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Having just got back from the Inca Trail, I thought I would write a review. It is in the form of a diary kind of review so you get the full details of each day. I took part in the Inca Trail with my friend and we had our own private guide which was nice. We had our meals with 4 other people which was lovely too, as we got to chat and get to meet new people. Hope you enjoy the review.
Today me and my friend woke up at about 4.30am. We were being picked up at our hotel at 6.00am so needed to make sure we had the right things packed, we ate our breakfast and were finally ready for the adventure we had ahead of us. At a little after 6 our guide arrived and then we got on our bus, picked up 4 other hikers and drove for about an hour and a half until we reached Ollantaytambo. Here we had a break to stretch our legs and buy some last minute gear. Here we bought some snacks and a walking ple each. Then we headed to KM82 - Piscacucho, where the Inca Trail was due to start.
We got off the bus and I felt really excited about starting the hike. We put on our suncream and took some photos of our beautiful surroundings and then had to walk about 10 minutes before we reached KM82. We arrived at the ´Camino Inka´ sign and had our photo taken before reaching the passport control point. We showed our documents before continuing. We crossed a bridge and was immediately faced with a steep uphill climb. Luckily at the top of the hill our guide stopped to show us some pretty flowers while we caught our breathe. After that hill it was pretty much walking on flat with a few long steep climbs but nothing compared to what we had planned for us in day 2 and day 3. We were the first to arrive at the first campsite, where we were due to have lunch. At we sat and relaxed, porters and other trekkers arrived. The porters started setting up the tents and preparing lunches. We met up with the gang in our lunch tent and had our lunch that our chef had prepared for us. We all had our private guides so there were 6 of us hikers, 3 tour guides and we had 7 porters including our chef. A nice intimate group.
After lunch we had a little more hiking to do before reaching our campsite that we were doing to be sleeping at Wayllabamba Campsite. The hike was uphills and flats all the way with light rain along the whole of the way until we reached camp, pretty tough at times but Im not gonna start complaining now (on the easiest day). When we finally arrived at our campsite, it was sooo nice to know that we had the rest of the night to relax and that we had completed day 1! Wooooo! At 5 o clock we were due to have some hot drinks and snacks. We didnt expect this so we were plesantly suprised when we were served a variety of hot drinks, popcorn and other snacks. After chatting a while and getting to know the gang, we were told our dinner would be served at 7. More food. Fabulous as I was scared we wouldnt be eating well. After a nice chat with the gang, I felt absolutely beat from lack of sleep and a little from the hike so I headed to bed as day 2 was said to be the heardest day and I wanted to feel as fresh as possible. Our tents were set up by the porters all we had to do was unroll our sleeping bags and go to sleep! Wayllabamba Campsite (Alt. 3000m)
The porters woke us up bright and early at about 5.00am with a hot tea.. expect they kind of forgot to give us the actual tea so we just got hot water! Oh well. We were awake anyways as it was so cold due to the earliness. It was still dark and I really need to go to the loo so headed off with a torch. I found myself in a clean little bathroom - not the one I was in last night.. I think I was in someone´s house..as the toilet we were supposed to use and the one I used the night before was a hole in the floor. After I scuttled back to our tent and got ready. Breakfast was served at 6am.. what a nice breakfast it was too - pancakes, lovely bread and a variety of hot drinks. After our breakfast we were given little snack packs with an apple, lollipop and biscuits in.
Today we had to climb 1200m to reach Dead Woman´s Pass before heading down to our campsite - it was gonna be a tough tough day! The day started off with a steady pace for about 5 minutes before the steep steep climb up to Dead Woman´s Pass commenced. The climb was really really difficult but the surrounding views were absolutely stunning and totally made up for it. As we climbed towards the pass, we could see a shape in the mountains made out to be a womans face facing upwards so that it looked like she was dead. This with the fact that they found some dead mummies here is the reason why they call it dead womans pass. After a long period of uphill climb but not quite at our target point, we reached a campsite where we had a toilet break and had a little break.
