When I booked my trip to Peru, I had every intention of doing the 4-day, 3-night Inca trail trek to Machu Picchu. There were guides available for several of the dates that I would be there. It was just a matter of negotiating the price. Or so I thought, until the guides started telling me that they were sold out.
In my mind, that meant that that outfitter was sold out, so I contacted another. And another. And another. By the time I realized that permits for my dates were sold out for the country (not just the outfitter), it was too late. So you don’t make the same mistake, know that the maximum number of Inca Trail permits per day, in total, is 500. Support staff is included within the five hundred, meaning that about 200 permits are allocated for tourists and about 300 for cooks, porters and guides each day. If there’s a permit available for the day you want to go, book it. They sell out fast.
As a concession, I decided to book the Huchuy Qosqo hike, including Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu through SAS travel. Here’s how it went.
The night before we left for the hike, I was instructed to meet the guide at the SAS Travel Peru office to do a pre-trip briefing. Upon arrival, I learned that no one else had booked the trek, therefore: 1) I owed $150 USD more since it was going to be a solo trip and 2) it was going to be me, the guide (Roger), the porter (Porfilio) and the chef (Efrain) on our little adventure. Roger was the only English-speaking member of the group. The others spoke primarily Quecha, which is very different from my mediocre Spanglish.
While this might seem a bit intimidating, I was excited for the opportunity to maybe get off the beaten path and learn more 1:1 about the country and the countryside. Roger and I talked through the itinerary (which I later learned I should have paid more attention to), arranged a pick up time and parted ways until the next morning.
Getting to the trailhead
Just before 6am, I headed down to the meeting point (that circle spot from my Humantay Lake experience) where we would start our journey. As I approached, a normal passenger car drove up. One dude hopped out of the back passenger door and said bye to the other 3 guys in the car. Then, the guide, who I had met the night before, hopped out of the front passenger seat, grabbed my backpack, handed it to the other dude sitting in the back seat and instructed me to get in the front. Totally legit, right?
I got in, and we started driving uphill through Cusco. After we got slightly outside the city limits, the guide asks the driver to pull over, hops out of the car, runs into some house (turned out to be his), comes back with a backpack and we continue on our very confusing, but merry way.
After driving a little further, the driver pulled off the main road onto a dirt side street, at which point I started to wonder if I’m going to get robbed or murdered. A little ways up the road, the car pulled off on the side of the road next to a field. This is where the adventure was to begin. That is, if you don’t count that first super sketchy part as “adventure.”
Starting the trek to Huchuy Qosqo
After eating breakfast at a table that the chef and porter set up in the field, Roger and I began our journey. The first stop, not far from the trailhead, was at a historical bath house called Tambomachay which in Quechua, means “guesthouse cave.” The exact purpose of the site is unknown, but it is thought to have been a spa for the elite Incan political leaders where they could bathe in attempt to clean the mind and spirit of evil.
From here, the trail continues up a steep incline to the Sicllaccasa pass, which offers incredible views of Cusco city, Urubamba river and the Andes mountain range. The hillsides are covered in Andean grass named Ichu, used to thatch the roofs of traditional homes to this day. After the pass, the trail continues to rise up over a second pass overlooking Lake Qoricocha (or Golden Lake in Quechua). This is our lunch spot.
Lunch took about an hour to prepare, so Roger and I laid down next to the lake and took a little nap (though if you ask him, he would tell you he wasn’t sleeping). At this point, we’re pretty much best friends.
After lunch, we continued the trek past numerous apachetas – symbolic offerings representing the devotion to the Pachamama (aka Mother Earth) as well as to the mountains which they often imitate in their forms – and through historical villages that have since been abandoned in exchange for locations closer to common day civilization.
The Inca Trail portion
The final leg to Huchuy Qosqo took us through a narrow canyon featuring an incredible Inca trail complete with Inca stairs, recently restored wooden bridges, Willcamayo river and panoramic views of Lamay Valley and Calca. To say the canyon was beautiful would be a gross understatement. It was stunning. Absolutely amazing. Even more amazing is the thought of Inca people building these trails so long ago in the middle of seemingly nowhere. I guess they didn’t have cell phones in those days.
As we rounded the mountain overlooking Lamay, Huchuy Qosqo came into view. Surrounded by the terraces that are so prevalent throughout the Peru countryside lies the Incan archaeological site named, in Quecha, “Little Cuzco.” This is where we camped for the night.