In June 2013, during my summer break of my second year at Uni, I undertook a charity trek to Machu Picchu for the charity Childreach International. We were each tasked with raising at least £2500 and as a group, we raised over £100,000!
We flew in to Cusco where we spent three days acclimatising before driving to our start point. Most Machu Picchu treks (following the Inca Trail) are four days long (usually with a day either side in Cusco). Ours was a slightly more extended version, meaning we trekked for a total of almost seven days.
Top Tip: To be able to trek the Inca Trail you must have a permit and these often sell out months in advance. Therefore, the best way to trek the trail is to book on to an organised trek prior to your travels. You don’t need a permit to visit Machu Picchu itself, so you can always opt to take the train from Aguas Calientes (the village at the bottom). You’ll still have to climb the couple of hundred steps at the top to reach the site itself.
Fun Fact: Aguas Calientes translates to ‘hot water’ and is named so due to the hot springs present in the village. After a long day’s trekking, you can head for a soak in some of the local pools filled with hot spring water. Amazing!
The trek was incredible – such diverse scenery; from chilly mountainous areas submerged under snow, to lush, humid jungle thick with wildlife as we worked our way down in altitude. Some parts of the trek made me weak at the knees; especially when I saw I was going to have to edge myself along an extremely narrow (and muddy) pathway that had a sheer cliff drop the other side. There were lots of very early starts, but the views made up for the lack of sleep!
We trekked for four hours on the first day and set up camp at the foot of a glacier, surrounded by rolling hills for as far as we could see in every direction. The night sky here was by far the best I have ever seen. Thousands of stars and so ridiculously bright – I was gutted my camera couldn’t capture the view! Although pretty, being at the foot of a glacier meant it was COLD. I wrapped myself in every layer of clothing I packed, including my boots, and even then only managed a lousy two hours sleep.
We set off between five and six the following five mornings and trekked for an average of six to eight hours. It was extremely hard work and the altitude became debilitating to the point we were stopping to rest every couple of minutes, hearts pounding and sweat pouring. I spent the entire time at the back of the group with two fellow stragglers, questioning with every step how on earth I was going to survive the week!? The local guides were awesome and were clearly slightly worried about us. They spent a few hours on the second day trying to persuade us to get on to their donkeys for a bit to rest. One of the group succumbed but my friend and I kept refusing – I was going to trek the Inca Trail, not cruise up on the back of a donkey!
We camped along the way, sometimes in the back gardens of local farmers, sometimes in the middle of nowhere, and went the first five days without a shower. On day six, in a local garden amongst a smattering of horses, a member of the group stumbled across a mini ‘waterfall’ whilst exploring the camp. A small trickle of water was cascading down the side of the stony wall, splaying outwards at the end to resemble an icy cold shower. As soon as word got out, we were all queuing patiently with our eco-friendly soaps and shampoos, taking it in turns to wash our tired muscles as the sun went down around us – hands down the best shower I’ve ever had!
On the final evening, we were informed by our guides that there was going to be the option to get the bus up to Machu Picchu in the morning, rather than walk. I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my life and couldn’t think of anything I’d like to do more than get a bus, BUT to me it seemed like a failure to trek all that way and not walk the final few (OK, few thousand..) steps! Surprisingly, the majority of the group opted for the bus, but seven of us set off determined at 4am and climbed the almost 2000 steps to get to the top, to the magnificent Machu Picchu. The steps were definitely the worst part – it was like two hours on a step machine in the gym and it burned like hell!
BUT WE MADE IT!
After a few hours exploring, we got the bus back (we didn’t fancy anymore steps!) and headed back to Aguas Calientes for a well deserved dinner; in my case, a rather large margarita pizza. I was so happy it was over, and SO happy that I completed the trek without getting on to a donkey! To this day, I still hold this trek as one of my greatest achievements 🙂 We also celebrated our success that afternoon with a few beers – after seven days of trekking at high altitude, a pint of beer may as well be a pint of vodka and we were soon all completely delirious; just in time for our train back to Cusco!