From the vault: Vanessa Kohut travelled for 21/2 months in South America. A highlight, of course, was hiking the infamous Inca Trail.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a hard trek and you really have to push yourself physically for you’re walking for four days at really high altitude. It is also super luxurious and well oiled, at least compared to some other trips I’ve taken.
You wake up in the morning and are served hot cocoa tea and when you get to your site at the end of the day, the camp has been set up and you’re fed this glorious meal. The fact that it is so well organized is probably appreciated by all for a hike like this in a rather foreign environment is not something you normally do.
Group size seems to vary with some as large as 15 to 20 people. There were only three in my group—my two girlfriends (each named Julia) and me. There was supposed to be another couple but they cancelled at the last moment.
Seven staff went with us: a guide, a cook and porters. They didn’t pack light and even brought a table, chairs and a whole setup for cooking. By law, porters can only carry so much weight. The three of us actually hired an additional porter to carry our personal things, which was a smart move.
We woke early each morning and while eating breakfast the porters would be packing up and moving on, leaving us with the guide. When we reached the spot for lunch, the cook would be there waiting to serve it. Then we would walk some more until it was time to stop for the night and, sure enough, the tent would be up, sleeping bags spread out, and dinner ready.
People were able to walk at their own pace and no one I met seemed to be in a panic about finishing it. There is a lot of walking up and down and my knees killed me. I should have used a walking stick from the beginning but I didn’t think I needed one. But a walking stick is really helpful.
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An unexpected trek through Dogon Country, Mali
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Hiking the West Coast Trail in Canada
Sometimes we wouldn’t see anyone else for a while but at the highest points there would always be a crowd hanging out, trying to catch their breath. Altitude is really a factor so it is important to spend at least two days in Cusco to acclimatize before doing it.
The last morning we got up really early to get to Machu Picchu before the first bus of tourists arrived. When you reach the Sun Gate you’re at the end of the trail and the mist is rising. The ruins are huge and marvellous and we spent several hours exploring them before taking the bus down to Aguas Calientes where we caught the train back to Cusco.
People who do the Inca Trail are generally in good physical shape because they know it will be challenging. While you don’t have to be an athlete, you need to be able to walk up and down all day on rough terrain. In everyday life, most people don’t push themselves physically so there is a real sense of achievement when you finish. I heard many say, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Other Vanessa Kohut articles
Four days in a jeep to the salt flats in Bolivia
Canoeing the Barrens for 56 days with 12 teenagers
Some people want it to be a personal experience and while you’re not walking alone there certainly is a shared pride in being able to say you walked to Machu Picchu. When I got home, people kept saying, “You did the trail!”
I’ve done a lot of extreme physical trips so while it was hard it wasn’t the most challenging thing I have ever done. And for me, it was not the most unique experience I had in Latin America. Still, it was amazing and Julia & Julia and I loved it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Photo credits Vanessa Kohut
© Riding the buses 2011