and was only about an hour behind the group. Because I read your post, I proactively asked my guide if I could leave 2 hours earlier than the group every day. The head porter would start out with me. He didn’t speak English – I didn’t speak Spanish. Then, when the group caught up with me, usually mid-morning, the guide would stay with me. Essentially, I had my own private guide! On Day 2, I missed lunch, but when I finally got to camp, they made lunch for me anyway. And then we had dinner like 2 hours later. The other groups that we passed recognized that I was struggling, and they all were so supportive and encouraging. Because of the pandemic, there was hardly anyone on the trail. My group was also very supportive even though I know that I adversely impacted their trip. I bought them all dinner in Aguas Caliente and then blubbered all over myself as I thanked them for being patient. One of the hikers that I kept passing told me that I was an inspiration to their group because I never gave up! (I cried again.) Reading your post really helped me to mentally prepare for being the curviest and slowest hiker and to think candidly about how I would feel if I turned around. Thank you sincerely for putting yourself out there so that others could learn from your experience!
Lia Garcia says
This brings me so much joy! I am so PROUD OF YOU and impressed by your achievement!!! And your experience is exactly why I wrote this post, to help educate others to mentally prepare and do exactly what you were able to do. You inspire us and I hope one day we can go back and finish our hike too!!
I stumbled across your blog just one month after my Peru trip and while I absolutely loved the candour and humour you injected into a really tough situation, I am kind of glad I didn’t find it before my trip.
Luckily I only did the 2 day Inca Trail, but like you, I was the slowest person in the group. I had the guides rotate who would stick with the slow girl who could barely breathe. At one point between lunch and when we reached the Sun Gate a girl from my group spent a couple of hours hiking with me because she was worried I was lonely (spoiler: I was). Just doing the 2 day was the hardest hike I have ever done so I can only imagine the 4 day. Since I got back people ask if I loved it and I don’t know what to say. I probably shouldn’t tell them that I hated almost every minute of the hike itself, but that the view at the Sun Gate made me cry out of relief and pride in myself. My guide Hector took about twenty photos of me posing in the Sun Gate like a proud parent. I am so glad I did it. I will never do it again!
Lia Garcia says
That’s amazing!! You should be so proud of yourself – that’s an absolutely incredible feat!! I’m glad you didn’t find this before your hike too 🙂
Hey you two,
I’m very sorry you didn’t make it! But THANK YOU so much for sharing this honest account of your try at hiking the Inka Trail! It not only made me laugh out loud, sitting in my hostel in Cusco, but it also made me feel so much better. Because I experienced much the same. Realising quickly that, even hiking a lot at home, the elevation of South American mountains is something entirely different, I heavy heartedly decided not to do the Ciadad Perdida and Colca Canyon Treks. And while everyone here in Cusco tells me that “Sure, you can totally do it” about the Salkantay I’m pretty sure that I can’t! And it made me feel super bad, because to me it seemed that I’m the only freaking person who is not able to do it. So thanks again for sharing that I’m not the only one!
Lia Garcia says
Right there with ya, Vera! It is HARD, and it’s totally OK to be honest about your body’s abilities. Our bodies can do lots of other amazing, incredible things for us!
I know this is well after you posted it, but I want to thank you for your transparency, humor and willingness to share a not-so-great experience. I hope knowing that you have helped so many other people (as seen in the comments) by inspiring them to train harder, plan a trip that fits them better or simply empathize with their struggles, helps take some of the sting out of your experience.
Definitely needed some sense knocked into me about the seriousness of this trek. I’m signed up to take it this year (variants willing) as a bucket list item and was feeling pretty laissez-faire about it because I am from Denver and fairly regular hiker in the area. Reading the post brought me back to my one 14er hiking experience – although I made it, it was a slow and frequent stop-and-go effort with spots in my vision more than once! I’m now picturing that but four hours and with steps instead of a groomed path (I had researched easiest 14ers beforehand lol). Luckily I have some time before my trek so with the help of your post and other research I’m hoping to train on some more (easy) 14ers and high altitude hikes – budgeting for this trip means no access to a stair master for me hahaha. Just wanted to thank you again for sharing what I know can’t have been an easy story – and exposing yourself to the holier-than-thou crowd. Hope your travels and trekking since this have been much more positive. 🙂
You both are heroes in my book for admitting your mistakes and still trying. You failed, sure, but then openly admit that, ugh…that takes some balls. Mad props for all the details,including your feelings. A lot of people fail this trek, but pretty much nobody actually tells their story about it!.
Lia Garcia says
Thank you so much for the kind words, Demi!
I’m so sorry and feel your pain, especially working so hard to get to where you got! This article was amazing and also had me pissing myself laughing. Keep your sense of humour, it’s priceless. Thanks for keeping it real and being honest!
Okay, first, I read your “About” page, and I think Lia might be my spirit animal.
