Most Inspirational Moment
Contemplate the sun set on the last day of camping, realising you are arriving to Machu Picchu (and back to civilisation) the following day and that the trip itself is coming to an end. It has a mixture of sadness and excitement difficult to explain.
Thoughts on Group Leader
Holger (leader) and Johnny (assistant) were the perfect team with Holger on the paternal side and Johnny on the cheerful side. They both made sure we were drinking enough water, putting sun protection/mosquito repellent and coordinating the different hiking speeds of the group. Holger provided every evening a short briefing on what to expect the following day (i.e. terrain, hours hiking, conditions…) which was very helpful. They even taught the group how to play a cards game which was THE entertainment of every evening while on trek.
Holger’s knowledge of the Inca culture and its history was just outstanding, also delivering tips on flora and fauna as we hiked along, a real treat for birdwatchers!
Personally, getting to know both of them was a treat and was sad to say goodbye to both of them.
Advice for Potential Travellers
1) Expect the unexpected. The trip started with a few bumps for us (flight cancelled from Heathrow arriving one day after to Cusco, the Salkantay being closed for snow and hiking on a extremely muddy path under the rain on the first day of the hike despite being the dry season) but it ended up being so magnificent (and sunny!) afterwards that I barely recall those bad moments :)
If for whatever reason the Salkantay trek is closed due to snow (which is what happened to us) don’t despair, the alternative route provided up to camp #3 is beautiful and totally isolated (we were the only people on the mountains until we reached the start of the Inca Trail. The days might be shorter hiking-wise but you get the chance to explore the mountains around if you want once you arrive to camp and we even got as high as 4,600m with some snowy paths on our way to camp #3.
2) FOOD. This was without a doubt one of my top highlights of the trip. While on trek, Rolando (chef) and Alejo (assistant) delivered outstanding meals which were not only delicious and nutritious but beautifully presented. You get cooked meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner, which are prepared in a portable kitchen in the middle of nowhere, appreciate what’s being presented to you, don't be fussy and enjoy!
Snacks are offered in the morning to take with you (fresh fruit or cereal/chocolate bars) which in my opinion are sufficient for the whole day but you might want to consider bringing some extra snacks if you like to munch regularly or prefer your usual snacks.
Boiled water to refill your bottles is provided in the morning before setting off and at lunch break (also in the evenings if you need) so you should be fine with a couple of 1lt bottles in your daypack.
While in Cusco, there are good restaurants not far from the hotel - try the local food, you won’t be disappointed (we tried the alpaca, the aji de gallina, lomo saltado… everything delicious!).
A little advice also while on trek, be considerate with your fellow hikers and if you are planning to have a few cups of tea/coffee/hot chocolate at every sitting you might want to consider bringing your own. Supplies are limited while on the trek and these are only replenished once when the porters join us on the Inca Trail so once they are gone, that’s it, no more.
3) HIGH ALTITUDE. This is a tricky one as each person is different so follow the advice given upon arriving to Cusco and drink lots of water. In my case, since it was my first time at high altitude (over 3,000m) I decided to take Diamox and I was perfectly fine for the two weeks of the trip (the only side effect I had was the slight tingling in my fingers/toes but to be honest I barely noticed). As far as I’m aware none of my fellow hikers took medication and just a couple suffered a very mild degree of AMS once we got over 4,000m with just another case where the person was feeling quite unwell.
4) CLOTHING. Layer up! Thermals and a warm beanie (while on the mountains) and t-shirts (while on the trail) + fleeces/softshell jacket and down jacket (mainly for the evenings). I did the trip in June, which is apparently the coldest month, and the first three nights of camping were pretty cold but nothing that you cannot cope if you are a regular hiker. Just layer up and you should be fine.
When it comes to how many set of clothes you should take with you, I found that a change of trousers/mid-layers every three days is OK, however I did change thermals/t-shirt every day but being technical ones these tend to weight nothing plus you can send stuff back to Cusco when the horseman leave (after camp #3) so I managed to (just) keep the weight of the duffle bag on the 10kg mark.
Also, I would recommend to have a clean set of clothes for when you reach Machu Picchu as you will want to put on clean clothes once you have a shower after 6 days of camping! :)
5) HYGIENE. Wet wipes! Baby wipes, toilet wipes, antibacterial wipes... You have the chance to take a shower on camp #4 once you reach the Inca Trail as there are communal showers nearby but bear on mind it’s cold water. I managed to wash my hair there using the bowl of warm water given to wash with after the hike for the final rinse and it was perfect.
6) OTHER. Take either a solar charger or a power bank that can last several charges with you to charge your mobile/camera as you don’t get electricity until you reach Machu Picchu (7 days later).
Also there is no network signal while on trek right until camp #6 (the camp before arriving to Machu Picchu) so if you have family/friends that tend to worry if they don’t hear from you regularly tell them not to expect your call until you reach Machu Picchu or else they will worry sick (like mine did lol). The guides have a satellite phone in case of emergency so if anything happens they will be contacted.
Well, if after this long review you are still reading, here is my last advice:
If going to Machu Picchu is in your “bucket list” and you are a keen hiker, then this is the best way to do it - the three days in the Peruvian Andes prior to joining the Inca Trail and the trail itself are the perfect way to experience this so don’t hesitate and book it!