As I’m sure is true for many people, climbing Machu Pichu has been on on my bucket list for quite some time, and was a big part of the reason I decided to travel to South America. What they don’t tell you in the beautiful pictures, history lessons and stories from friends, or friends of friends that have also gone, is how hard it is. While it was totally worth it, it was still so much harder than I thought!
Here’s the full four day experience:
First I’d like to say that our hike was probably a million times harder than it needed to be. 12 of us spent 3 days before our hike in the Amazon. Our last day was the day before our hike, and after spending 5 hours at the smallest airport I’ve ever been to (1 terminal), our flight was cancelled. After being told that we were not a priority since other people had connecting flights to make, our only option was to take a 10-hour overnight bus back to Cuzco to make it back in time to hike with our group. After getting in at 6am, trying to readjust to the altitude (many of us didn’t and had altitude sickness on the hike) and frantically packing our bags (which could only weigh 5kg) we were off at 10am to start the hike. Tired, lacking sleep and hungry, I think this set back made everything a little harder for us then the others.
We start our day at around 10am with a 2 hour ride to the city of Ollantaytambo. Once we arrive, our porters start setting up lunch. Porters are the people who will be carrying all our supplies, including sleeping bags, tents, food, drinks, equipment to cook food etc, on their backs for the four days. These people are beyond amazing. Many of them hike the entire way up in sandals, ages ranging from 17-66. (Laughing at us the whole way up as we stop about 10x more than them for breaks.)
After lunch, we begin our hike around 2pm, expecting a 5 hour hike to camp. The weather is so volatile. One second is hot and sunny, a minute later jackets are needed and we prep for rain. The first day wasn’t that bad, though I could feel the effects of the altitude already. On this day we hiked a total of 10 kilometers, reaching heights of 3,000 meters above sea level.
Day 2 was horrendous, to say the least. By far the hardest thing I have ever done. I was up all night, sick to my stomach from the altitude changes, and had skipped out on dinner the night before due to pure exhaustion and ill feelings from altitude sickness. It quickly became clear who was going to be taking their time (about 8 of us in the back) and the other 8 who were more adjusted to the altitude and overall faster hikers.
The group of us in the back included me Sam, Jaz, Jay and Joy, who after the first 2 hours pretty much agreed that we weren’t going to make it. Hiking a total of 13 kilometers and getting up to 4,215 meters above sea level and then back down to camp which was at 3,600 meters above sea level, it took everything we had, and then some, to push ourselves and each other to each peak. We would pick something far off enough to be considered a goal, but close enough so that we wouldn’t be gasping for breathe as we had been, as a way to push ourselves.
We climbed a total of around 12,000 steps, some of which were as high as my knee caps. Although it took us longer than the first half of our group, we finally made it to camp at 4pm (started at around 8am) and had the most amazing fried banana and apple wontons (trying to stay positive here haha).
Waking up to all your muscles stiff as a board is the worst feeling when you know you have a 9 hour hike (16km) ahead of you. Although the terrain was not as physically demanding as the day before, I knew hat I would have to walk for 9 hours in pretty high altitude which meant colder weather. Today we took the time to pay attention to the scenery around us (since we were in too much pain to give it a second glance the day before).
The last day was an early one. Waking up at 3:30 am to pack up camp and head to the entrance of Mount Machu Picchu and wait for the gates to open at 5:30am and to begin our hike.
After a 1.5 hour, 6km hike, we arrived at the Sun Gate, and ate our breakfast there over looking the valley, unable to contain our excitement after the difficult 4 day trek.
Finally arriving at Machu Picchu, we learn the true Qechuan name for it, Yuraq Llaqta, or White City. Our guide takes us on a tour, and we explore the beautiful ancient city for a few hours, basking it all it’s (and our) glory.