In April 2012 I finally realised my dream of completing the 4d/3n Inca Trail. I wish to share my experience of the trek and my booking process as I couldn't find any useful information at the time. Alot of people do it as part of a greater tour of Peru or South America but I was on a tight time and financial budget and only wanted to complete the trek so I did alot of online research looking for the cheapest flights, hotels and tour combinations around my prefered dates. There are several flight options from UK but I went with Iberia as you can fly to Cusco on one ticket. My route was Heathrow-Madrid-Lima-Cusco. My 15 year old son and I did it in one go which took about 22 hours but you can have a free stop-over in any of these cities. I consider the flight all part of the experience! I allowed 2 days in Cusco for altitude acclimatisation and sight-seeing before the trek. There are lots of cheap hostels from £10-£20 per night in Cusco but we stayed in Jacaranda Inn (£14 pn B&B) which was close to the centre square. Cusco was amazing with its large centre square, cathedrals, back streets and markets, not to mention a good nightlife. I booked the trek with Cusco based Cusco Explorer, website: incapoint.com which after alot of searching was the cheapest I could find online. They charged $330 per adult and $300 for my son as he qualified for the student price. I met alot of people along the trek who paid over $500 for the same thing. From what I could see all operators offer the same service which includes hotel pickup, bus to start point, English guide, porters, all food, camping etc. So don't think you'll get better service if you pay more. Now for the best bit, the trek:
Get up early as you're guide will be knocking on your door at about 6.30am. You'll meet all your other group members then set off on a bus to the start point which takes about 2 hours with a stop at a nice tourist shop on the way. There you can buy breakfast, snacks etc. When we arrived at the start point we met all the porters and chef then we had an early lunch. There are alot of groups who set off in time intervals so there's alot of waiting around which I thought defeats the early start. Day 1 is a fairly easy trek, mostly flat with a bit of gradiant, however the scenery is amazing and you will see some Inca ruins. When you arrive at the camp site all the tents are up and chef is cooking dinner. You'll have some free time before dinner then it's an early night as you're up at 5.30am. We had soup & bread, meat & rice with some veg and some cake then coffee or coca tea.
I won't lie, day 2 was one of the hardest things I've ever done but very rewarding and the views are amazing. Get up early, have breakfast, drink lots of water, get your kit on and start treking. You'll trek about an hour passing a few inca houses to the first check point. Again wait your turn behind the other groups then go for it. It's 1000m in elevation straight up to dead womans pass and our guide said it will take about 5 and a half hours. My son who play rugby and I are very competitive so it was on! We did it in 4 and a half. It was tough but we had good weather. The first 2 hours were under cover as you're in the tree line. The track is windy and narrow in places and crosses streams over little wooden bridges. Some parts are very steep with big rock steps, we passed alot of people resting but no one was giving up, you could feel the sence of achievement of other trekkers. About half way up the tree cover runs out and we were in the direct sunshine, it was quite hot considering the altitude, make sure you carry plenty of water, sun block, sun glasses and a hat. Now we could see the top and other trekkers above us, the views were amazing and we took alot of photos. We made it to the top around midday and complete strangers were congratulating eachother and having their photo taken at the 4215m marker post. Unfortunately for us the weather changed and the top became covered in cloud so we didn't get any photos from the top. It became instantly freezing cold and we were in thick fog. We started our decent down to the camp site when it started raining. Make sure you take a poncho as that was the hardest rain I've ever experienced, within minutes there was a river flowing down the slopes. I didn't get any photos of our decent. It only took 2 hours to get to the camp site but it rained the whole way then suddenly stopped as soon as we arrived, the sun came out and we could see where we had just come from. The rest of the day was free time, dinner then bed. It never rained again.
Day 3 begins with another steep climb passing several inca ruins on the way. It takes a few hours to reach the second pass at 3900m where you'll get awesome views of the high Andes and snow-capped peaks. It's all downhill from here, our guide pointed out the change in vegetation as you decend into the high Amazon. The guide showed us some Inca ruins and explained all the history before we stopped for lunch. Here we saw our first wild Lama. Day 3 is the longest trekking day but it's mostly flat or down hill. You'll pass through the Inca tunnels and get your first sight of Machu Picchu Mountain. The trail becomes more like jungle and it gets warmer as you decend, some scenes reminded me of the Indiana Jones movie. We eventually arrived at the final camp site, removed our boots and had a good rest. Trekkers arrived in various states over the next few hours, alot had blisters, alot were clearly exhausted. Don't attempt this lightly, do some fitness and prep your feet before you come. Don't wear your normal shoes or trainers or wear new boots, make sure you wear them in!
Day 4, today you'll visit Machu Picchu. Up at 3.30am, breakfast, prep kit then line up with hundreds of other eager people in the dark at the gates. The gates open at 5am then we all trek about 2 hours to the Sky Gates. You'll climb a very steep stair case in the woods upto the Sky Gate which overlook Machu Picchu, here you'll get your first look at it and the surrounding mountains. When we arrived it was covered in thin cloud which cleared away as we looked down on it which added to the drama. Then it takes about another hour to walk down to it. For some reason we all had to pass through it, go outside then come back in so we could get our tickets checked. However you can pay to leave your bags here so you don't have to carry them. Our guide gave us a full guided tour and explained everything, he was great. Then you get as long as you want to look around before you go down to the local town. The guides have a deal with a local restaurant so you can leave your bags all day for free so we thought it only right that we should eat there and enjoy a cold beer. The prices were very reasonable and I was starving. The guides gave us our return train tickets and explained where to get off and we'd be met by a rep and finish the journey back to Cusco on a bus. It all went to plan.
We got back to Cusco after 10pm and got a taxi to a different hostel nearer the airport. I booked the Cusco House as we had an early flight and it had a free airport shuttle, it was $30 B&B for a twin ensuite room, it was ideal, I only wish we could stay longer and enjoy it. We only spent 8 hours there. I included a 2 day stop-over in Lima on the way back but now I wished I'd planned 1 day in Cusco and 1 day in Lima, however Lima was a good rest. I found a good hostel near the sea front with plenty of shops and places to eat out all around. We had to have a swim in the Pacific Ocean. The end came all too soon and we were on our flight home.
Tips: Carry as little as possible on the trail, take old socks and T-shirts, wear 1 each day then give them to the porters, they will bite your hand off even for worn, sweaty kit. Carry lots of drinking water even if you thinks it's heavy, you'll drink it all on the ascents. Enjoy it, you'll meet lots of like-minded people from all over the world, take photos, stop and look around, make memories. Don't be lazy and pay the porters to carry your bag, they carry enough so tip generously.
Finally carry your own bag and push it out, or you haven't really done it!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.