What to expect on the first day of The Inca Trail
My new tent buddy had a penchant for trekking way ahead of the group, leaving the dust to settle in her professional boot prints behind her.
The other eight on our team were couples.
Two from the UK. A half of one a older Doctor (much to everyone's delight) of lofty intelligence, tempered by his partners’ youthful energy. The second couples English composure was highlighted by the other twos, who hailed from the US of A.
On a friends stellar recommendation, we booked more than six months in advance with Peru Treks, a reputable company who pay their porters fair wages, cook outstanding food and employ passionate guides.
At the time we booked, Peru had limited the amount of people allowed on the trail to 500 each day, 200 of which were hikers. Once you see Machu Picchu you understand why. To avoid further overcrowding and degradation, tougher rules have come into place since February 2018.
Day 1: Cusco to Wayllabamba - 12km.
After a pre-dawn pickup we drove two and a half hours to Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley, for breakkie.
That first day we all met, we were fresh, showered and smiling because no body had gotten any diarrhoea yet.
After breakfast we drove to the start of the trail, KM82, so called as it is located 82 KM down the railway line between Cusco and Machu Picchu. From there we crossed the Vilcanota river via a long, wooden bridge that wobbled side to side with each step.
On the other side of the river we continued on uphill, passing through a small village along the way.
When the Incas conquered the area they built a fort with a good view up and down the Urubamba valley, in order to control the entrance to the Cusichaca Valley. You can see the ruins of the fort just up above the river Cusichaca, which is where your headed for lunch that first day (and where you witness for the first time the magical abilities of the porters).
Do I sound like I know what I'm talking about? That's because that first day is when the guides really set the scene for you. It’s a easy descent to the river, with clear views of the Urubamba Mountain range. The ruins of the Inca ‘upper town’ named Llactapata, believed to be an agricultural station used to supply Machu Picchu with the king of all crops, maize, were discovered here by Hiram Bingham in 1911.
Camp is set that first night at Wayllabamba (‘grassy plain’ in Quechua). It’s an easy transition into camping life. After a quick exploration of the small ruins in the area, you can grab a beer at the makeshift bar, salute yourself on a good start to the trek, then turn in for an early night - day 2 is the hardest part of the trail.