This fall I spent a month in South America. First stop: G Adventures Inca Trail. I set out on the multi-day trek to Machu Picchu led by one of the top tour operators in the world.
I thankfully got to experience the Sacred Valley as well as the Inca trail through my G Adventures tour. Although it may be less easy to travel to these sites, it is well worth exploring this region to see many amazing ruins and the traditional ways of life in Peru. One of the benefits of traveling with G Adventures was the included crafts demonstrations.
First, we visited a weaving co-op that G Adventures created for the local Ccaccaccollo community women to be able to sell their textiles and educate travelers on their ways of life. This was really cool! For example, they use a root called sachaparakay to clean the wool but also as a hair shampoo and it is an amazing natural cleanser.
We then visited the rural village Cuyo Chico to see the process of making adobe mud houses and ceramic objects. We finished by eating at the Parwa Community Restaurant in Huchuy Qosqo, a farm-to-table, resident-run eatery that benefits the small village of 65 families.
We also visited the major ruins site Pisac, which I definitely recommend. It is amazing to see the way the crops were planted in different rows and the civilization was designed. There are some additional ruins in Ollantaytambo that are worth a visit and I believe the entrance ticket was combined to allow you to visit both.
Ollantaytambo is a bustling little town in the Sacred Valley with a medieval feel. I would definitely go here if you can! We stayed here before starting the Inca Trail and it is full of nice restaurants and fun to walk around.
Pro tip: if in the Sacred Valley try some chicha, an Andean corn beer at an authentic chicheria. My favorite drink was the popular “chicha de morado” but it is hard to get the real thing as it is often just made from a mix.
I had always dreamed of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and I can now say I have completed this amazing journey! I went with G Adventures, which I highly recommend for their treatment of the porters.
This incredible, life-changing trek was also extremely challenging. People told me it would be, but I still underestimated it. I figured that I was in very good shape (seeing as I am a professional athlete) and that the first day might be tough, and that there would probably be rough times but I would just power through and get there.
This was not the case. I was miserable most of this journey, I have to be honest. It was the most strenuous and exhausting thing I have ever done. There were times when I thought I was going to die along the trail. This sounds dramatic but is not.
The last few hours to Dead Woman’s Pass were pure torture and the last 30 minutes I was running on just divine will maybe to get there. I felt like I was in another dimension, outside my body, struggling and powering on, had to make it. The last 10 minutes other concerned trekkers carried my small backpack and tried to help me up the last, very steep steps, until I made it to the top plateau and collapsed. On the last day when we reached the sun gate another hiker from a different group recognized me: “Hey you’re the girl that passed out at Dead Woman’s Pass! Wow you looked so bad I thought they were going to have to airlift you out of there.”
But little did I know, getting to the pass was only the first part of the struggle. Afterward I had to walk for hours down straight stairs and my body was DONE. I had no energy to keep bending my knees and I was extremely shaky, making it hard to take careful steps and not fall down steep steps even with trekking poles. This took me a good hour longer than the rest of the group and I arrived at camp quite late. The point of this rambling account is not to complain, but rather be honest about how hard this trek is, even if you are in shape.
Do I regret it? Of course not. This was a bucket-list, once in a life-time experience that I made it through. I will always know that I did this and I persevered and survived in an extremely hard situation. I can do anything now! Additionally, I got to see so many ruins along the way that no one else can ever see unless they do the same trek! Plus, very few people do the trek as only 500 permits are issued per day. That is priceless in itself.
Would I do it this way again? I am not sure. There are many places in Peru I did not get to see that I would have liked to: Humantay lake, Huacachina, Rainbow Mountain, the salt flats. I think taking the train to Machu Picchu is a great way to be able to have a more rounded experience in the same amount of time, as I spent more than half of my 8 days in Peru on the Inca Trail.
