INCA TRAIL DAY 1 KM 82 TO WAYLLABAMBA
Terraced agricultural steps along a mountain slope in Peru’s Sacred Valley as we trekked along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Intro: As we headed out towards KM 82 and the official start of the Inca Trail, we were all in high spirits for what turned out to be an unforgettable first day of trekking and getting to know our incredible porters.
And so it begins – the first day of our Inca Trail trek with G Adventures. The following series of posts are going to be my insight into trekking Peru’s Inca Trail, rather than reviews or tips (which I’ll highlight in future posts), as I really want to share the images I took and the overall experience I encountered.
Lots of smiles from our G Adventures trekking group as we were feeling fresh on the first day of the Inca Trail.
For what it’s worth, this perspective is coming from a 31-year old, full-time wedding photographer who grew up in Southern California (USA). I started traveling outside the country for work in 2008 and for fun in 2011, and got into the outdoors/hiking/camping in the summer of 2013. The funny thing is, I visited Peru in early 2012 as part of a two-week trip across South America and had actually already been to Machu Picchu. But that was in a large bus that traveled from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, followed by a train ride to Aguas Calientes – a totally different (and more popular) experience.
A little bit of a backstory if I may. While on that train to the doorsteps of Machu Picchu, I remember sitting across a newlywed couple who carried with them a decent-sized backpack. My curiosity led me to ask them what they were up to and the couple mentioned that they were doing part of the Inca Trail trek. The what? How? Isn’t it dangerous to just walk around in the woods on their own? What about shelter and food?
Passing by a beautiful, wild horse as we headed towards Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail.
My naive mind wasn’t able to quite comprehend what this couple were saying, especially since this was way before I ever went on my first camping (or even hiking) trip. Things got even more confusing for me when the train stopped literally in the middle of the woods just so the couple (along with their guide who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere) could get off and start their adventure. Since then, the thought of looking into whatever this “Inca Trail” was had always been on the back of my mind.
That was all in January of 2012. Fast forward two years later, and with a bit more hiking and camping experience under my belt, I convinced Charlene that we should go to Peru and do the 4-day Inca Trail trek for our 1-year wedding anniversary. Everything had finally come full circles for me, and here I was, back in Ollantaytambo, not to catch a train ride to Machu Picchu, but instead follow the same path as the Incas did several hundred years ago.
Driving through the rural landscapes of Peru’s Sacred Valley en route from Ollantaytambo to the start of the Inca Trail at KM 82.
After a light breakfast at Ollantaytambo Lodge and making sure we had everything we needed in our duffle bag (for the porters to carry), as well as our backpacks (for each of us to carry), we hopped into our van and headed to KM 82. During this 30-40 minute drive to the official start of the Inca Trail trek, we passed by several homes, farms, and children waving at us. The road was a bit bumpy and appeared to be only one lane, but our driver did a fantastic job maneuvering around oncoming traffic, ensuring we got to our destination safely.
The first glimpse of our amazing G Adventures Inca Trail porters, busy preparing our camping equipment.
Even before getting out of the van when we arrived at KM 82, I could already see through the window a group of nearly two dozen men wearing bold purple shirts and back protection belts around their waists. They were packing away rather large bags filled with all sorts of essentials for the entire trek. Our wonderful CEO (Chief Experience Officer) and tour guide Jeiko introduced our group to the G Adventures…porters! I can’t speak for the other folks in our group, but for Charlene and myself, these gentlemen were THE heart and soul of our entire Inca Trail trek, and was what made the whole experience that much more special.
One of our G Adventures porters packing the huge bag he would carry the entire Inca Trail trek.
Not too long after we greeted our porters and gave them our duffel bags to carry, we each went about our own routine to get ready for the first day of the trek. Many of us went to use the nearby restroom, put on some sunblock, and for those that brought trekking poles like myself and Charlene, we got those unlocked and extended. As for me, I made sure my tripod was secured tightly on the side of my backpack and got my DSLR out and ready around my neck. In a weird way, I was proud to have what appeared to be the heaviest backpack among all the trekkers – a good 25-30lbs with all my camera equipment!
