Lifelist: Inca Trail

I’m dragging out another feature for our lifelist feature, this one is actually a rehash of an older post that, well, you know how quickly stuff gets lost in time. Anyway, as you will recall, a lifelist is a detailed (or not so detailed depending on how anal retentive you are) enumeration of experiences that you hope to some day complete. Everyone has different tastes and varying visions of the things they want to accomplish in life, but we try to help that process along by suggesting things you might not otherwise have thought of.

So today’s lifelist recommendation is one that will appeal to both hikers and fans of ancient South American history. The Inca Trail is a legendary trek that will have you gasping for air at high altitudes and gaping at magnificent ruins the likes of which exist nowhere else on the planet (and some believe they were actually built by aliens…I’ll not get into that, though there is a whole industry of these folks).

The culmination of the Inca Trail trip is your arrival at the ruiins of Machu Picchu. I could spend many paragraphs describing the ruins, for they are truly spectacular. Chances are you’ve seen the photos, or seen a documentary or two, but there is NOTHING quite like wandering among them for yourself. Of course, you don’t have to trek the Inca Trail to reach the ruins, but you’d have to be old and immobile, very short on time or a complete pussy not to hike the trail to reach them. And the more days you take to do this, the better.

Finding an Outfitter
As you might imagine, there are scores of outfitters who do Inca Trail trips, most of them out of Cuzco (which is itself a marvelous city). One of the best is Peru Treks and Adventure who is known for contributing to the local community. Big-time outfitter Mountain Sobek also offers a trip there that includes a five day hike to the ruins. A list of other outfitters can be found here.

The Hike
As I say, you should spend several days hiking the trail to reach Machu Picchu. You should be in passable shape as sections of the trail are actually rather difficult. At certain stages along the way you reach altitudes of almost 14,000 feet. One of the most challenging parts of the hike is ambling (and most likely chuffing) over “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 13,900 feet.

Each night (assuming good weather), you will camp beneath some of the clearest skies you have ever seen…the milky way is so thick you might have the urge to dip your cup into it. Of course, all along the way, you pass other lesser-known ruins like Runkuraqay and Sayaqmarka. For a brief overview of some of the sites you will see along the way, check out this link.

Reaching the Ruins
Now as someone who has done the Inca Trail I have one key suggestion (other than being SURE to go on a multi-day hike): reach the ruins early. One of the singular experiences of your lifetime will be passing through the Gate of the Sun on your final morning. The ruins reveal themselves at the top of a rise and will not only take your breath away, but you are also likely to wet your pants (or so happened to one of my colleagues…although some previously consumed bad water might have also had something to do with it :-)).

Other Links and Stories
Tim Leffell, who’s Cheapest Destinations site is a must for budget minded travelers, wrote this superb peice on what you need to consider when planning for and hiking the Inca Trail. World 66 offers this excellent, and quite recent overview of what to expect along the trail. Another travelogue can be found here.

So that’s that. Add a hike to the Inca Trail to your lifelist if it is not there already. And if you’ve done the trail, leave some tips and comments for folks who might be thinking about it.