Four Days: Walking to Machu Picchu
Aug 09, 2023
Road trips

Four Days: Walking to Machu Picchu

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For Machu Picchu, most things start at Cusco. We were only a couple of weeks into backpacking across South America and were just beginning to appreciate how elastic time is, how a bus trip can stop in the middle of nowhere and you have to hire a taxi driven by the bus driver’s brother and so it goes. In reality, this is just the way things are and time isn’t important. But we had to be in Cusco on a given day and that was that.

The walk takes 4 days and 3 nights and the journey inland and through the mountains was better than arriving at our destination.

It was an escorted trek, and you could hire a porter (we didn’t) to assist you. There was secure storage if you wanted to leave any belongings at Cusco. Clothing was a challenge as it was going to be very hot on the walk but potentially cold at night. Most people opted for t-shirts but supplemented this with a Cagoul. Footwear was predominantly trekking shoes or boots. Some people wore trainers, but these were not ideal.

Day 1. A bus took us to kilometre 82 on the Urubamba River (yes that’s the name of the start). After walking for 14 kms and 6 hours we came to Wayllabamba. Throughout the trek the porters run ahead to prepare the tents and food. We had heard stories about the meat turning rancid on these trips, and there was much advice to convert to being a vegetarian, but in reality the food was fine and plentiful. The first day was relatively easy with gentle climbs. We saw our first Inca ruins, and at 2380 metres in altitude at the start, this wasn’t a challenge.

Day 2. Planned for 12 kms and 7 hours of walking up to 4200 metres and then a small drop down to camp at 3600 metres. At the top was Dead Woman’s Pass, and we knew that altitude sickness was a serious threat. The terrain started to change and we entered a forest micro climate before coming out onto the Puna grasslands which would peak at 4200 metres. We were above the tree line here and very close to the snow line. Views were fantastic, and our campsite at Pacaymayo was close to a small river. At night there were shooting stars and the Milky Way was crystal clear and bright in the night sky.

Day 3. 16 kms and 6 hours we would cross the Runquracauy Pass, trek through high jungle and then begin the hard walk downhill towards our destination. This was unforgettable country with many Inca ruins, dramatic views and steep cliffs all around. The walking remained along good paths, many of which were made of stone. There were two Inca tunnels to walk through with unforgettable lichen and moss forest.

When we camped that night, we knew we were just 2 hours and 7 kms from Machu Picchu. Our guides had explained that there would be an early start to get to Machu Picchu before the sun. We would then have some time to explore before that day’s tourists arrived at 10.30 am.

Day 4. We walked through high jungle and bamboo forests with increasing excitement, and then we were there at Inti Punku, the Gate of the Sun and Machu Picchu was laid out before us. At 2400 metres, it was barely 20m higher than Cusco, where we had started! The mists swirled around and the views were intermittent, but so worthwhile.

We then took a bus down the Hiram Bingham highway to Aguas Calientes.