Second, my Colombian boyfriend (now husband) and I did the Ciudad Pérdida trek about 15 years and 50 pounds ago, and we were the slow ones, regularly rolling into camp about two hours later than everyone else! But, as I remember there was only about 7-8 hrs of hiking per day so we didn’t need to worry about it getting dark before we would finish. We did it with a large group of burly Australians who literally BOUNDED up the first steep hill wearing their backpacks, at which point I thought, OMG, we are so f***ed. I am definitely that person who thinks that 12 hours of hiking that make you unable to feel your extremities starting at 5am sounds like actual living hell, so I still to this day do not know what I was thinking and will definitely never do anything like it again!
Anyway, this is going onto my reading list as I prep for 15 months of remote working around South America with hubby and son (which will not include a hike longer than 4 hrs, ideally more like 2 😉
Lia Garcia says
Major props for hiking La Ciudad Pérdida! All the admiration and love from a fellow extremely slow hiker 🙂
Johnny Orsborn says
My wife and I hike all the time, not like Peru hiking, but simple Montana hiking with dogs. I loved this account. This would be “our story” if we tried anything like that. I am just so glad that you could go out and enjoy the world like you did! It really is a beautiful place. Thank you for sharing this experience with us, it make me love my wife a little more!
Austin Henry says
I also did the same hike with the same company. This hike is not impossible or really even extremly hard… I hiked half dome in yosemite CA in 16 hours 11 miles 1 day. That was hard. Inca trail there were many overweight and older people on the trail. Many many unathletic people that were doing great. You just cant give up and be a baby. Day 2 is the only day you should struggle (dead woman pass) it does not get to 14,000ft elevation as described here but close. My group was done by 2pm and Nobody was a superstar hiker like described in this article besides the porters. Most people will not have the same experience of failing the trail. Go do it if you have a little bit of will and effort you will complete it. They chefs cook you incredible meals and porters give you everything you need to be successful. Novody leaves you behind if you don’t complete it that because of YOU. I completed the trail. I know its doable for 90% of people that actually try. I flew into cusco october 5th, was hiking the trail october 6-9th and then immediately leaving Machu picchu!! Taking a train and bus to cusco then 3 flights home to michigan to go to work a full week welding on the 11th after 30 hours of travel and 3 flights. I think you don’t push yourself hard enough. 4 days to acclimate come on. You have been in South America for 4 months already
Lia Garcia says
Thanks for your thoughts, but I don’t equate listening to your body and respecting its limitations with giving up and “being a baby.” Not everyone has the same physical abilities. The fact that you’ve hiked half dome alone tells me you’ve got quite a bit more hiking experience than the average person! It’s a reasonable suggestion to train and be in good physical condition before attempting a 4-day hike at high elevation – and being overweight or older is not a direct correlation with being in poor physical condition or having a lack of training.
Lia Garcia says
Although I think there’s quite a lot of positivity in this post, sometimes you just don’t feel like enjoying an amazing experience for whatever reason… and thats totally OK. Not everything in life is picture perfect. Our trip wasn’t. It’s not the end of the world, it just is what it is: something imperfect, an experience that wasn’t what we hoped it would be. We’ve made our peace with that. We’re sorry you didn’t enjoy reading about our experiences, but those are the experiences that we had and we’re not going to misrepresent them – dishonesty would only do you and us a disservice.
In prepping for the 4 day Inca trail trek, this was the story that I kept coming back to. I consider myself a moderately good New England hiker, but I’ve never done anything as long or as difficult as the Inca trail, and for most of life I was of below average fitness. Your story put the fear into me, and I started training on the stair master for one hour, twice a week for five months before my trip. It worked, as I finished the Inca trail with no issues (one might even say I was fast), other than general complaints about sleeping in a tent and using a portable toilet.
So, thanks for the motivation, and I’ll say that if I can do it, most people can too. You really just need to prep for the type of activity this is (lots and lots of stairs!), and start prepping early. It’s really not bad at all if you’ve trained correctly, but make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into!
Lia Garcia says
This is fantastic to hear! Our intent was certainly not to scare anyone away from doing the hike, but to emphasize how important proper training is. It makes us so happy that we were able to help inspire you to hit the gym hard, rise to the challenge, and have an amazing trip!
Kim Dierwechter says
This was a great article; one of many that I read before hiking the Inca Trail last May. I wrote a book about my experience on the trail, and the book can be found on Amazon, in paperback or Kindle. In the book I talked about all the articles I read before hiking the trail, and all of the google searches I made to find articles to read, to prepare me. One of my google searches was something like “Inca Trail Failures” and I remember reading this and getting really nervous! Thanks for the inspiration.
Ha. I realise you wrote this a long time ago now but if you’re anything like me you may not be over the experience. I ‘did’ the Inca Trail in 1998, aged 18. We started at KMfucking82 and nearly killed ourselves. I vividly remember how much I hated the experience. It was a school trip, I was the only girl, one boy got helicoptered off the mountain with altitude sickness (taking our teacher with him!) and the rest of completed the walk in 3 short days because our leader was INSANE. I have never managed to get over the pain of this hike (and I’m a good hiker). Every time anyone suggests hiking, I get flashbacks that I have to deal with before agreeing to go!