Our guide told me to just keep walking and not to worry about waiting for him and my friend as he noticed I was walking a little faster and waiting for them alot. He asked me to wait at Dead Woman´s Pass once I´d reached there. We all headed off and I found myself ahead of my little group but just carried on going as I was told to. The climb was not only gruellingly difficult but slightly lonely. It started to rain but only lightly as I made the climb up towards the pass. After alot of out of breathness and breaks I finally reached the top!! 4200m!! There was a small group of people up there included one of the guides Wilbert - who I was introduced to at the previous resting campsite. I waited for Uber and Laura by taking photos and chatting to Wilbert and some of the other trekkers. When it started to HAIL, the other trekkers made tracks and it was literally just me and Wilbert at the top. He was waiting for his other hikers and I was waiting for mine... doo doo doo. I was bloody freezing and really wanted my friend and guide to hurry up. When they arrived the guide insisted that we had a photo.. we really werent in the mood for it but had one taken anyway.
I was told our campsite number incase I wanted to go ahead, which I did but not intently. From the pass was all downhill... but dont be fooled this was NOT easy! Each step down you had to take require alot of brain power... which stone to step on next without twisting your ankle and the down drop was so steep you would leave a leg behind everytime you took a step! This went on for about an hour an a half until I finally reached Pacaymayo Campsite. I sat down in the lunch tent and had my lunch served to me. A few moments later everyone else arrived. One of the girls in our communal gang had fallen over due to those damn dangerous steep downwards rocks!! Poor girl.
After we all had our lunch it was about 3pm and tea and snacks was going to be served at 5pm, so everyone decided it would be a good idea to have a nap. The nap was lovely and exactly just what I needed. At 5pm, we went to the communal tent and had some snacks and hot drinks. After some chatting and banter with the gang, it must have been around 7pm as dinner was served. Dinner was lovely as usual and we all filled up on the food before deciding to play some cards before heading to bed. Our torch managed to blow on us.. so we had to get ready for bed in absolute pitch black. A good tip.. bring a good torch!! Pacaymayo Campsite (Alt. 3600m)
Today we were woken up with a hot coca tea at 5am. We got ready (in the dark with no torch) and had a lovely breakfast. We were given another little snack pack, which had a cereal bar, lollipop and an orange. We then set off on a nice steady uphill pace with the sun shining. After about 45 minutes of walking we reached the archeological site of Runcurukay, which has the same name as the second pass we were yet to reach. This site was rather small but was a nice place for a little rest. After this we headed up up up the the second pass, located at 3900m. This climb was tough but the climb from day 2 made this seem alot milder than it was. Once we reached the 3rd pass, we had a long rest before having a 2 and a half hour desend down to Cloud Forrest where our lunch campsite was. The downhill trek to the campsite was full of ´ankle breakng´ paths with stones placed in silly angles! Whats more the stones were slippy and I remember slipping at least 4 or 5 times...could have easily fell and cracked my head open if I had placed my foot in the wrong place or position. After a horrible downhill session, we finally reached Cloud Forrest. Our delicious lunch was served and we had a little break before heading off again. Our guide called the next part of the trail the ´Gringo Killing Section´ - sounds safe! He was not wrong... there were parts so steep that we had to crawl down...like a baby! No joke! The rocks were slippy too due to the rain too so be had to be soo soo careful and we were so scared of falling over as our legs were already rather achey. After about 20 minutes into the downhill climb / crawl.. the path got a little more civilized and I found myself walking ahead. I had a lonely 2 hours ahead of me walking down down down. When I was nearly by the campsite I spotted a deer! I was amazed. I tried to get closer to it by walking really slowly and trying not to alarm it although it definitely knew I was there. It shooted off as I got close. I then turned the corner (I was walking on a zig-zag path down towards the campsite) the deer was just steps away from me. I already had my camera ready so I went snapping away. Funnily the deer wasnt scared of the flashes on my camera but jumped into the forrest when I got too close. I was pretty glad that it ran away as I would have done the same had the same but vice versa scenario come up and a deer approched me! After some more downhil hiking, I finally reached the campsite.