Our G Adventures trekking group preparing to depart KM 82 on the first day of our Inca Trail small group adventure.
The open, grassy area where we met our porters was quite busy, with at least 50 other trekkers also getting ready for the journey that lay ahead. While it took us all a good while to get ourselves and our backpacks ready, our amazing porters only needed a few minutes to pack our duffel bags (along with everything else they were carrying) and make their way to the Inca Trail check-in point. And when I say everything, I truly mean everything! Tents, sleeping pads, food, tables, chairs, cooking equipment, you name it, they had it! And not just for our group of nine (including Jeiko), but also for themselves.
One of our trekking group JP attempts to lift an incredibly heavy backpack that our porters were going to carry along the Inca Trail.
No wonder we needed over a dozen porters! I remember one of our traveler friends JP trying to lift and carry one of the G Adventures backpacks the porters were going to carry. It didn’t take long for him to put it right back down. I tried the same thing the following day, mainly out of curiosity, and only made it a few steps before having to drop the backpack.
There’s many great things about the Inca Trail trek, and one of them is how strict the government is on its rules and regulations. Essentially every trekker must have a permit in advance to “get in” (as in get through the entrance gate at KM 82). There’s a maximum quota per day so the trails and campsites won’t get too crowded and, as far as I know, there’s no way to get a permit on the day of the trek (it would be a huge gamble to just wait until you’re actually there!).
Charlene all packed and ready to go as we made our final preparations for the Inca Trail at KM 82.
While permits can be difficult to get, G Adventures took care of this when we booked the trip through them at the end of February. Actually, we were quite lucky to get permits at all, as we booked the trip last-minute and mid-March can be a very busy time on the Inca Trail.
In addition to enforcing quotas and requiring a permit, I don’t recall seeing any trekkers without an official guide. Unlike some other famous hikes around the world, I believe you must have an official guide for the Inca Trail. Not that you could easily get lost (as there is only one main trail all the way to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu), but more so that trekkers don’t camp in prohibited areas, or leave trash behind.
Along with having porters do all the heavy carrying, having a guide ensures a safe trek, enriched with details you might miss if you went at it on your own. Speaking of trash, as the saying goes: “Pack it in. Pack it out.” I didn’t see one single trash can on the entire trail. That means you (or rather the porters) have to carry all the trash (yes ALL the trash) the entire time.
Looking down toward the Urubamba River that flows through Peru’s Sacred Valley as each of our porters has their bags weighed by the Inca Trail officials.
Lastly, for the safety of the porters, each is limited to carrying 20kg (or 44lbs), so before passing through the main security gate at KM 82, each porter had to have their backpack weighed. I really appreciated the government upholding these rules and regulations for the Inca Trail and its workers. They not only provide a safe environment for guides, trekkers, porters, and the locals living along the trail, but also ensure that the journey can be enjoyed for many, many years to come.
Standing under the “Camino Inka Inka Trail” sign at the start of our Inca Trail adventure from KM 82.
Getting back to the trek itself. Right before officially taking our first steps along the Inca Trail after passing through the security gate (and getting the first of many stamps in my U.S. Passport book!), our group (along with the porters) posed for a photo right in front of the “Camino Inka-Inka Trail” sign. Before we were able to look over at our porters and thank them for the photo op, they were already off on the trail.
An information board at the start of the Inca Trail with a few last minute reminders before we were off!
Jeiko mentioned that we should always give the right of way to the porters, whether from our group or another. Due to time, and perhaps even space constraints, it’s vital the porters get to the next destination before their trekking group, usually to set up lunch and/or the camp for the night. So off our porters went, blazing along the trail ahead in their G Adventures backpacks and shirts.
