It all started at Kilometer 104- it was a special stop on the train from Cusco to the base of Machu Picchu. Tickets for this departure had to be purchased months in advance, as the number of hikers permitted to trek through the Inca Trail is regulated; those who didn’t hold the exclusive pass were taken directly to the base. As the train screeched to a halt, we grabbed our backpacks. walking sticks & courage and hopped off. There was no fancy train station waiting for us, just a sign that marked the destination and an arrow to proceed. I was a little hesitant at first, knowing we had 6 hours of hiking ahead of us, but how bad can it be, my husband said the travel agent labeled it a ‘baby hike.’ Off we went with our tour guide Yuri (we booked with Marnella tours– they were excellent). The terrain was flat and easy, at first. Then came the drastically steep hills, lots of them. As we ascended through the Andes mountains, I quickly realized that there were no guard-rails or safety restraints blocking me from plummeting thousands of feat to my doom. Good thing I’ve always been OK with heights, my husband not so much.
So I clutched to my walking stick and side of the mountain for support, and we proceeded. The path was very narrow and rocky, making a walking stick and hiking boots a must for this type of excursion. We were thousands of feet up and the views were just breath-taking, such beautiful exotic plants, and the sun hit the mountain in a way I have never experienced before. Some parts of the trek pushed me to the brink of my physical ability- there were steps at almost a 90 degree incline, that I crawled up on my hands and knees. Other parts were flat and easy, and we discovered a few hidden waterfalls along the way!
A stipulation of hiking the Inca Trail is that you must go with a tour guide- and I can now understand why. He was there to motivate us through the hike, and provide excellent knowledge of the history behind this mystical place.
After 6 grueling hours, we reached the Sun Gate, which is the entrance to Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail. As soon as we reached the peak, it began to rain for a few moments, very symbolic in that we reached our final destination. From there, we had a birds eye view of one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu. As we descended to the base of the site, we discovered all of the hidden gems, and even a llama grazing nonchalantly on the grounds.
That night we were physically exhausted and stayed at the Sumaq Hotel, which is the only hotel located directly at the base of Machu Picchu. The staff was so accommodating, there was a hot tea service waiting for us when we arrived, and a delicious dinner followed. The hotel also has a shuttle service that will take you from the hotel to the train station and base of Machu Picchu.