Almost exactly two years ago today, I was boarding a plane bound for Peru. It would be my first time in South America and my first time on a multi-day hiking trek. It was a trip of many firsts. I was traveling to Cuzco, Peru to acclimate to the high altitude before beginning the 4-day Inca Trail trek. Two years later this trek is still one my most memorable experiences, and I have become an Inca Trail convert. This is the ONLY way to see Machu Picchu! Machu Picchu is a little bit like an Incan amusement park. It’s breathtaking no matter how you travel there, but it is also crowded, hot and full of lines.
After being awakened at 4am that morning and huddling with the 200 other hikers waiting for our turn through the checkpoint, everyone descending on the Inti Punku, better known as the Sun Gate, as if we were running a marathon. Despite the treachery of hiking in the pitch black at terrifying speed, it was well worth it. When Machu Picchu begins to emerge from its cloud cover as the sun peaks over the jagged mountains, it can be a spiritual experience. Especially, if you’ve earned it.
After another two-hour hike down to Machu Picchu, we were herded out of the main gate to receive tickets and for a much needed bathroom break. Sadly, I was rudely brought back to reality in the bathroom line. The people in line had showered that day, were wearing make-up and some were even wearing heels! Heels in Machu Picchu!
After waiting in line to get back into Machu Picchu, we went on a guided tour and I felt oddly territorial of the ancient royal city. All these clean, well-dressed people didn’t understand. They hadn’t spent four days hiking there. They hadn’t seen the other ancient sites along the trail; they hadn’t reached the top of Warmi Wañusqa, also known as Dead Woman’s Pass; they hadn’t seen the breathtaking views or the stray dogs. How could they possibly appreciate it! Now, I think after sleeping with rocks jabbing me in the back for three days, I may have been a little over-tired and a little over-dramatic. But the point of this story is: Hike the Inca Trail!
I understand not everyone has the time or the physical ability, but if you do and you want to see Machu Picchu, just do it (thank you, Nike)! Some of the ancient sites along the way are as important and as beautiful as Machu Picchu, just not as famous. The scenery is some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen, and there is something about fresh air and exercise that makes all the problems in the world seem a little smaller and a little less frightening.