One of the 7 wonders of the world, Machu Picchu is the epitome of Incan architecture and technology. Built in the 15th century high in the Andes mountains, the settlement is one of the most archeologically important heritage sites in the Americas.
Machu Picchu is a must see for anyone going to Peru. But how do you visit this secluded beauty point? There are two main ways to visit: by train or by the various trekking routes. We took the 4 day classic Inca trail trek with Alpaca Expeditions. This 43Km expedition takes you through a small portion of the route that the Inca used to get to Machu Picchu.
If you’re travelling on a tight budget, Alpaca Expeditions may not be the one for you – on arriving in Cusco we saw a multitude of tour companies offering similar treks at a much cheaper price. For the thrill-seekers among us the Jungle Trek was also available (zip lines and rafting etc). However, the price of the Alpaca trek was well worth it for us as first-time hikers to Machu Picchu. In terms of ethical tourism, the company was founded by two former porters, and all their staff are paid fair wages (unfortunately not commonplace in the Sacred Valley), and purified water was provided to minimise the use of plastic bottles. No matter which company you choose to hike with, the porters are incredible – they carry EVERYTHING (including toilet tents on our trip), and practically sprint up inclines that took us hours.
Day 1: Llactapata- Ayapata
The journey began with a 4:00am pickup from our hostel in Cusco followed by a 3 hour coach journey to our start point at ‘KM 82’.
The first 2 hours of the trek were a relatively easy venture to the ancient site of Patallacta, an ancient Incan settlement abandoned in the 1530s.
It took our group around 7 hours to get to the campsite at Ayapata, 3,300m above sea level. To give you an insight into the standard of food we were served on this trip, here is a recap of what we ate on the first day (snacks were also provided for during the hike):
Breakfast – a selection of fruit, bread, and eggs.
Lunch – a starter of pumpkin soup, followed by a buffet (including INCREDIBLE trout).
‘Happy Hour’ – popcorn and hot chocolate.
Dinner – a starter of coriander soup, followed by another buffet-style meal, with bananas flambeed in pisco, and a personalised birthday cake for one of our fellow hikers.
Day 2: Dead woman’s pass to Chaquiccocha
This was the toughest day of the trek, setting off at 5:30am to summit 2 mountain passes and reaching altitudes of over 4200m above sea level. Today consisted of climbing a lot of steps, in both directions.
The 4 hour journey up ‘Dead woman’s pass’ is certainly a challenge. I can see why it is recommended that trekkers carry out some degree of training beforehand. However the view from the summit makes it all worth it.
It took almost 12 hours in total for the entire group to make it to the campsite at Chaquiccocha (with some of the group, including Elliot, finishing in around 8 hours), but it was worth it for the breathtaking views and the furry friends nearby. Each day, we were provided with hot water for our feet/hands/face after the long trek.
DAY 3: Chaquiccocha – Wiñaywayna
The penultimate day of the adventure was a 5 hour trek to the Incan ruin of Wiñaywayna.
The third day was a much more manageable 5 hour trek to our campsite with what the porters describe as an ‘Inca flat’ (gradual inclines) through forest and mountains. We arrived at the campsite at around 2pm, where we had another incredible lunch. This point in the trip was an opportunity to thank the porters and the guides for the help and guidance they had given us along the way. The chefs prepared a final delicious meal as well as another incredible cake.
Day 4: The sun gate AND MACHU PICCHU
We were woken up at the ungodly hour of 3am in order to get in front of the queue to hike to Machu Picchu and the sun gate, however the checkpoint didn’t actually open until 5:30am. We used head torches in order to walk the remaining hour or so to the sun gate. At around 7:45 we made it to our final destination: the lost city of the Incas. Seeing this incredible site for the first time is a truly magical experience that took our breath away, and one that we will never forget. We were given a 2 hour guided tour around the site, and lots more information about the history and culture of the Inca to add to what we had learnt over the last four days. Additionally with Alpaca Expeditions, there was the option to climb Huanya Picchu (the biggest peak pictured behind the citadel) for an extra $75.
After we finished our tour, we were given our bus tickets before having some free time to explore further. We then took the bus down to Aguas Calientes where we were reunited with our group for a final (optional) lunch in a local restaurant, before saying our goodbyes and boarding the train.
Our experience with Alpaca Expeditions was such a fantastic way to see Machu Picchu for the first time; the equipment we rented was great quality, and we were cared for so well by all the staff, from pick-up at our first hostel, right the way through to drop-off at our airbnb back in Cusco. Obviously we understand that that the price point of the tour is not accessible to all students travelling on a budget, but if you are able to spend a bit more to support an ethical business such as Alpaca Expeditions, we would definitely recommend it.
Have you visited Machu Picchu? Or maybe it’s on your South America bucket list? Leave us a comment below, or ask any questions you may have about this incredible ancient city.