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Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Added 25 Jul 2011
Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Explore Sales Director Carl Burrows recently trekked the 4 day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and kept a diary of exactly what each day brought. So if you are considering booking the Explore Inca Trail Trek, but want to know more about the facilities, the support and what each day's trekking entails, then we recommend that you read his personal account of the trek.

Inca Trail Trek: Day 1

As we finally packed our 7kg trek bags and got them weighed by the porters, there was a sense of fear and apprehension that washed throughout the group. Although we had all read the trip notes, no one really knew what to expect and what they should really pack. Our trek started just after lunch and was a pleasant trek through fields, along rivers and over what at the time we thought were large mountains (boy were we in for a shock). Underfoot was safe and simple for our first day, with much of our time spent walking along stony paths and grassy lined trails - no one at this stage had an idea as to what to expect, which not only fuelled our excitement, but also filled us with fear of the unknown.

We start out at 'KM 82' (the main starting point for the 4 day trek) and although the first 20 minutes of the trek are up hill, today’s 6 km walk was at a sensible pace to enable the group to gain confidence and settle into a rhythm before moving onto tougher challenges over the coming days. After a few hours, we encountered our first challenge - a deep gorge. This was steep under foot as we walked down to cross the river below and equally steep as we walked back up again – but we all felt a little smug as we sailed through with little trouble. However with that said, we were all starting to tire a little as the Inca site of Llaqtapata came into view. Below our first Inca encounter was our camp site; already set up and awaiting our arrival. As we entered the camp site, all the porters stood each side and clapped us in one by one, which lifted everyone’s spirits and topped a great day.

There are two portable toilet tents with ‘sit down’ toilet facilities available at the site, as well as a dining tent that had already been erected, alongside the cooking tent. On the other side of camp, all our tents were already set up and laid out ready for our arrival.

How impressed were we when the local farmer turned up with a bucket full of local beer and various soda’s – and he only charged us 5 solas a bottle! Result!

Inca Trail Trek: Day 2

After waking up to a knock on the tent asking if you would like tea or coffee as well as a bowl of hot water for our morning wash (there are no shower facilities), we all made our way to the breakfast tent to enjoy a hot cooked breakfast as well as some comparisons as to who was aching the most from the day before. All was well though among the group.

The second day gets much harder and you quickly realise that this is not just a walk in the park and some serious effort and energy is required. Whilst today’s trek is not the longest, it’s definitely one of the most demanding.

Before heading out, we meet all the porters properly. They stand in a semi circle in front of us as one by one say hello to the group as well as giving us some details about their personal life (if they are married, single, have kids etc..) – you can tell they work well together as there is a great deal of banter between them, however some of them seem very shy and do not like to be in the limelight. We then take it in turns to introduce ourselves to the porters in a similar fashion (by this stage, our group have already gelled well together, so it’s not surprising that the banter is already in full swing from our side also). It’s a good moral booster before a long and tiring day ahead.

As we head out of camp, we visit the Inca ruins just across the river from our overnight camp site. As the sun rises over the structure, you get a real sense of how impressive these sites really are (and we’re no where near Machu Picchu yet) ! The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, with huge, imposing mountains surrounding us on all sides as we navigate a path through the county side, meeting the odd donkey, horse and Alpaca along the way. Today’s 10 km walk definitely challenged the group as we ascend at a rapid rate, the legs start the get heavy and the breath shortens as the altitude kicks in. Today the group started to spread out as some found it more difficult than others. At our first stop, the back of the group are almost 15 minutes behind the lead pack, however we all agreed there was no rush and we all wanted to ensure we made it, whatever the pace. After a quick break comprising of more water (I never knew I could drink so much – and trust me, you need to drink at least 2 litres a day to keep you hydrated in the dry heat and altitude) and a energy bar, we continued heading up until we reached our lunch site. The dinning tent was a sight for sore eyes and once again we were clapped into camp by the porters before being offered a well deserved fruit drink.

By this stage we had our first casualty, one of the group members were struggling with the walk and there was some serious concern if she could continue. Partly this was down to a chest infection that seemed to hit her for six overnight, combined with the strenuous walk and the altitude, all was looking gloomy. However, the tour leader, porters and the rest of the group rallied round and encouraged her to keep going as the rewards would outweigh any discomfort – she agreed and after sipping some local medicine and a big hug from us all, she was up on her feet to take on the afternoon’s challenge.

This was relentless, up and up and up we went, following the old Inca steps. Out from the open mountainside and into some deep jungle vegetation. The temperate grew colder as the afternoon wore on and we all found our self stopping every 5 minutes or so to catch our breath. The legs were so heavy, but we knew there was no turning back. For some reason, this afternoon we naturally ended up in 3 or 4 smaller groups of equal ‘fitness’ and trekked together for support. As the sun was setting and with some collective sweating, swearing, cursing and moaning we hauled our weary bodies up to Llulluchapampa camp site, an impressive site over looking the snow capped mountains and standing at 3200m above sea level.

