We have all three returned home safely from our trip to Peru, after having successfully navigated planes, cars, trains, and four days of trekking the Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu. I think that overall we can easily say that this trip went well.
I’ll start with the good stuff. Joey loved hiking in the Poco and camping, and Simon was a champion about carrying him the whole way – including two serious climbs to nearly 14,000 feet! Everyone in our group handled the hike very well, and although it was significantly harder to breath at altitude no one had any serious problems. The tour company, Llama Path, was absolutely
amazing in terms of service and accommodating all of our needs. This was a case where the journey beat the destination. The hike was extraordinary, traveling through an astonishing number of biomes over four days (near desert, cloud forest, rain forest, high alpine, and more).
We saw nearly every kind of livestock imaginable, much to Joey’s delight, along with native hummingbirds that squawked and later butterflies that littered the trail. During the first two days we passed several local villages, and the villagers out and about on the trail (their main highway) with donkeys carrying goods. The views were extraordinary, and we were able to visit many Inca sites along the trail. None were quite as magnificent as Machu Picchu, but we had them all to ourselves. After listening to our guide Coco describe the site and give another installment of his on-going history story, we were allowed to explore at our leisure.
I will never forget the site of Joey playing with his toy Prius on a 500 year old terrace that drops off to extraordinary mountain views, few other people around for miles. The stonework and masonry of the ruins and the trail was quite impressive. While some had been restored, other buildings and parts of the track have been left untouched for over 500 years and appear in near mint condition.
The views from our third campsite (Phuyupatamarca), which is not used by trekkers on the classic 4-day itinerary, were the best of the trip and simply breathtaking. But most of all, climbing the final stone staircase through cool, dark jungle to emerge at the sun gate and gaze over Machu Picchu was an unforgettable experience. After that, taking the bus in the following day for our tour, surrounded by hundreds of people for the first time in days, just didn’t seem nearly as good.
We took the 5 day/4 night itinerary with Llama Path on the Inca Trail. Day 1 was quite easy, nearly flat with one small climb over dusty even track to our campsite adjacent to a very small village/house. We were basically camping in a Peruvian family’s yard, and our group were the only ones in attendance. We stopped at our first Inca site, Llactapacta, and enjoyed impressive views along with extensive hide and seek amongst the many rooms. Day 2 was the most physically demanding, as we moved ahead of schedule to climb over Dead Woman Pass (13,780
ft) and then camped between the two mountains in the saddle. The most challenging part of the climb was not our muscular strength or endurance, but our lung capacity. Despite spending two days in Cusco (12,000 ft) to acclimatize we all felt short of breath during the climb. On Day 3, we started off with our last big climb over the second mountain pass then descended to our favorite campsite, Phuyupatamarca. Not only were the views extraordinary, we were visited several times by a group of llamas. Awesome. Day 4 was another early start (we woke at 6am and started walking at 7am most days) as we descended past many Inca sites. We spent so much time at each that we wound up a bit behind schedule at lunch for the first time, and at our guide’s suggestion we walked quickly towards the Sun Gate. Not realizing where we were, we powered ahead and were suddenly faced with several steep staircases. I put my hiking pole away and climbed up with my hands. The forest was cool and dark, but as we neared the top we could see light streaming through. On the other side was the Inca city of Machu Picchu, perfectly illuminated in the late afternoon light.
We spent lots of time admiring Machu Picchu as we wound down the trail closer to the city. It was near dusk when we walked past the entrance gate. Then came the only part of the trail I really didn’t like that much – about 1.5 hours of steep downhill stairs to our campsite near the town of Aguas Calientes.
It was a bit of a buzz kill after thinking we had reached our destination at the Sun Gate! No matter, we made it to the campsite intact and had a last impressive meal with our porters. They head chef even made us a cake! The next day we were up before dawn (3:30) to walk into town and catch the bus to Machu Picchu for the day.
If you are thinking about doing the hike – do it. It is 100% worth it. Simon completed the entire trail with a 50lb bag of toddler and accoutrements (at the front of our group!). I was three months pregnant. Along the way we saw young (10 years old) kids, old (> 65 years old) adults, and individuals that were clearly not fit and/or did not exercise much. Everyone made it. Everyone in our group made it with smiles on their faces.
The not-so-good. Our first days in Cusco were rough, despite staying in a really nice hotel. Joey was tired, cranky, and not feeling great from altitude. He refused to eat anything, and he refused to sleep unless I was lying next to him (not Simon or anyone else – it had to be me). After being blessed with a fairly chill kid for 1.75 years, we didn’t know what to do with this behavior. We decided to ride it out and gamble on the hike anyway, knowing that Joey loves outside time, his Poco, and tents. Taking a toddler on a group tour has its pros (we didn’t have to cook) and its cons.
The biggest con was that we had to mold his schedule to the fairly strict schedule set by our guide, which was not designed for small children. We finally had to start putting J to sleep before dinner to avoid extreme crankiness. We often had to duck out of meals or history lessons to take J elsewhere and tend to his needs. Some of our group members and some of our porters took great interest in Joey and would play with him while we set up our tent or got changed, which was a huge blessing. Some of the places we stayed for lunch or to camp were fine for him to wander around, but many were terraces on the side of a mountain, meaning that J required constant attention. While Simon & I had a blast, we were definitely not well-rested!
Was it still worth it? Totally. Would we do it again? Already planning our next trip.