The only south american adventure we´d booked prior to arriving here was our Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu, and the time had finally come. We´d booked in advance because we´d been told that the only way to see machu picchu was via the Inca Trail, and that this had to be booked at least 3 months in advance as they only let a certain amount of people do it per day. You can imagine our surprise then when we arrived in Cusco to be greeted with hoardes of tourist offices offering trains, minibuses and treks to Machu Picchu! However, as we´d already paid for our Machu Picchu trip, there was nothing for it but to make the most of it and join the rest of our group for the first day of the tour.
The towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo lie in the sacred valley of the Incas, which is on the route from Cusco to Machu Picchu. These towns are both surrounded by Incan terraces, used for agriculture, and ruins of Incan buildings. It was here that our guide for the tour, Marcelhino, provided our first real insight into Incan history and it was fascinating to begin to understand about this revolutionary and mystical culture. The Incas came to power in the 12th century, and ruled much of Peru, Bolivia and Chile until they were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th Century. History lesson over we spent our final night in a bed in Ollantaytambo, as the next morning we were to begin our much anticipated 4 day Inca Trail trek to the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu.
The Inca Trail is a 45km trek through some challenging Andean passes, and so although Anna and I had done a few challenging treks in Bolivia, we set off feeling slightly anxious about whether we´d be able to complete the trek. It turned out that this Inca Trail trek was indeed the route that the Incas had used to reach Machu Picchu, and was still the only way to reach Machu Picchu on foot. We walked through stunning mountain scenery, forested mountains stretching as far as the eye could see, punctuated by the occasional snow-capped peak. We camped on steep mountain hillsides, waking up to spectacular views which encouraged us to begin walking again. Along this route we encountered and explored several other important Incan temples, fortresses and homesteads, which served to increase our excitement for reaching Machu Picchu.
We became totally absorbed in the landscape and the Incan history, and the fact that this was the route that the Incas used to reach Machu Picchu meant that it felt like we were following thousands of ancient footprints. The other main advantage of doing the real Inca Trail as opposed to using modern transport was that our anticpation was built up over 4 days of walking, knowing that we were nearing our destination the whole time. We all loved the trek, but a fear began to emerge; would the destination match the journey?
We needn´t have worried. As Anna and I walked through the Incan Sun Gate, 500 metres above Machu Picchu, the dawn sunlight cascaded over the mountain behind us and illuminated this magical wonder of the world. We were the first two people to see Machu Pichu, having practically ran up the mountain, and the beauty of what we saw stunned us into silence. I´ve been lucky enough to see 3 wonders of the world previously and they all look fantastic in pictures, but this scene was more than that. No matter how many pictures we took, we found it impossible to capture the dramatic mountain setting crowned with the mystical lost city reflecting the dawn sunlight.
This humbling experience exceeded everything that we could´ve hoped for, and booking the real Inca Trail trek was definitely worth the extra expense. This trip also brought to a close the first chapter of my adventure, as I´m saying goodbye to my constant travel buddy, Anna, as she´s heading back to the real world. She´s been a great travel companion; chilled out, enthuasiatic about anything and everything, and completely open-minded our wild and often crazy adventures. Good luck in your final year of uni Anna!!