Machu Picchu - Inca Trail, Peru
My first solo trip and adventure was to hike the Inca Trail in Peru. I had never been anywhere a little different on my own, nor had I hiked anything that involved altitude and the potential for altitude sickness. So it was definitely an adventure for me, but it opened the door to the world of solo travel and adventure and I haven’t looked back.
Arriving in Lima at night with no domestic flight to Cusco leaving until the morning, I ended up sleeping on the floor of the airport with the other backpackers. There were no seats, or benches anywhere to be found, so there was no option at all. I could have taken a cab to a hotel, but I had read to many scary things about women in cabs in South America that I decided the floor was a better option. Quite a start to my adventure!
Landing in Cuzco with an altitude of 3,400 metres (11,200ft), it was higher than I had ever been before and as I waited at the baggage carousel my heart was racing. I was seriously worried about the altitude and was very happy that I had arrived a week before I was starting the Inca Trail to give me more time to acclimatise.
As soon as I arrived at the hotel I was given a cup of Coca tea, also called mate de coca, which is an herbal tea (infusion) made using the raw or dried leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. Apparently, this was what you had to drink to combat the altitude sickness and over the next few days I found it did help quite a lot. My room was on the 3rd floor and every time I returned to the hotel I made myself walk up the 3 floors to try and acclimatise, by the 3rd floor I was completely exhausted and trying to catch my breath. If you’ve never experienced altitude, it’s really quite amazing how it affects you. It also interrupts your ability to sleep well and I had a few really bad nights of sleep before getting used to it.
Cusco is a lovely city which I enjoyed exploring, although I was surprised at the size of it and the amount of pollution, staying off the main streets was better. My favourite area and one I would recommend is San Blas, tucked away to the north of Plaza de Armas. You can see the architectural influences of the Spanish after the conquest. It seems like a quieter, more interesting area of the city to wander around. There is no end of history and Inca sites to visit throughout the city.
The Inca Trail itself was much more than I thought it would be. Initially I had thought only about the finale, the big arrival through the sun gate to see Machu Picchu below, but the hike turned out to be if not more enjoyable, at least as enjoyable as that magical moment. Along the way you see many other old Inca buildings and settlements and although the trail is something that many people hike, it was less crowded than I thought it would be. We didn’t see any other groups until we reached the campsite the night before the Sun Gates. The number of permits issued is tightly restricted to keep the numbers down so it’s something that you need to book quite a long time in advance to avoid disappointment, although there are other trails that lead to Machu Picchu, just not the ‘Inca Trail’. Plus, you need to carry your passport with you to get stamped at the check points or they will deny you access.
It was quite hard going, and very slow at times as that was the only speed you were capable of doing with the altitude affecting you. At night in the tent it got very cold, so definitely make sure you have lots of warm clothes as it was deceivingly hot in the day.
Walking through the Sun Gate and seeing Machu Picchu sprawling below you is a very special moment. It was a little disappointing to have to share it with so many clean, sweet smelling tourists who had just got off the train instead of hiking for 4 days and I have to admit I did resent them a little, but it was still wonderful. We were able to go back in the afternoon to enjoy it after we’d cleaned up and there were far fewer tourist there then, so it was much better.
It was a wonderful experience and planted the seed for future adventure trips.