Eventually everyone finally arrived back and tea and snacks was being served at 5pm so we all rested until that moment. When that moment came, we induldged on the lovely hot drink and snacks collection we had offered to us. We chatted and played cards for abit before dinner was served at 7pm. After dinner we had a little ceremony for the porters and thanked them for all their help and we gave them some tips. As we were getting up pretty early the next day - the big day we all decided to get an early night. Winay Wayna Campsite. (Alt. 3700m)
Today we set our alarms for 3.30am as we had to be out of our tents so the porters could catch the local train back to KM82. A few moments after we were awake and trying to get ourselves ready one of the porters brought us some coca tea, which helped to wake us up. Half way through packing our things together in the tent.. in the pitch black darkness, one of the porters took off the outer layer of our tent... its a good job we were clothed! The when everyone was ready we had our breakfast in the communal tent. After breakfast we went to the local building located at this campsite and sat and waited until a little before 5.30am - as this was the time the control point opened. While waiting we played cards. When it was time to go, we all put on our backpacks and headed to the control point. I was soooo excited about seeing Machu Picchu!
We had a 2 hour steady up and down hike all the way before reaching ´Inti Punku` - the sun gate of Machu Picchu. Here we got our first glimpse of the amazing new seven wonder of the world. Clouds kept coming and going but we managed to take some photos before walking another 20 minutes or so to the actual site of Machu Picchu.
WE FINALLY COMPLETED THE INCA TRAIL!!!!!
At the terraces, we had an amazing view of Machu Picchu and here we took more photos.. I was in awe it was soo absolutely stunning and being there made me feel so special. At about 9am or so we put our bags in the cloakroom (as big bags were not allowed in Machu Picchu) and went through the control point into Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is truly an amazing and beautiful place that all must see at some point if you havent already!
A review of Machu Picchu is to follow shortly!
During the peak of the Inca Empire, many steep paved routes were built as a system of highways throughout the empire for the chasqui runners of its ruler (the eponymous Inca) to travel on. If people mention "the" Inca trail, they are referring to the most famous one of all - the paved path leading to the famous Machu Picchu, an Incan city perched on a mountain top high in the Peruvian Andes.
Since I was a child and heard of Machu Picchu, I wanted to hike along its famous and difficult trail. The city has a mysterious appeal to it - having remained hidden from the Spanish conquistadores, it was unknown to Europeans (though not to locals!) until 1911 when Hiram Bingham "discovered" it. Even today, the city (and its neighbouring modern town Aguas Calientes) are extremely isolated - you arrive there by train or on foot, not by road. Finally, a couple of years ago, I was able to achieve my lifelong ambition. This was an amazing trip, but it was a good few months after I got back before I even wanted to climb a set of stairs ever again! My journey was in November, which is the start of the rainy season in Peru (which is in the tropics of the Southern hemisphere) - we certainly managed to get a lot of rain on our walk!
===The Classic Inca trail===
There are several variants of the Inca trail that take a varying amount of time from one to five days. The one I did was the most popular variant called the classic trail, which takes four days and can be started from either the km 88 or the km 82 marker. These markers refer to the distance out on the railway from Cuzco, a Peruvian city which was once the capital of the Inca empire. The Inca trail takes you over several passes, the highest of which is 4200m high - plenty high enough for bad altitude sickness, but we had spent a week acclimatizing by that point, so most of us had got over the worst of the altitude sickness.
We took the 42km long route from km 82, which lasts four days. That might not sound far, but that represents four long days of extremely arduous hiking.
The trail itself is paved for most of the route with stones ranging in size from small brick-sized stones to large slabs. Much of this is the original Inca work. Most of the route can only be travelled on foot, with no pack animals available (the wheel was not invented in the Americas and only llamas were used for pack animals). Erosion is a serious problem on the trail; because of this, only a restricted number of permits are issued each year. Only about one third to one half that number of tourists can go on that route, plus porters and guides. This means you have to travel with an organised tour, who arrange the permit and all the accommodation and food on your behalf.
