The Inca Trail was always going to be one of the most memorable parts of our trip and one that we were looking forward to both with excitement and slight trepidation. The trek is a four day, three night expedition (with some extra bits tagged onto either end). I had many concerns about this trek including the altitude sickness, beetles (any creepy crawleys really), camping, lack of toilets/showers to name but a few. Rich on the other hand had none of these worries and is the camping loving sort ?Due to this we felt it was fitting that I write the blog for the first few days of this adventure for any of those who may be nervous about taking on a trip like this…..
As with our previous group trips, we’d signed up with G Adventures to do the Inca Trail (the tour was called Inca Odyssey) and so had quite a jam-packed itinerary:
- Day 1 – A day to ourselves exploring Lima before we met some of our group in the evening ready for a flight up to Cusco.
- Day 2 – Flight up to Cusco, with a quick orientation walk before meeting the rest of our group in the evening to be briefed on the Inca Trail
- Day 3 – A trip through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo and a last night in a hotel!
- Day 4 – First day of trekking – supposedly an easy day!
- Day 5 – Day two of trekking and supposedly the worst day of the whole trek with the top altitude reached as we crossed Dead Woman’s Pass.
- Day 6 – Day three of trekking – the longest walk but lower altitude than the previous day.
- Day 7 – Machu Picchu day! An early start and trip around Machu Picchu before heading back to civilisation in Cusco.
- Day 8 – An additional day we’d added to rest and recover in Cusco.
- Day 9 – Our travel day of hell – more to come on this later! The first leg on our journey to the Cook Islands.
Lima First Impressions
Arriving in Lima, G Adventures had a car ready and waiting for us at the airport. I was particularly nervous (as usual) about this drive into town as previous travellers we had met told us that some of the poorest shanty towns are on the outskirts close to the airport and their bags had been robbed in G Adventures cars during rush hour by groups on mopeds. If you’re in Lima, they say to keep your bags on the ground and keep your phones in your bags when in the car. On our way to the hotel, there was a massive cross made out of electric pylons illuminated on Morro Solar hill which was erected as a welcome gesture to Pope John Paul ll, it is lit up every night and is quite spectacular even though we were a good distance away.
Our driver the night before had recommended just heading into the old town on our own and not joining any walking tours so that’s just what we did – grabbing an Uber from our hotel in Miraflores into the main town. It was quite incredible that a 45 minute taxi ride only cost about £3 (the traffic is appalling in Lima). We got dropped off at the Plaza des Armas where we were lucky enough to catch the changing of the guard with an accompanying brass band. This area is heavily guarded by police with machine guns and very vicious looking dogs which was a little off-putting (I’ve never seen security like this in a public area)!
Over 11 million people live in Lima, a third of the Peruvian population so it’s absolutely huge. Considering the number of people living here, the city was litter-free but was highly polluted with a smog engulfing the city.
We decided to have a look around the Basilico de Franscisco, still an active monastery, with it’s slightly ghoulish catacombs. It was quite interesting but also disconcerting to see so many human skulls and bones everywhere! South America is extremely religious and people used to pay high amounts of money to be buried in these catacombs (it was seen as a sign of prestige to be as close to the altar as possible). Eventually the catacombs became too full so the church started throwing human remains into the wells under the church. There are wells completely full of bones in the catacombs. The smell eventually started seeping up through the church, so to combat this they used incense to mask the smells. Thankfully the smell is gone now! Interestingly the wells under the monastery also helped keep the building stabilised and so the church has never been affected by earthquakes. We had wanted to head back to Miraflores to catch the Inca Ruins in the centre of town but sod’s law meant that they weren’t open the one day we were in Lima (they’re closed on a Tuesday for some reason!). We headed back into Miraflores all the same and had a little wander.
Later on that evening, we met some of our group who we would be flying to Cusco with and taking on the Inca Trail. We also met some super Aussies who had just completed the trail with another company called Intrepid. They very kindly gave some of us their unused ponchos for the trek and some leftover altitude sickness tablets. In hindsight ……….this was probably a bit risky taking somebody else’s tablets with us for our flight to Cusco the next day. As it turned out we got passed the sniffer dogs (perhaps this adventure has made us too chilled)! We all headed to Parque Kennedy and got our first taste of christmas with lots of jolly music coming from various children’ choirs. Little did we know that Westlife’s You Raise Me Up is a hit christmas song in Cusco. When in Peru, you have to try some of the local delicacies like guinea pig and alpaca. Rich tried the local alpacha and was pleasantly suprised although our taxi driver did recommend meat is better further inland. I stayed with the safe option of fish which is recommended down in Lima as its beside the Pacific Ocean.
I personally felt safe in Lima and had no issues, you just need to be sensible – watch your bags and take normal precautions.
Hitting the Heights in Cusco
Our flight from Lima to Cusco was 1.5 hours (our 11th flight in less than four weeks). We went from sea level to about 3399 metres up, deep into the Andes mountains. We were lucky to get a cloud free day and the views through the Andes were spectacular. Towards the end of the flight, the plane started swaying and swerving through the Andes making for a very turbulent/interesting landing (I’ve never been so glad to be out of a plane).
From here we took a G Adventures bus into the city of Cusco (watch out for people at the airport wanting to help you with your luggage, they will expect a tip for carrying your luggage a couple of metres). On arrival at the Prisma Hotel (aka bed bug hotel – more to come on that!), we were greeted and given our first of many cups of coca tea. It is like a strong green tea with a hint of farm added (not sure that will make sense to anyone but it’s the best description I can think of!). The altitude hit us like a brick wall and the slightest of movements felt exhausting – just lifting our bags was a workout. Tiny steps were the name of the game – I’ve never covered so little distance in so many steps. Feeling like this added to the worry about the trek.
Heading into the main square in Cusco, the architecture is a beautiful, heavily influenced by Spanish and Moorish culture. The Spanish missionaries brought Christianity to Peru and destroyed a lot of the original architecture and Inca sights. The Peruvians beliefs were based originally on the elements: mountains, sun, water, mother earth etc. There are some beautiful churches to see and visit. Expect to be greeted at every corner with offers of free tours (they expect tips) and endless offers of $20 massages. Be warned with massages, unless you go to a good place, you will be brought to a location and your bags may get rinsed apparently! One of the group was offered a massage for $20 but on arrival were told a massage would be $40 if they wanted some pressure applied. We personally felt people were trying to rip us off at every corner but we may have just been a bit unfortunate. There are Peruvians dressed in traditional dress asking to take pictures with their alpacas (watch out for fake alpachas – some of them are goats!). I guess everyone is just trying to make some money but the phrase ‘no gracias’ comes in very useful around the touristy areas (or with some people just a good old NO).