Steph from Into Latin America has spent many years leading tour groups in South America. Here she gives a personal perspective on her favorite trek: The Inca Trail
How many times do you think you have walked the Inca Trail?
Would you do it again?
Are there any memorable moments from your time on the Inca Trail?
I saw a bear! It was from a distance but visible with the naked eye. We watched it from Runcuracay ruins for a good 20 minutes. Many guides who have done the trail for 20 years plus have still never seen one.
Often I missed the site of Sayacmarca as it would be down to me to go ahead with trekkers who were tired, while the guide did a tour of the site. One time though I had the chance to look around the Sayacmarca and pretty much had it to myself, looking out over the cloud forest and just taking in the peace and beauty of the place.
The cloud forest has a certain smell that I call the Machu Picchu smell. It’s hard to describe but I love it.
What is your most and least favourite part?
Watching the sunrise on Salkantay from Puyupatamarca
The section between Sayacmarca and Puyupatamarca for its variety of flora and birds and views across the valley of dense cloud forest.
Seeing my group arrive at the Sun Gate and getting their first glimpse of Machu Picchu. On the 5 day Inca Trail you get there mid afternoon and I have been able sometimes to sit there for half an hour or so with them, just contemplating Machu Picchu and reflecting on the achievement of getting there.
Pancakes with dulce de leche for breakfast at Puyupatamarca.
Being cold! A down jacket and a good sleeping bag are essential.
Getting to Wiñay Wayna campsite where, if you do the 5 day Inca Trail, you see a lot of people for the first time on day 4. t’s quite a shock after feeling that you are away from it all. A reminder that soon you will be back in the real world when usually I would have been happy to stay out in the sticks for much longer.
What is the reaction of other travelers to do the Inca Trail for the first time?
It’s great to be there when people realize their dream of being in Peru and walking the Inca Trail; and then it exceeds their expectations. I have seen people cry with joy, pain and tiredness but at the end everybody is always exhilarated and that’s great to see.
Who are the other people on the Inca Trail? What’s it like to trek so often with guides and porters?
The Inca Trail team consists of a guide, assistant guide (or 2 if group is larger than 7), a cook, assistant cook, head porter, one porter per 2 customers, and horses (as far as Wayllabamba). Over the years you see many familiar faces, most of them come from the same village. When I first started working on the Inca Trail in 2004, I practiced Spanish a lot by walking with the assistant guide and played countless games of cards with the team. The cooks not only produce amazing meals every single time but also have a tea for every ailment you can think of.
What are your essential things that you always take with you?
Chocolate – you get given plenty of food and snacks but I would save this as a special treat to have at Dead Woman’s or the Runcuracay pass – or both!
A pillow that folds into a small bag, given to me by a customer once.
Coca leaves to share with the porters.
Pack of cards
See here for more on the Inca Trail