Make no mistake - although you are completely taken care of (almost to the point of being pampered), hiking the trail is not an easy experience - even the most independent of my group were extremely glad of being looked after by the end of a long day's hike!
As the trail is at very high altitude, the oxygen levels are much less than at sea level, meaning that the level of exertion is much higher than an equivalent route at sea level. So it is definitely worth while trying to improve fitness levels! In preparation for the trail, I took up jogging six months beforehand and went three or four times a week, building gradually up to 5km each time. This level of activity strengthens the lungs and helps you to get used to the intense levels of activity which you experience on the trail. To give you an idea of the intensity, imagine how out of breath you feel sprinting as fast as you can. That's how you feel just putting one foot in front of the other! Now remember the route is very steep, and you'll realise how a 42km walk can take four long days!
People do find it differently difficult - being in my twenties, I was one of the younger travellers in my group, but that was counterbalanced by my having asthma, so I was about midway in ability and so probably represent a fairly "typical" level of fitness.
===Meeting the porters===
After breakfast following the first night, we had an introduction session with the porters, with a fair bit of translation going on for those who know no Spanish. Up to a certain age (40ish), the porters look much older than they actually are, because of exposure to the elements ageing their skin, but the older porters looked much younger than their years (keeping fit appears to be good for you!).
The porters carried all of our luggage (limited to 7kg!) and our tents, meaning we had only to carry our small day packs containing our waterproofs, sweaters, water bottles and chocolate. The packs were bundled up into enormous packages that the porters would lift onto their back and shoulders as if they weighed nothing; then they would run along the trail and overtake us as we slowly shuffled along. This meant that although we set off first, the porters still beat us to the next rest stop and had tea and hot food prepared, in spite of the fact that they had to put all the tents down and pack up after we left.
The food was plentiful and tasty and every meal featured a selection of teas and powdered milk. Every meal had a vegetarian option, although it did have a tendency to feature eggs nearly every single meal. We had hot food for breakfast, elevenses, lunch and dinner and a cold afternoon tea and trail mix and other snacks for the journey. We were given as much boiled water as we could carry each day - the local water is generally considered safe only once it has been boiled and sterilised.
One of the questions people regularly asked me is what were the toilets like on the trail. There are generally toilet facilities at all of the camp sites en route, but not necessarily ones you would want to use - some of them were filthy and others were "footprint" style holes in the floor. In addition, our group had use of two chemical portaloos during the frequent rest stops, which the porters carried with the rest of the luggage. Other than that, if you can't hold it, there are always convenient bushes along the route. Never did I think I would find a chemical toilet a great luxury until I hiked the trail!
The accommodation on the hike was at camp sites along the route, staying in three person tents shared between two people. The tents were put up for us in our camp site each evening by the porters. We had thermarests - padded air mattresses which made the ground a little more comfortable; these helped to reflect your body heat to keep you warm. Beware though - it still gets very cold, even through a four season sleeping bag! My tip is to take a metal water flask with a screw top - that doubles as a hot water bottle at night. When we arrived at the camp site at the end of a hard day's hike, we got a washing up bowl of hot water to wash in and soak our aching feet - which was bliss and a wonderful little luxury! Sadly, there were no showers at the camp sites we were staying in.
===The first day - 6km, flat===
On our first day, we set off walking right after a full cooked lunch, stopping to pose for a photo next to the famous trail start railway sign. The map said our afternoon was a gentle 6km flat walk. At the checkpoint to the start of the trail, we had our passports stamped and made our way across a suspension bridge, which truly felt like the point of no return, only bouncy. We only jumped our way across a little bit, however, since we didn't really want to be expelled from the trail before we had started it!