And yeah, it’s just over crowded and not even pleasurable to get to Machu Pichu at the end as you’re too knackered to give a flying fuck (am I allowed to swear on your blog, sorry?)
Anway, loved your article, love that you wrote the truth and sorry you didn’t have a great experience.
Lia Garcia says
Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a perfect, magical experience at Machu Picchu 😛 sometimes you just go somewhere amazing and don’t have an amazing time, and that’s OK! I definitely learned a lot from our experience and I’ve made peace with the fact that we didn’t have that picture-perfect time.
I am SO grateful I found this blog tonight.
A month ago I hiked the Inca Trail with no training and it was one of the worst experiences of my life and I have had a lot of shame about it ever since.
Forgive me for my ignorance but since you all were so honest in this post I have to say: I had never heard of Machu Picchu or the Inca Trail before (so embarrassing). But I wanted to do something adventurous and new so I signed up for it. I went with a group of 20 people that I am in an online recovery group with, btw. My ignorance about the difficulty and ill preparedness of this hike was also because the man who organized/sold the trip told us it was a “beginners hike”, “no training necessary” “Don’t bother with hiking boots or special clothes” .
HA HA HA HA HA.
I am 37 years old and moderately overweight. AND. I’ve never hiked a day in my life.
Shockingly, I made it through until the end. But my experience was disheartening. I have been deeply depressed about it ever since I came home. To be honest, I feel very resentful about my experience. I was the slowest one in my group BY FAR. (I was also told it would be a leisurely “go at your own pace” and “stop and take as many pics as you like” kind of hike LOLZ). I hiked a lot of it alone and have no one in my group to share memories with. And it was sad and depressing. Let alone physically the most painful thing I have ever done. I cried and screamed on the trail. I blew my knees out. I was scared (the third day I was so slow I hiked the last 2 hours in the dark down what I called “The never ending spiral staircase of hell” – I had no idea going down hill was 10x more painful and difficult than uphill.) I couldn’t even ENJOY Machu Picchu when we arrived at the Sun Gate because I felt so bitter about the experience and I was in so much pain it didn’t matter. I was just numb about it. It didn’t feel like a joyous occasion that I earned. I just felt like a fool that bit off more than she could chew. I physically couldn’t even go on the educational tour which is really what I wanted the most because I love shit like that. Also, I have knee pain that has persisted every day for the past month since I have been home.
After reading your post, I have to say the fact that you all didn’t finish made me feel better about my experience! (Sorry!) Trust me, by the end of the second day I was ready to throw myself of the side of the mountain. If I have found your article before I booked my trip and read up more (rather than just trust the dude who organized it) I would never have booked the trip. But reading your blog tonight has helped heal a little bit of that inside of me. So thank you!
(Also, thanks for letting me rant. Trying to describe the difficulty of this experience to others doesn’t really ever seem to convey how it really felt to be there. It’s just nice to know there are other people out there that understand. )
David from Travelscams.org says
Awesome article, thanks for the tips! Indeed, Peru has a great mix of different sceneries and attractions such as the majestic Machu Picchu, the expansive Atacama Desert and the snake like Amazon River that cleaves through the heart of primary rainforests.
However, there are tourist-targeting scammers and petty crime to be wary of. Do be wary of the ‘bird poo’ / mustard scam, the poor student scam, airport fake taxis, carjacking, ATM fraud, sob story scam and many more!
Lia Garcia says
How about the one where someone steals your bag and run away with it in while carrying 10 other bags so you can’t really see your bag, and then someone else pops up and distracts you after you run after them, but then the 1st guy ditches your bag behind a trash can and you’re supposed to keep chasing him? Because that’s the one that got us 😛 Luckily Jeremy has lightning quick reflexes and got everything back like a freakin’ superhero.
John Minette says
Thoughly enjoyed your article. Here’s another perspective: We are a 70+ couple who never thought of hiking the Inka trail but nevertheless enjoyed our walks around Machu Picchu. Unencumbered by expectations of hiking conquests, we spent a month walking the sites of Peru; slow travel at its best bc we took our time, did our homework and had an appreciation for just being there. Age does that to you and it isn’t a bad thing .
Lia Garcia says
That sounds amazing! Thanks for that perspective, John!
Rose Rademan says
My sister and I hiked a Lookout Trace in Montrete, NC today. Described online as a moderate hike it was all very steep and had numerous areas of 2’ steps, jagged rocks and roots everywhere. We were hostile, but wouldn’t give up. The end of it required using 4 point contact with rock face to get to to the top. She’s 68, I’m 66 and we were looking forward to a moderate hike… Happy we made it up and down, sans injury, since my sis and BIL are planning a Macau Piccu trip we decided to do a little research and stumbled upon your blog. All aches and pains were forgotten, we laughed our butts off and we love you guys. You absolutely made our day.
Lia Garcia says
That sounds like quite the adventure, Rose! It sounds like you’ll do just fine on Machu Picchu 🙂 My grandmother hiked the Inca Trail in her 60’s, too!
