I took this trip several years ago, but think the information is useful enough to go ahead with a delayed post of it. I shared the details with a friend, who used the same hotel and trek company, more recently, and loved it. Whether or not you plan to hike some version of the Inca Trail, visits to Cusco and Machu Picchu are so worth it. I did this for quite a reasonable price considering the level of service received… naturally, I want to share the info.
You’ll most likely fly into Lima, then connect to Cusco.
Tip: schedule the flight to Cusco early in the morning, when the chance of cancellation for wind conditions is less likely.
Less wind over the Andes = less scary
Cusco is a beautiful little city, set at a gentle 11,000+ feet (3,400 m) of elevation. If you don’t live at that altitude, you WILL feel this. You might even wonder, “how the hell will I walk for 4 days like this?” It is possible to have that thought and still complete the Inca Trail hike. Diamox also helps with the elevation (see http://sheatripper.com/2015/09/19/drugs-drugs-and-more-drugs/ for more info).
I stayed at a quaint hotel, called Encantada, on the outskirts of downtown Cusco. It was quiet, comfortable, and cozy, with warm and helpful staff. The location keeps you off the noisy streets of the city and also allows some time to practice walking up hills at a higher than normal elevation.
Breakfast is offered every morning and coca tea is always available in the lobby, which is more like an idyllic living room (with fireplace) than a hotel lobby.
There are plenty of restaurants, shops, and day hikes to keep you occupied and happy in Cusco for days. My main goal was to hike the Inca Trail, so I only planned for the “required” 2 days of acclimation before setting off. I wish I’d had more time to explore.
If you are relatively active and fit, you can do this hike… and should. I’m referring to the 3 night/4 day Inca Trail trek. There are tons of guide companies, of varying cost and amenities, from which to choose. After hours of reading reviews, I went with Llama Path–a porter and eco-friendly company that seemed to have smaller groups, happy customers, and were reasonably priced.
Our group of 8 also had 1 guide, a chef, and whole staff of porters tasked with carrying (and setting up/breaking down) camp. We saw other groups out there with at least 20 people in them. 8 was nice.
At times, I felt as though I couldn’t take another step, even with the mound of coca leaves in my cheek, but we all made our way up countless steps, over an almost 14,000 foot pass (Dead Woman’s Pass–named because the mountain looks like a woman in repose, not because they’re terribly sexist), down through the jungle, only to go up again, and finally to Machu Picchu.
Somehow, the food they serve is actually really good. Perhaps it’s the combination of altitude and exhaustion, but I swear it was delicious, relatively speaking. Each morning you’re awoken by one of the staff members bringing coca leaf tea to your tent in an effort to help with the altitude. It may or may not work.
The views are stunning and the hike is a wonderful experience which ends (obviously) at the breathtaking site of Machu Picchu. Once you’ve walked 4 days to get there, you do feel ever so slightly more entitled to it than the folks who took the train in, but there’s nothing to be done about them. When we arrived, however, the Machu Picchu from all the famous photos was not who greeted us. Instead, it was masked entirely in clouds and fog (see unremarkable photo of fog and stone below).
There is another peak to climb, called Huayna Picchu, that requires a separate ticket and does sell out. I missed the opportunity when I went, but heard the views are spectacular. If you want to walk up another hill, buy that ticket as soon as you can upon arrival.
I highly recommend doing this hike if you’re physically able. Walking through such a beautiful part of the world, en route to the magical place of Machu Picchu is quite rewarding… and worth it. You’ll pass many Inca sites along the trail as well. After touring MP, a bus takes the group to Aguas Calientes, where you can explore, eat, and wait for your scheduled train back to the bus, which takes you to Cusco. The last day is a long one, worth it, but long.