Then we climbed. And climbed. This was when we learned the concept of "Peruvian flat" - which means that if the uphill and downhill averages out to nearly flat, and the steep parts aren't steep for very many kilometres then it doesn't count. In this case, it wasn't for very long, so we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Although most of what we think of as "The Inca trail" is paved and does not permit vehicles or pack animals, for the first day or so of walking, there are settlements. This meant we did have to dodge many bicycles and animals being herded. We also saw small children hurrying home - apparently they have to walk many miles each day to get to school.
A few hours later, we arrived at our first camp site, which was below the ruins of Llactapata. After a restless night of sleep, we were awoken bright and early with a cup of tea in our tent. A quick repack and a cooked breakfast left us ready for day two.
===Day two - travel 10km, mostly steady uphill===
The day started with a steep downhill climb so we could cross a river. This was the first point that I welcomed having walking poles. But then, what goes down, has to go back up again, and a steep 20 minute climb followed, leading to spectacular views over the Llactapaca ruins.
Most of the first part of the morning was spent walking gradually uphill at a fairly easy pace. We passed several settlements and stopped for many flowers. I paled slightly at the sign showing a cross-section representation of our walk (i.e. altitude versus distance - it looked very steep!) . That morning, we got to the last settlement for two days. This is the last place to buy gatorade - a violently coloured sugary salty sports drink (that sadly also has lots of tartrazine) which is the drink of choice of hikers who aren't asthmatic.
The rest of the morning featured an extremely hard uphill slog. By this point, the group had started to splinter and spread out over the trail, and I started to be able to take sneaky little 30 second rests every few tens of metres climb with nobody else noticing, because they were either 5 minutes ahead of me, or 5 minutes behind!
Our guide cheerily told us we would be walking until 1pm before breaking for lunch. After a while of gruelling uphill climb, I started to fear that I would never be able to carry on walking until lunch. Then, suddenly, I came across the front of the group who were stopped next to an area with a tent that looked very much like our dinner tent. Since it was about an hour before we were due to stop for lunch, this confused me greatly; it turned out that we had just done the morning's walk in about an hour less than the recommended time, so no wonder I was feeling so tired! But because it was just high altitude tiredness (we hadn't walked very far) after a hearty meal, we were ready for more and I knew I could take it at a much gentler pace and stop for breaks, to look at a view or take pictures whenever I wanted.
The afternoon took us through the cloud forest layer - subtropical type of forest only to be found at certain altitudes in tropical countries. It is a lush, green but misty world that would probably be described as glorious by anyone not currently trudging through it.
Eventually, we broke free of the cloud forest and reached the pampas region - a grassy plain forming a hanging valley. Our camp site that night was found there at Llulluchapampa.
===Day three - 15km steep up and down===
Day three is arguably the hardest of the four days, at least on the knees - walking poles or a staff are essential! It is an exhausting 8 hour trek up that for the first two hours takes you first to the highest point of the trail (4200m) - this part is a 450m ascent in only 2km! This is the famous Warmiwanusca, or Dead Woman's pass - so named from the shape of the mountain from the valley - it looks like a woman lying down. Personally, I couldn't see the resemblance!
Up to the pass, we were travelling through the grass land of the pampa. Up to the left of the trail is steep mountains, to the right was the wide valley, which also had steep mountains at the far side. Because the trail zig zagged so much, even though it was wide open land, I often could not see another soul, but was wandering around by myself in the wilderness, which was fantastic. It was less silent than it might have been because I was listening to the Lord of the Rings radio play: what more can one want to listen to when one is doing an arduous trek than listening to others doing an arduous trek!
After the stunning views at the peak of the pass, the path then leads down steep steps (600m descent in 2km) into a valley, then up over a second pass (Abra Runkuraqay), taking in the egg-shaped ruins of Runkuraqay (once a rest point for Incan travellers) on the way. The second pass was easier to do than the first, but of course we were tired by that point.
What goes up has to come back down. More irregular steps took us steeply down, through an Inca tunnel. Those of us who were slightly faster took a detour up to another set of ruins, called Sayacmarca. A few hours of "Peruvian flat" brought us to the top of the third pass, Phuyupatamarca, and our camp site for the night. I think I have never been so happy to stop and put my feet in a bowl of hot water as that day!
