Talk to anyone who has hiked the Inca Trail and they will tell you it was an amazing experience. They will wax on about the rigors of the trail and the splendor of reaching Machu Picchu at sunrise. But, what exactly makes the experience of hiking the Inca Trail so amazing?
1) The challenge. I hiked every weekend for months before tackling the Inca Trail. Yet when I woke up the morning of the hike, I had a knot the size of a grapefruit in the pit of my stomach. Would I make it? Would I hold up the group because I was hiking too slowly? Would I get altitude sickness? When I triumphantly joined my group at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass on the second day, a wave of relief washed over me. When I stumbled into camp after a grueling 10-hour hike the third day, I knew the worst was over. And, when I arrived at Machu Picchu just as the sun was peeking over the horizon casting long shadows over the lost city, I was elated. There is something about taking on a challenge and succeeding that is incredibly gratifying.
2) The relationships. I hiked the Inca Trail with people I had never met. Of course, I was worried that we wouldn’t get along or that I wouldn’t fit in. Somewhere along the trail, though, we bonded. We encouraged each other to keep going as we summitted not one, but two 14,000 foot peaks, we commiserated over sore muscles and blisters, and we celebrated when we finally made it to Machu Picchu. Before we went our separate ways, we exchanged contact information and in short order friended each other on Facebook. These are people I will always hold in a special place in my heart.
3) The scenery. The Inca Trail winds its way over wind swept mountaintops and into the lush jungle vegetation of cloud forests. The scenery is so spectacular its hard not to stop to take a photo at every turn. The Inca ruins we explored along the way made the journey even more haunting. I felt like the ghosts of Incas past were accompanying us to Machu Picchu. I had imagined the Inca Trail as more of an Inca highway packed with tourists. It was nothing like that. I saw other hikers on the trail, but I also had time where I was completely alone.
4) The food. My camping menu usually revolves around re-heated Spaghetti O’s. In contrast, food on the Inca Trail was surprisingly good. We had pancakes for breakfast, trout and a fresh salad for lunch, and a beef dish called lomo saltado for dinner. The cook even made a fully baked and iced cake one night. I still don’t know how he did it.
5) The bragging rights. Saying you hiked the Inca Trail comes with well earned bragging rights. People are usually surprised and impressed. To be honest, it is still a great source of pride for me.
The Inca Trail will always be one of the highlights of my many trips to Peru.