G Adventures did a great job to make this journey as comfortable as possible. All the groups rely on porters and I cannot explain how amazing these men are. It is a second job for most of them and it is incredibly hard. They haul all the weight to the camp in order to be able to set up starting a few hours before you would arrive. The porters carry 20kg each, but I was told it is not always regulated that well and they could end up carrying 60 lbs on their back. I had trouble completing this trek carrying only a few pounds on my back in a day bag.
To get to camp in time the porters run ahead of you and in addition to setting up the tents and such they also cook all the meals, so they carry all supplies necessary, even propane tanks. You are encouraged to leave a generous tip for the porters and I left more than what was suggested, I recommend factoring this into your budget for sure. My G Adventures guides were also amazing and so helpful. They were endlessly encouraging when I didn’t think I could make it and always available for information about the trail and questions. I heard from some other travelers I met in Chile that their guide on the Trail wasn’t as knowledgeable and friendly.
We were also very lucky to have amazing weather along the trail. It didn’t rain once and we had cool mornings and warm days. We did get very hot and sweaty hiking, but the temperatures were very mild and bearable and the evenings were not super cold. I did the trek in late October.
When we finally reached Agua Calientes (the town where you arrive and depart by train) in the afternoon on day 4, nothing was more refreshing than a good meal and a cold beer. We had delicious food (I had a veggie burger) at the Mapacho Brewery taphouse. I highly recommend it.
Holly RobertsFebruary 18, 2020 at 12:25 am
Wow-what a cool journey! It’s such a dream of mine to do this. I’m really loving the vibrancy of all your images.
Two WanderFebruary 18, 2020 at 5:01 am
Ahhh loved reading about your journey to relive ours! It’s such an awesome experience, you captured it well! xxx
Patricia & MiguwlFebruary 18, 2020 at 9:42 am
What a great trip!
We’ve never been to Machu Picchu but really want to go, so thanks so much for the inspiration 😀
Wishing you a lovely week
Patricia & Miguel
Josy AFebruary 18, 2020 at 5:14 pm
Goodness! I have always wanted to do this trek (or one of the alternatives nearby) but I have never really done much hiking at high altitude. Do you think it was just the altitude that made the walk so tough? This definitely sounds like ‘type 2 fun,” miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect.
Still, your photos of the mountains make me want to visit, even if I know it will be hard!
SummerFebruary 18, 2020 at 5:26 pm
I think it was a combination of the altitude and the intensity/difficulty of the trail. It is a lot of steep ascent and then descent, there is not much flat or gradual slope! However, it is definitely possible to do. I met some people hiking the trail who were in their 60s and although it was extremely difficult for them and they went much slower they did make it! You’re right, it definitely is “type 2 fun” — a lot of effort, but a really fun finale when you eventually reach the ruins!
Rudy @ Backpack & SnorkelFebruary 19, 2020 at 1:37 am
Breathtaking photos! We visited Machu Picchu a few years ago too, and I agree this whole area is just absolutely gorgeous and so packed with history. We did, however, not do the Inca trail.
LydiaFebruary 19, 2020 at 4:19 pm
I’m sorry you had such a tough time! However, it makes the views that much more special when you get to enjoy them. I’ve done a trek where I’ve felt like I couldn’t keep going but my group were very encouraging, and it seems like yours was too
WanderlustBeautyDreamsFebruary 19, 2020 at 11:00 pm
So stunning! I haven’t used G adventures yet but so glad you had a cool experience with them. If you hd a tough time on the the trail I would be doomed lol. I’m not much of an athletic person so I might have to train for this. Your photos are so gorgeous though. I need to go to Peru ASAP!
An Indian TravelerFebruary 22, 2020 at 3:14 am
WOW! This is such an incredible guide. I am in Colombia currently and will travel to Peru next. Bookmarking it for future reference 🙂
AprilFebruary 23, 2020 at 11:32 pm
I’ve read a lot of guide about this place but this is my favorite! I did save this for future travels! I love all the guides you mentioned here and you got to have a lot of cool experiences during your visit!