It has been said that some of the most special places to visit in the world are also some of the hardest to get to and that was certainly the case when we decided to travel to Peru to see Machu Picchu and then the Amazon Basin.
The best way to reach the world famous ruins of the lost city of the Incas is to hike the Inca Trail — a challenging four-day, 44-km trek that takes you up, down, up and around parts of the Andes mountains, including crossing the 4,215-metre Dead Woman’s pass. It also consists of camping in frigid high-altitude temperatures and enjoying good food while travelling in a mandatory organized group accompanied by guides, porters and cooks.
Getting to our remote Amazon jungle destination – the Manu Wildlife Centre — a private lodge in the rainforest just outside Manu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, involved a long, but exciting, nine-hour journey by plane, van, ferry, taxi and motorized canoe.
The first day of our Peruvian adventure began with a roughly three-hour, early-morning flight from Edmonton to San Francisco, followed by a nine-and-a-half-hour flight to Lima and finished with a horrible night sleeping on the hard and unforgiving airport floor, because we were too cheap to pay $300 US for two hotel rooms near the airport prior to our morning flight to Cuzco.
We arrived in Cuzco — the former Incan empire capital and South America’s oldest continuously inhabited city — and quickly began experiencing slight headaches and breathing difficulties due to its 3,400-metre altitude.
Luckily, we had a few days to explore and enjoy Cuzco’s cobblestone streets and its well-preserved, incredibly well-built Inca walls and colonial churches, as we needed to acclimatize for the upcoming trek to Machu Picchu.
The main square, the Plaza de Armas, is a great place to catch some sun and people- watch. There are many great restaurants and bars to hang out in. Don’t forget to order the interesting Andean specialty: cuy (guinea pig).
On our third morning in Cuzco, the four of us were picked up by our intrepid G Adventures guide, Henry Mesicano, and we met six members of our eventual group of 16, four lovely Irish girls and a very nice couple from Australia.
The first real day of the seven-day tour consisted of travelling through the Sacred Valley and visiting a traditional weaving village and two very impressive Inca ruins sites, one at Pisac and the other at Ollantaytambo.
The next morning we hooked up with the rest of our group, four from Ontario and a couple from San Diego, and headed to kilometre 82, where we did the required paperwork at the Inca Trail checkpoint and began our trek.
The following four days were simply spectacular!
We had sunny weather, the views of the Andes were breathtaking and the Inca ruins along the trail were both interesting, thanks to the excellent history lessons from Henry, and a marvel to behold with their workmanship.
Highlights of Day One included a black widow spider, which Henry held in his palm, a coca leave ceremony for good luck and incredible dining thanks to our chef, his assistant and the 20-odd porters who carried everything.
It was definitely cold at night, due to the altitude and we were thankful we had rented mummy-type sleeping bags and air mattresses. Mornings always began with a “hola” from a porter as he brought tea and a warm washing bowl.
The second day was aptly called the “challenge” day as we had to get up at 5:30 a.m. and hike for about seven hours with lots of going up steep ancient stone steps. The highlight was successfully achieving our goal of reaching the summit of the 4,215-metre Dead Woman’s Pass.
We didn’t have to go quite as high on Day Three, but we still covered about 16 km over eight hours, crossed two passes which were just under 4,000 metres and went up and down seemingly endless steps through cloud forest.
Highlights were a couple of ruins, one above the clouds, with excellent views of snow-capped peaks, an original Inca tunnel, and two rare sightings of condors, those huge, majestic soaring vultures with the incredible wingspan.
The final day began with a 3:45 a.m. wakeup call as we needed to hike up the last two hours worth of steps in order to reach the Sun Gate and watch the sunrise light up the magnificent lost 15th-century city of Machu Picchu.
Words can barely describe the sight of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is truly a wonder of the world.
After many hours admiring the mountain ridge ruins and its surrounding views, learning about the various temples and incredibly well-built structures, we took a bus down to Aguas Calientes, where we enjoyed pizza and beer before taking a train to Ollantaytambo and then driving back to Cuzco and ending our wonderful experience.