Omg! I’ve been planning my trip to Peru for two months and this is the best article ever! I was way bummed about not having time to do the Inca Trail. I wanted to do, but was reluctant. Now I’m so happy I’m not. Between the expense, the uncertainty of the weather, the equipment required… I’m good.
When I was 18 and saw the Mona Lisa for the first time, the words, “I stood in line for an hour for this shit?” Came out before I could stop them. Your article was that brutally honest, and I loved it.
If this is something that is truly on your bucket list and in your heart, try again. (I still regret not running with the bulls.) But if you seriously “have been there, and done that,” move on to your next adventure. We cannot win them all.
Thank you for your honesty, making me laugh, and sharing your experience. Remember the saying, “I never loose. I either win or I learn.”
My husband and I went to Peru for our honeymoon in 1982. Other than the hotel up at the site and a small guesthouse in Aguas Calientes, there were no other overnight accomodations to stay at Machu Picchu, so the place really cleared out when the tourist train left to return to Cuzco. We were able to take a photo of from the Sun Gate with no people in it before sunset. We climbed Huayna Picchu. I was terrified for a good part of the climb. The day before our climb, a guide warned us to be careful when reaching up to grab hold of a rock overhang because there could be a viper sunning on it. That was underscored when we came upon a dead viper by the side of the trail leaving Machu Picchu. There is an old photo of me at the top, clinging anxiously to a rock near the edge. That climb is right near the top when I think back over my reverse bucket list (i.e. wonderful things I’ve already done and seen.)
Lia Garcia says
That’s amazing! Thank you for sharing that memory with us, Fariha 🙂
This photo is amazing! Well from the photograph it pretty clean that you are very good photographer. Thanks for sharing this lovely travel experience with us
I went to Peru in spring of 2012 and the crown jewel of any Peruvian getaway is Machu Picchu. We also were able to snap a few pics with limited people since we waited out a rain storm. But we were treated to the clouds climbing up Machu Picchu which was beautiful!
I’m so sorry for this dreadful experience you had. If it makes you feel any better, we did a Salkantay trek in March – 5 days hiking in mud and rain, no views, no sun, just the view of Machu Picchu ahead of us, which in the end, was also hidden in clouds. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out….
I am hiking up to Machu Picchu next month and I can’t wait. I am spending a few days in Cusco before. Any tips or ideas for other fun things to do around there?
Lia Garcia says
We’ve got a whole post with tips for Cusco & Machu Picchu! Take a look here: https://practicalwanderlust.com/2016/10/things-to-know-before-you-go-to-cuscu-and-machu-picchu.html
Ankita Sikdar says
Hello, I remember going through this post back in January 2018, before I was about to book the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu for late January. It did scare me a bit because most trip reports come from extremely fit and athletic people, and I am not one. I am also mildly overweight and so, before the hike, I hit the gym for about two weeks focusing on increasing my stamina. My goal was to be mentally strong and go slowly and steadily. What really helped me was that I had told my tour agent that I am a slow and steady hiker and that they should pair me with a group with similar abilities. Secondly, I got excellent guides, who really understood the psychology of the hikers, and would try to keep the group together, because the slower people can get demotivated and go really slow when they are left behind. I was almost always in the last 3 , often the last in the group, and one guide was almost always with me. I did not face any altitude issues. I never took any medicine, I just drank plenty of water and took frequent breaks. This hike is almost like a pilgrimage and the joy I got after the 4 day hike is something that cannot be described with words. It felt good to read this article again after 6 months and almost reliving the experience(even the pre-trip worries, haha). I hope you can go back to finish this hike and request to be matched with a group with similar hiking speeds.
Lia Garcia says
Wow, that’s SO amazing to hear, Ankita! Congrats on conquering this insanely difficult hike!! I’d love to know who your tour group was because it sounds like they’re a fantastic fit for slower hikers (like us).
A few months ago I stumbled across this post while trying to figure out whether to go to Machu Picchu at all on our year long trip and what to do about the Inca trail. Honestly, the advice here shaped everything – we did the one day hike with overnight in hotel, I didn’t even know that was an option until you wrote about it. We did what we could to prepare because of what you wrote about your challenges. It was still very hard for us (we are meant to stay sea level), but ultimately successful and amazing. Thank you for being honest and practical, you’ve paid your dues in the travel karma bank.
Lia Garcia says
I’m so pleased to hear that our post (and failure) was helpful! That definitely makes it all worth it 🙂 Thanks for the wonderful feedback, Jill!
Having just completed this hike with friends and family members, I’m sorry you missed out. I’ll definitely recommend our tour company, G Adventures. To all your readers who will possibly not take the hike because of this article please reconsider. I will definitely say the hike is mind over matter. It’s definitely not easy, but my 67-year-old uncle with a pot belly completed it! You’ll definitely not want to go from the couch to the trail, but your physical fitness needs to be at least slightly below average or better. I’m telling you, it’s mind over matter. The NAVY seals have a saying, “When you think you’re done, you’re only at 40% effort.”
