Explore MD Ashley Toft visited Peru in 2011 to Trek the Inca Trail. Share his experience of this once in a lifetime trip.
Ever since I was a tour leader for Explore 20 years ago, I've yearned to get to Peru and to trek the Inca Trail. At last the opportunity arose in 2011, when I co-hosted a travel agent familiarisation trip. A great opportunity to showcase the best of adventure travel and to show our partners in the industry what Explore is really about. And our visit didn't disappoint. After a day of acclimatisation in lovely colonial Cusco, followed by a dousing as we rafted down the Urubamba River it was time to start the trek.
We stopped off in historic Ollantaytambo to get provisions in a tiny shop in the main square, which seemed to have everything, from energy bars and batteries, to walking poles and suncream. Our 4 day trek started at KM 82 where everyone goes through a checkpoint; it was good to see that the numbers on the trail were being strictly controlled, and actually having so few people on the trail really added to the feeling that we were doing something very special.
As we set off following the Urubamba river, it soon became clear that it was going to be a spectacular trek, and it wasn't long before the snow-capped peaks came into sight. We met our porters at the first lunch stop where they had prepared a lovely lunch for us, before sprinting ahead to set-up camp. As the sun went down on the first evening some of the porters took us to visit the school in the tiny mountain village where we were staying. It was the next morning, after our first night under canvas that the porters gathered, most wearing their colourful ponchos due to the early morning chill, to introduce themselves one by one, and to tell us something about their familes. We reciprocated, and this really broke the ice, especially when some of us decided to show off our rather rusty Spanish!
The porters were integral to the success of the trip. The head porter and guide had the respect of everyone and worked brilliantly with our Tour Leader Jorge, to ensure the whole group completed the trek; even the few on our trip who were not experienced trekkers. They were also great company, clapping as we made it to camp, providing hot water to wash and soak our weary feet in, and always around to lend a hand. Even though most of us could feel the effects of altitude as we climbed to the highest point at Warmiwanusqa (Dead Woman's Pass) at 4200m, there was plenty of time for everyone to go at their own pace and to enjoy the incredible and far reaching views. The thing that really surprised me about the trek, was the number of amazing Inca sites along the way. I had no idea that we would come across so many incredibly well preserved ancient cities and towns, with such great names as Llaqtapata and Winaywayna.
And no matter how many times you have seen photographs or video of Machu Picchu, you will be blown away by the view as you step through the Sun Gate and peer down on the ancient city from above. It even brought a tear to the eye of a hardened adventure traveller and ex tour leader. I felt incredibly privileged to have walked the trail into Machu Picchu, especially as it was the 100th Anniversary of its re-discovery by Hiram Bingham.