No longer had we taken in the view for a few seconds, you quickly realised your body temperature was dropping fast. It was freezing at this altitude. Off came the shorts and t-shirts and on went the ‘winter gear’. It was weird sensation, not only had we conquered the most challenging part of the trek, we had also quickly transitioned from tropical warm conditions to mid winter temperatures.

Inca Trail Trek: Day 3

Today’s start was early, very early – 5 am. We were once again woken with a tea or coffee as well as a warm bowl of water – that’s if you could unfreeze your zip to open your tent!

Spirits were good around the breakfast table as we knew that what goes up must come down and this morning was all down hill, all 1100 meters of it. Well when I say down hill, we still had to climb the last bit to get over ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ which was 4215 meters and would take at least an hour and a half to reach in the cold morning air – this instantly knocked the wind out of our sails as déjà vu crept in from yesterday gruelling climb. However, I felt good, really good and made it to the pass without too much effort. One by one the group - over the course of 30 minutes or so - arrived at the summit and took in the stunning views. This would be our highest point of the trek and for some was a moment to savour.

After the obligatory ‘High Fives’ and back slapping, we started our decent to our next camp site where we would have brunch and a 30 minute rest. Once the batteries were recharged we headed out for the afternoon, knowing that today’s trek was the longest at 15km, but wasn’t really aware or mentally prepared for our second assent of the day to Runkuraqay Pass (3950m). We had already been walking for over 5 hours and the incline up to the pass seemed to go on and on. Just when you thought you were there, you looked up and there was another 100 metres of steep steps to climb – this was definitely a low point for me, but after stopping at various Inca sites along the way, we made it up and over and onto our second stop for the day for lunch.

This was a quick affair as the group had become spilt up throughout the day due to the gradients and we were rapidly running short of time if we wanted to reach our final camp before night fall. After a quick, splash and dash at the dining table, (some soup, garlic bread and an amazing chicken & mash combo) we headed out for the final 90 minute push to our final camp site. Once again we headed up the mountain, but soon this levelled out and revealed some of the most stunning views you could imagine. The clouds were closing in around us and by the time we reached the open pathway, we had walked through the cloud line and we were now ‘on top of the world’ – well that’s how it felt. The final push through the cloud forest into camp was full of energy and vigour and I was feeling ‘on form’ and ready to hit the finish line. And what a finish line it was; perched on top of a mountain peak our camp had 360 degree views of impressive mountain ranges with the snow capped peaks of Veronica Mountain as the showcase. What a long day, but definitely one to remember !

Inca Trail Trek: Day 4

Someone call 911! My legs were not working at all this morning, it was as though they had forgotten how to walk as they were so stiff – I think the past three days had finally caught up with me. Even walking to the dining tent for breakfast was a challenge. How would I get through the day? To my dismay and horror, others around me were feeling spritely and energized as today was the final push to Machu Picchu. Whilst I was up beat in spirit, my legs were just totally unwilling to co-operate, so I knew it was going to be a tough one.

Today we would make our way to the Gate of the Sun, the entrance to the lost city of Machu Picchu and our final destination. However, before we could marvel in our success, we had over 11km of trekking to navigate, albeit most of it down hill in the morning which made easy going for the weary legs. We took in two amazing Inca sites en-route which really lifted the expectation for the big reveal when we finally arrived at the Gate of the Sun.

After our final climb up ‘dead gringo’s’ steep steps (locally named by our tour leader as they were incredibly steep) we finally arrived at Machu Picchu to a rousing round of applause from a host of other sightseers who recognised that we had trekked for days to get there and knew this was the pinnacle of our adventure.

There it was, Machu Picchu in all its glory and not a cloud to be seen. However my initial thought was 'how disappointing' – all this way for this! After sitting at the Gate of the Sun for 30 minutes or so, I still was struggling to understand what was so impressive about this site compared to some of the others we had visited over the past 4 days on our 26 mile trek. We started to walk the final kilometre down to the site and as I got closer the realisation of its scale, its location and its power suddenly struck me – wow, absolutely wow! I don’t know of any other words that could express my feelings.

It was worth the pain getting there, in fact, it’s the only way to get there in my book. The journey is as rewarding as our final destination and now I was actually standing immediately above the ruins, I could now appreciate the immense engineering feat that Machu Picchu actually was. I’ve seen hundreds of pictures, read plenty of books, but being there and seeing it close up and personal knocked the socks of anything I could have wished for.

Tomorrow we were heading back up to the site for a full guided tour of Machu Picchu with our guide, who would take us around the entire site and explain it’s history and use. Today visit was just a teaser, something to reward all our efforts and to whet the appetite for our tour the next day.

After a quick dunk in the hot springs and a few cold beers, our heads hit the comfort of a proper ‘fluffy’ pillow and within seconds we were out for the count – happy trekkers the lot of us !