Also, I would modify your training tips. Altitude masks have absolutely no bearing on preparing you for high altitudes, they only restrict oxygen to your body. They will help you get in better shape, but will not help prepare you for high altitudes. DO NOT take altitude sickness medicine unless it’s an absolute emergency. This will only exacerbate your trail experience. Diamox is a diuretic and has a ton of other negative side effects. You definitely don’t want to take a diuretic before the Inca Trail as the bathroom situations are 3rd world at best. The only thing I’ve found that works for high altitudes is around 3-4 liters of water and focused deep breathing when you reach your high altitude destination. I hope you find the courage to give it another go someday!
Lia Garcia says
Wow, this is majorly helpful! Thank you so much! Clearly we were in way over our heads 😛
Elvis from Inca Trail says
Very good experience in Machu Picchu Jeremy and thank you very much for sharing it with us. It is important to remind everyone who is interested in doing this walk that there are two basic tours, 4 days (classic) and 2 days (short). The classic one has to book at least 6 months in advance and the short one 2 months in advance. Of course there are more alternatives to get to Machu Picchu as the beautiful Salkantay Trek that I hope you can do soon.
Greetings from Peru!
Lia Garcia says
Thanks for the helpful information, Elvis!
Really interesting! Inca Trail was my dream when I was a kid. I was like 6 years old and when someone was asking me what I want to do when I will grow up I kept saying I’ll be a designer and I will travel to Peru. Kinda weird dream for a Polish kid. It’s still on a to-do list.
I have done it twice; once likely the way you all did it with the two tall peaks in one day and the other a little more spread out. Both are hard and it is not just Alpaca that does the double peaks. However, the trekking company has the option of selecting the campsites along the way based upon the strength of the group, but your group seemed strong so they could not change the denominator. You should go back but this time well prepared mentally and physically. Don’t give up the satisfaction you would have by finishing unfinished business.
Lia Garcia says
You’re so right, Fred. Hiking with a group does unfortunately mean there isn’t much we or our guides can do if the rest of the group is moving at a faster pace. We would love to go back more prepared and ready to conquer this challenge! One day!
JoAnn Purkey says
After I read your blog, I doubted myself that I could do this. Afterall, I’m 60 years old, and you two are youngsters!! I had plan B all lined up. Day 1, I asked our Guide (we also used Aplaca Expeditions), if he assessed us and would let us know if he thought one of us couldn’t make it. He said yes he did, which I somehow figured anyway. We left late that first day, and because I was slow, I arrived at camp at 6:00 pm that night. Dinner was not till 7:00. And our Guide told me I would make it, he could feel my energy and passion.
I had a hard time breathing. I would have to stop every 40 – 60 steps going up the stairs to catch my breath, but I was determined and this was something I wanted to accomplish. I’m so glad I listened to my Guide and not your blog. Because I did it. And when we arrived at the Sun Gate, despite being tired and my legs not wanting to do another stair, we were all happy and excited!! I couldn’t have been with a better group of people or better Tour company.
I’m not an athlete, I run a 13 minute mile (jog) and can’t talk while I run. But my determination and desire to get to do this is what got me to the end. And I highly recommend Alpaca Expeditions to anyone wanting to take this journey.
Lia Garcia says
That’s fantastic! I’m so glad to hear that. I’d be very sad if my blog was the reason you decided not to try something you were excited about and determined to do! What an amazing feeling of accomplishment.
Also, FWIW, 13 minutes is an amazing mile speed 🙂 I’m still working on trying to run a mile, and my speed is around 16 minutes, which means you are MUCH more fit than I am – 60 years young or not!
Congrats!!! We did the Intra trail in only one day, not the same experience, but excellent way for anyone that not have time to hike Machu Picchu. We recommend it
A hike beyond hikes.
The most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding. Everyone will tell you it’s just a hike, it’s just a hike – in the same way that a diamond is just a stone. It’s true, but simply doesn’t do it justice. It’s difficult, but phenomenal. Picturesque, life-affirming and wonderous.
The trek was amazing and beyond all expectations, if somewhat more difficult than we anticipated. The trail goes straight up and down with some switchbacks and many uneven steps. After four days of trekking, we arrived at the Sun Gate and saw Machu Picchu in the distance. It was an emotional experience that we would not have had coming by train and bus. This is the only way to see Machu Picchu, if at all possible.
Lia Garcia says
This is exactly the feeling that we could tell we were missing when we arrived, defeated, by train and bus. Thank you for sharing!
@james- a diamond literally is just a stone- a very over hyped, abundant one controlled almost exclusively by the debeers cartel. They control almost the entire supply; setting the price superficially high (which is why 99.99% of diamond rings depreciate by about 50% immediately after purchase lol- and quiet a bit of the retained value is the gold/silver/platinum; through the most successful marketing campaign of all time, debeers created mandatory engagement rings with their surplus diamond stock- before their marketing campaign, only the uber rich had engagement jewelry….. Unless you’re talking super rare heart of the ocean level diamonds, it’s just a common rock created by pressure that’s a huge scam… ). … I am however jealous of your hike (one which I will never be able to do because of past knee injuries and a blood condition- I would not make it… Some hikes I did in Canada were bad enough lol… If you ever know of someone who wants an extra challenge and wants to piggyback me through the trail, I’m in lol). I love hearing the stories though.