Our first crossing over the beautiful Urubamba River that cuts through Peru’s Sacred Valley along the Inca Trail.
To say the scenery was breathtaking would be an understatement. Right from the get go we saw gorgeous mountains in the distance, the famous Urubamba River cutting through the valley on the right hand side of the trail, and a variety of plants, trees and animals native to the region! I remember Jeiko pulling all of us aside not too long before starting the hike and asking us to just close our eyes, take in some deep breaths, and soak in our new surroundings.
Jeiko giving us a group talk and “pep” session, just after we left the entrance point to the Inca Trail at KM 82.
It was an opportunity to cleanse our minds and bodies, and embrace the challenge that lay ahead of us. He also opened up a native fruit that lay nearby and used its pasty substance as “war paint” on our faces. Okay, maybe not quite war paint, but I think it was to symbolize the significance of what we were embarking on.
Tasting a delicious fruit being sold on the side of the Inca Trail by a local Peruvian woman.
Although there weren’t a ton of locals along the trail, the few that we saw and interacted with added a personal element to the experience. For example, about half an hour into our hike, a lady on the side of our route was selling a local fruit. Jeiko bought a few for us to try, and it was actually quite good! Had Charlene not warned me about risking any potential dietary problems, I probably would’ve bought a handful more and ate them as we trekked.
A spectacular view of the Urubamba River as it cuts through Peru’s Sacred Valley along the Inca Trail.
One of my favorite moments came after we had hiked for about 1 1/2 hours from the KM 82 entrance, arriving at a high viewpoint from where we could look back and see the Urubamba River dividing the left and right sides of the mountains. Being that I was always the last person in the group (much to the delight of the others and Jeiko…or not :P), I slowed myself down even more by setting up my tripod and taking some HDR (high dynamic range) photos at this location. I eventually caught up to them at the next resting spot though!
Our G Adventures porters looking determined as they trekked passed us on day 1 of the Inca Trail.
From walking through shallow streams in the forests (and stopping to do some long exposure shots!) to observing wild horses on the open plains and having a delicious lunch, the day was filled with so many amazing moments. I was in complete awe at how quickly the porters set up and took down everything, and loved cheering them on as they quickly passed us by (while we were busy huffing and puffing away).
Our spacious and comfortable G Adventures dining tent, which was rapidly set up by our porters at each lunch and dinner stop.
I also remember watching Jeiko rub the belly of a pig with a trekking pole (yes that really happened). All these little things combined to make memorable moments and plenty of laughter every few steps we took towards our campsite for the night.
A small pig lying next to my backpack enjoying a tummy rub by our tour guide Jeiko’s trekking pole.
When we finally reached Wayllabamba, guess what…surprise surprise…our amazing porters had not only beaten us there (even though they left our lunch stop AFTER us after cleaning up our mess), but had already set up our tents and had hot chocolate and popcorn ready for us. If that’s not impeccable service, then I don’t know what is!
However, my favorite moment of our first day on the Inca Trail wasn’t what happened during the hike, but what was to follow after we all arrived at our campsite. Not only did our porters give us high fives, but we had the time to really get to know these men, something that made the whole trek unforgettable.
Our porters giving JP a high five as he arrives at our first campsite along the Inca Trail – Wayllabamba.
We had left KM 82 around 10AM, trekking the 12 kilometers to the Wayllabamba campsite and arriving in daylight. Including our lunch stop and half a dozen short breaks, I would say our first days trekking came in at around 6 hours. As the saying goes: “Photos speak a thousand words”, so I’ll let the images do the talking, but stay tuned for the following day’s adventures on the Inca Trail, as well as a recap of the Wayllabamba campsite.
INCA TRAIL TREKKING DETAILS
Day: 1 of 4
Start: KM 82 (2,600 meters)
End: Wayllabamba (3,000 meters)
Elevation change: +400 meters
Distance: 12 kilometers
Time: 6 hours