===Day four - 11km===
Day four started pre-dawn with a scramble to a nearby peak to view the dawn over the snow-capped mountains. From here, we could see down into the Inca's sacred valley. After a farewell and gift giving to the porters, we set off on our final day, by now dosed up on ibuprofen gel and all hobbling wearing knee supports. The journey that day was through the forest, frequently with a steep drop of hundreds of feet to one side - I would not want to be afraid of heights!
On this final day, the route joins up with the one day trail, which leads past many sets of ruins - including some very well preserved ones at Winay Wayna (a name meaning "Forever Young") - a location with a unique orchid found nowhere else in the world. We also had our first contact in days with civilization - the route goes past a small town, before it heads steeply back into the middle of nowhere, scrambling up slippery steep steps to the famous Sun Gate of Machu Picchu. Or, as we called it, the "throwing it down with rain" gate - sadly, thick cloud covered the iconic panoramic view over our destination. This gave the city a spooky, mystical feel to it as we walked down through its twisty maze-like passages.
Finally, we had arrived! All of us had reached our destination in one piece and uninjured. True, we were footsore and exhausted, but what an experience! It is one I will never forget as long as I live.
Machu Picchu is far too important a destination to leave to one small paragraph in this review - we spent two days exploring this region (thankfully with improved weather) and this will form a second review of its own.
The cost was incorporated into the rest of my four week holiday in Peru. Including flights, the total was about £2500, including most meals.
This trek was the highlight of my holiday in Peru and forms one of the defining experiences of my life. To this day, I cannot believe how exhausting it was for only 42km! It is well worth a visit, but train hard and make sure you acclimatize first.
Two summers ago I was lucky enough to visit the wonderful country of Peru, and to walk the famous Inca Trail to the lost Andean city of Machu Picchu. Yesterday, while trying to avoid writing an essay on cows (professors are the strangest creatures!) I idly typed Inca Trail into Dooyoo to see how other people's experiences compared to my own, and was shocked to find that it has not yet been reviewed! Hopefully this review can remedy that, and provide useful information on what turned out to be a unique travel experience.
The kingdom of the Incas, one of the great ancient kingdoms of South America, sprawled over a vast part of that continent between 1200 and the mid 1400s. Like any large country, infrastructure and communication were crucial for the Inca rulers in maintaining control - a problem exacerbated by the mountainous nature of much of the Inca terrain. To solve this problem, the Incas built a huge network of trails, over which chasquis (messengers) would carry information or goods. These chains of chasquis could cover incredible distances - it is claimed that fish from the port of Nazca could travel the 250 mountainous kilometres to Cusco in under 24 hours. It is the remains of one of these famous track, running from Wayllabamba to the famous Machu Picchu, that forms the basis of the modern Inca Trail trekking route.
The Inca Trail is in the high Andes of southern Peru. The nearest major city is Cusco: from talking to other walkers on the trek, it seems that those coming specifically to walk the trail will first fly into Lima and subsequently take an internal flight to Cusco airport. Depending on your tour company, there are connections into Cusco from such places as Lake Titicaca or from Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon (our own route), or for the very brave it is possible to travel into Cusco overland, although you will need to be with a recognised group to access the trail itself. The trail is approximately 40km long, or three and a half days.
The attraction that has made the Inca Trail such a famous walk is Machu Picchu, the so called 'lost city of the Incas'. 'Lost' in this respect is a subjective term, as the city was known to the local people long before explorer Hiram Bingham returned it to the attention of the outside world. The remoteness of this site, the scale, the majesty and the beauty of the surrounding mountains, all combine to make it worth walking four days for, especially if as we did you are travelling with a knowledgeable guide.