@lia thanks for this- it was like I was on the trail with you all- I probably would’ve been trailing even further if that makes you feel better… And I would def be the girl everyone would be like, “she doesn’t even go here!” (Mean girls lol). … I’ve done some hikes in various places and with my health issues, it’s way better for me to go it alone vs set group- in New Zealand everyone seemed to whizz by to mount cook- albeit I love taking photos and everyone else was just mainly hiking- I was so glad to find someone on the trail that I was somewhat keeping pace with we would pass one another time to time, but it was a lot longer than anticipated- the estimates were so off (for me) and I would even hear some locals claim they were set at an old ladies pace… Well call me a zombie bc I didn’t even hack the old lady pace (although again I was taking a million photos vs straight hiking)…. But I did get one over on the fast hikers by getting a ride back to the lodge! You’ve got to take a win where you can get one. Also cheap dickbags I can’t get over it.
Lia Garcia says
Hahaha thanks for sharing Tara! I’m glad we’re not alone in the Extremely Slow Hikers club over here 😉
J Durr says
It was really great reading your story. My wife and I just got back ourselves and we struggled but made it. I weigh about 260 and I’m 5’10”. I’m categorized as morbidly obese. I was able to push myself through and successfully complete the hike. I’m confident that you guys would have done it too if it had not been for your prior hikes. I hope you guys try it again sincerely.
Lia Garcia says
That is AMAZING!!! Congratulations!! I love to hear stories like this 🙂 Makes me want to go back and try again!
So, I am pretty sure I will only be doing the first day. Doing this very hike with same company in 2 week. I havent been training and im overweight. I am already feeling like a failure and am feeling like I should just not even try. I am happy to have read this blog, though, as everyone does make it sound easy, but now i am wondering if i should even try.
My husband gave me a pep talk the night before our doomed hike and convinced us to go. Looking back? We both wish we’d just eaten the deposit and been honest with ourselves about our abilities. We’d like to go back and try again when we’re more confident about our fitness level and training. If you’re on the fence and haven’t been training, there is NO shame in backing out now! But if you’d rather have tried and known that you gave it your all, go for it – just know that the cost of that satisfaction is pretty expensive if you don’t make it!
Wow! Sounds like you got a personal tour and attention from Franz and you outcheaped him? I understand being on a budget and having extra expenses you weren’t intending, but gosh, it seems like you could have done the guy right. I’m guessing you didn’t bother tipping him after your trip was over? What a bummer.
Of course we tipped him. We tipped BOTH guides in full, despite not completing the trip. That’s exactly why we couldn’t afford to pay for a $100 a night hotel room for him, PLUS another one for us. We stayed in cheap hotels and hostels that cost under $10 a night, and he chose not to (we would have paid for his room as well). Honestly, we would rather have not had a guide come with us at all, as it wasn’t necessary and just an added extra expense. He was paid & tipped out either way. I get that it’s not ideal – for him or for us – but frankly we lost out on well over a thousand dollars and throwing in an extra few hundred just to make our guide happy wasn’t something we were willing to do.
I just found your blog while looking for information on Huaraz (Lake 69) and kept reading until I found this post. Holy crap – hiking in Peru sounds effing hard!! I was thinking about going to MP and just doing the train and doing some day hikes in Huaraz but now, totally rethinking this.
I loved your honesty and the way you guys story tell, it’s hilarious, charming, and heartfelt. Don’t feel like a failure! now I’m not sure if I should go to Huaraz. haha
It just depends on your skill level, tbh. Keep in mind that coming from the coast of California, we are at a HUGE disadvantage when it comes to hiking at altitude. Someone who hikes in say, Colorado would be MUCH better equipped. I’d also highly recommend trying a few hikes with an altitude mask to see how you feel. It just takes a LOT of training and a higher level of fitness than we had 2 months into our trip. If you start training now, you can totally do it!
So, I’m slightly nervous now about hiking the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. My husband is some type of super human who runs on a daily basis while I sit on the couch watching Real Housewives of WHATEVER is on at the moment. In my prime I was an athlete but after collegiate sports ended I’ve been living the sloth life. I can run a mile just fine but we live in Texas, ain’t no altitude down here. ( said in hick voice). I’m coming to terms with the fact that I might die on this trek in October.
Good luck girl. Start training NOW! Hit that stairmaster! Swimming is supposed to help with altitude too, as is tying a bandana around your mouth while you work out … they even have fancy altitude masks to help with training. Honestly, they look silly (or possibly like it’s the apocalypse) but I totally wish I’d had one to train with!
You guys are fabulous! I loved this article and I laughed out loud so many times. I just love your writing style and humor. We are going to MP in April 2018 with a group of six friends. The others are all insanely fit….but not me!! I hike regularly in Colorado, but good lord, your description of the trail is hysterical/horrifying/and just what I expected it to be like!! Now, you can do a one day hike by exiting the train in the middle of nowhere. It’s a 2600′ elevation gain and 7.5 miles long and the average person does it in six hours. However, if you don’t make it to MP by 5:30 you’ll miss the last bus and have to hike another two hours to Aguas Calientes. I need to start training now and we’re going to arrange our schedule so we go to Cusco first. Since we live in Colorado at altitude, I hope we will be a bit acclimated! Thanks for this wonderful and honest article. Happy trails!
You have a HUGE advantage living in Colorado – get yourself to Breckenridge or some high-altitude mountain trail and start hiking! That will help SO much. Good luck with your trek!!
Wow, this is a fantastic post! You had me both laughing and feeling the disappointment right along with you. Great writing! Honestly, I LOLed at ” It was like walking into a Cross-Fit gym in stained sweats holding a donut and a milkshake.” I could totally understand feeling that way myself.
Nathan & I would love to visit South America and Machu Picchu is high on my list. I actually hadn’t read much about the trek at all before this, and it sounds grueling. I love that you gave some practical tips with it as well. Awesome stuff. If we ever decide to do the trek, we will work out like animals!!
Again, fabulous post guys.
Harpreet Acharya says
It was so refreshing to read this because every other blog post either skips the hard parts or glosses over them making it sound totally doable! I am not a hiker but getting to MP sans the crowds is one mega dream of mine. Having read this, I know I am not cut out to do the trail and if I ever do make this happen, thanks to this post know what to do!
I’m happy to represent Macchu Picchu failure realness, Harpreet! If you really want to skip the crowds, I’d say your best bet is probably going either on the very 1st train (buy your tickets in advance!) OR going really late in the day. They’ve started assigning times to people that they must stick by to help with crowds, too. Hope that helps!
Oh great… I mean I’m not a slouch, but I doubt I could be self-motivated enough to get into – and stay in – that kind of shape! Maybe my friend has the right idea with the train…
It’s certainly the easier (and cheaper) way to see Machu Picchu!
I am so glad I found this and want you to know I had the EXACT same experience including the tour company , the guide (Jose) and the horrifying talk on the end of day one. But I tried day too and hiked six miles of if before I was told I would not make if by the guide and then I had to turn back. Add in a ride down the trail on a motorcycle for part of it and peeing my pants when I fell on the trail and there you have it. It was still a great experience and I loved Alpaca but have to say I felt really rushed and pushed into getting off trail. I was making it I was just slow and the insane distances for the first few days didn’t help. But literally I had a guide behind me impatiently waiting for me every time I stopped to rest and topped off with my own feeling of failure and it sucked. That being said I learned a lot on that trip namely that things don’t always go as planned. You are not alone !
Thank you for sharing Holly! I’m glad we aren’t alone. I think maybe we’d be better candidates for a 5-day version of the trail at our own very slow pace 😛
I loved your very detailed account of the Machu Picchu trek from Hell…your descriptions were hilarious and I can totally relate. My husband and I are booked for the 4 night/5 day trek in September with Amazonas Explorer and they really push the fact that this is a much more relaxed, less stressful experience and we’ll have more time to acclimatize and take pictures and rest. Hopefully that will help us get to MP, but we have 7 months and we are going to train like crazy before we go. We are twice your age and also live at sea level on the SE coast, so we have our work cut out for us. Thanks you for the great training ideas. I enjoyed this post very much!
Safe travels! Christy
Suzanne Fluhr says
I’m so glad we visited Peru and Machu Picchu on our honeymoon—but in 1982, during the Falklands War, a guerilla uprising (the Shining Path), and before Aguascalientes was even a there there. There was 1 hotel up at the ruins and we sprang for it. When the tourist train left at 3 pm to return to Cusco, we had the ruins virrually to ourselves. We climbed Huyana Picchu the following day at the spur of the moment. Again, we had the trail virtually to ourselves–except for the dead viper. If you’re curious about the experience back, back in the day, search for “Peru” on my blog. PS: We’re still happily married and still travel whenever we can. 🙂
That sounds incredible! And much closer to the experience my grandmother had when she visited decades ago. I will check out your experience on your blog!
That was a fantastic read. I loved your open and honest account. I have a few friends who have been to Machu Picchu and seeing their pictures makes me think, “Wow, I want to go there.” Now I know how much effort is involved! I don’t think I’ll ever be fit enough to hike the Inca trail, and my husband was on the verge of passing out after going back up 320 steps from a small beach in Bali, so I doubt I’ll ever convince him to hike it, either. I would still love to go, but I am the type of person who hates being among throngs of tourists, so I will have to prepare myself for that. You did a wonderful job merging your experience with tips and advice!
Thank you Monica! We may never be able to do it again, but at least we got to see what we were missing out on. It’s SO freaking hard!!
Hi guys. Jenn read this and has been on me ever since to read it so that is what I did with my extra hour today. We posted it to our Pinterest board already. This is a fantastic piece and you are very brave to put it out there.
Recently, we went to Wolf Creek Colorado and did a very short hike to Treasure Falls which is probably only at 10K’. On that hike, we were both working hard not to run out of breath. You actually loose oxygen exponentially as you go up. 8000′ has a lot more oxygen than 14k’. We can feel your pain.