A word of warning, however, so that you do not experience the culture shock that I did. Arrival at Machu Picchu is a wonderful moment - the tourist brochure version is that you will reach the Sun Gate above the city and look down on it as the sun rises, but even if like us you walk through an hour of Peruvian down pour and see it grow eerily out of the morning clouds, it is still a joyous moment. However, once the day settles on to Machu Picchu, so do the rest of the tourists. There are those on the short Inca trail, and those who have come by train and bus, and although it would be deeply hypocritical of me to complain about other tourists (!), walkers should be prepared for the sudden crowds after the comparative loneliness of the trail. Still, this is a bad point to do with people, and not to do with the spectacle itself.
The Other Inca Sites
As well as Machu Picchu there are several other well preserved Inca sites along the route. I won't give too much information, as part of the pleasure is the surprise of an ancient ruin creeping up on you out of the cloud forest: enough is to give a few tasters of what you could expect. There is a valley entirely full of terraced fields: an ancient temple looking up into the glaciated mountains above (where our tour guide mock sacrificed my sister - all good fun!): and a building cut into a mountain, with a staircase so steep that you feel as though you are falling even when standing still.
What else can you see?
History is wonderful, but it is an interest that some do not share and that is best taken in small doses. Because of this, it is good that the Inca Trail also offers many other aspects. The first of these is the mountain scenery. You travel in the course of your walk through rainforest, cloud forest and high mountain ridges with panoramic views tumbling away on all sides. There is one moment (I'm afraid I can't remember the exact location) where you can stand on the edge of a spit of land, not another step's worth of ground before you, and feel us though you are flying into the forested mountains beyond.
Of course, as a zoology student my reviews would not be complete without a mention of wildlife, and here the Peruvian Andes have incredible richness. We were told that such zoological giants as Spectacled Bears and Condors have been seen in the region, but for me the first brightly jewelled hummingbird flying past our camp was quite kick enough. Over the next few days, we saw many more hummingbirds and the special treat of a mountain caracara, one of the most charismatic birds of prey. I'm afraid I have no expertise in plants, but one of my fellow walkers told me that the orchids were beautiful, and the moss lined cloud forests were unforgettable.
This is not what I would describe as a hard walk: but then, it is also not what I would describe as an easy one. The second day has an ascent equivalent to climbing Ben Nevis from sea level, and there is a second reasonably sized ascent on the third day. However, path quality is good and it is pretty impossible to get lost. Difficulty also depends on how you chose to walk. Those carrying their own tents will obviously need better fitness that softies like us who have porters! (The porters, by the way, are some of the most incredible people you will ever meet). I would say that if you are an experienced walker, or if you believe yourself to have a good level of fitness, then you should have no problems completing this walk.
The only factor that could scupper even the fittest of walkers is the altitude at Dead Woman's Pass, which is 4200 and over the altitude sickness threshold. My advice would be the same as that of all good tour companies: acclimatise in Cusco for a few days, and do not linger too long on the high point. Unless you are very unlucky, then you should have no problems.
A few bad points
Most of the above consists of the benefits of the trail. However, the Inca Trail is not Utopia - where there are large amounts of people, there will always a few problems. Until a few years ago the trail had been so mismanaged that there was a risk of permanent damage to the ecosystems, and traces of this damage are still evident. Also, even with quotes imposed on tourists, the trail is still frighteningly busy for those used to quieter treks. It is very difficult to catch a moment alone. Walk this trail expecting to share your experience with a lot of others.
How do I start?
Should this have persuaded you that you do want to walk the trail, I would suggest first looking around for tour operators, as you will need their support to begin the trail. Our own company, Llama Travel, were very good, even if the groups were a little large, and should you wish to visit other parts of Peru at the same time they were helpful in building a personal package. However, I can only speak for the one group, and it is always best to look around as much as possible.
In conclusion, I would definitely suggest that you walk the Inca Trail should you have the opportunity. I hope to go back to the region as soon as possible: but if I do manage to return, then I would like to look at some of the quieter trails in the region. I don't know that I would choose to walk this trail again - it was perhaps a little too busy. But for an introduction to the Andes, and to the Incas, I would definitely recommend the Inca Trail. It is an experience that you will not forget.
Trail leading through the Andes to Machu Picchu