Surprisingly, stairs can be problematic too. Especially if they were build thousands of years ago for shorter people with different gaits. Hiking down to the Grand Canyon is harder than I would have expected because of the stairs.
Finally, the heat. I have hiked in Arizona a lot and every time I had people from out of town hiking I made sure that they suffered in the heat before the real hike. Then, we would start at the crack of dawn to gain enough altitude to not bake on the desert floor during the heat of the day. A late start or slow pace would doom the hike because of heat exposure alone.
I am absolutely sure that this is a hike we would want to do. I am not sure that we would complete it. I have been seeing so many articles about Machu Picchu and the “typical experience” that I wasn’t sure I wanted to go at all. Now, seeing this, I definitely want to go. I just need to get training on it. I have heard that high altitude training takes months for your body to respond to and increase your O2 intake. Perhaps we would have to move to Colorado before hand. There are certainly worse places to be.
I love that we were your extra hour today 🙂 Thank you both so much! I’m surprised (and glad!) that our article made you decide you wanted to go. It is really an amazing experience … we’re pretty sure … but you have to EARN it. And it is NOT easy. The altitude definitely slowed us down. Colorado would be a good training ground, and they have tons of challenging hikes there too 🙂 Maybe we’ll see you there!
Tamara Elliott says
So sorry to read this, but it was actually quite fascinating to read your post. My husband and I didn’t have enough time or advanced notice to do the hike so we took the train instead, but we did do the Huayna Picchu hike and it was the highlight of our day.
I’m glad you were able to enjoy Huayna Picchu! I think if we planned to go by train like we ended up going, we would have opted for hiking Huayna Picchu too. But as it is we cancelled our reservation in advance and then didn’t get a chance to hike it :-/ I’m glad you enjoyed the post!
Khalilah Jones says
Ahhhh sorry to hear about the fail but I was laughing right along – the couple that fails together stays together. As a highly reluctant hiker, you just re-affirmed my decision to skip Inca Trail when I’m in Peru next month!
Glad we could help save you from a miserable 4 days 😛 Thanks for the comment, Khalilah!
Sally @ Lady and the Tramper says
Oh guys I am so sorry that this happened to you. I certainly cringed in some parts (great writing skills, I was in the moment). P.S. was lolling at the estimated reading time for this post, mentally preparing people!
The Inca trail sounds very grueling, I loved your honesty and the way you told the story. We had to do one of the alternatives to Machu Picchu as we were totally unaware of when we would be around cuzco but after reading this I’m kind of glad we didn’t do the actual trail as I would’ve been crying all the way up there! Especially as I was battling a cold. Hikes tend to affect me more than Jay who just seems to plod along unaffected by any incline (damn him)
I really resonated with you about hiking in South America. Although we did a fair bit of hiking there, I feel I was lazier than what I was on most trips. Sitting on busses for 24 hours at a time and then spending the day charging your camera has that crappy effect on your body when you’ve been travelling for a while. South America is just so huge, you can spend days sitting around waiting to get to a place and by that point you’re really not feeling the crazy hikes the continent has to offer.
I absolutely love your llama photos, they are the cutest! and totally agree with you how busy it is up there, which is a shame because the location is simply stunning, the backdrop of the mountains and the clouds is just beautiful.
Hope you have better luck on your future hikes, I really enjoyed reading this post, not because of the failure part (I’m not that mean) but it was really well written and I felt I was in the moment with you!
Happy and safe travels 🙂
Thanks for the commiseration! You’re totally right that sitting on long overnight buses and then recovering from them takes up more energy than I could have imagined down here. Add in acclimatizing to high altitudes and you’ve only got 1-2 days left out of your week for activities! No wonder we seem to spend so much time loafing around in coffee shops 😛 Which trek did you end up completing?
Cherene Saradar says
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I have many things to say. First of all, you are a great writer! Second, congrats on having a good sense of humor and being so honest. Having just completed this myself (and I BARELY did it) I totally was laughing at your descriptions of things because it is a brutal hike. I am so sorry for you guys…the disappointment is palpable and I would feel the same. However I think you have a great attitude about it…this is just one part of a year long amazing journey you guys are on. At least you got to experience one day and those amazing meals. You have gorgeous pics. You have a great story to tell and someday it will be even funnier!
I love your Machu Picchu picture and I’m super jealous of your llama pictures. I also was super irritated by the crowds at MP. You are right about the Trail making the experience more special, however…and maybe this will make you feel a little better…I was so irritated and exhausted by the time we finally got there that I just wanted to rest. I didn’t spend enough time in Machu Picchu as I should have. I have serious regret about that but that trail killed me. Our whole group was grouchy as hell that day. We had a shitty lunch in Aguas Calientes then went to those disgusting hot tubs (they call them hot springs) and we didn’t even care because our muscles hurt so bad and we needed to get drunk. Then a couple of us had food poisoning. I had to skip Huanya Picchu because of this.
Anyway…..loved reading about your experience! Thanks for sharing it!
P.S Cheap traveling dickbags…..too funny!!!