Hiking the Inca Trail: A Peruvian Adventure to Remember | Winsome Photos | Minneapolis, MN

Wrapping up our last wedding of the 2022 season, we were able to take one deep breath of relief before I set out to fly out of the country. My final destination: the beautiful country of Peru in South America to hike the Inca Trail with our dear friends, Bob and Thomasina, and crew from Waking Nomad.

After what felt like days of running around airports to catch connecting flights, we finally landed in Cusco, Peru on November 6th. The vibrant, energetic culture of Peru was swarming all around us and before we even stepped both feet out of the hotel, two Peruvian women were standing with alpacas to take our picture. Walking through town and exploring the market, we were blown away by the respect for tradition and history the Peruvian culture holds.

Waking up the next morning, we began our adventures with a tour that explored the Incan history Cusco has to offer. As we explored different structures and buildings, our guide told us all of these amazing facts about how the Inca built these landmarks with such limited tools and resources. The rest of the day was spent exploring the many amazing spots around Cusco.

We woke up the next day and started out with a yoga session, led by Thomasina from Waking Nomad. We exolore Ollantaytambo–the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti–and the Maras Salt Mine. These spots, much like the rest of Peru, were so rich with history and remarkable architecture.

That evening, our descent on the Inca Trail began. When we arrived to camp, our crew of porters had everything prepared for our journey; they even served us a five course Peruvian meal!

Waking up early and eating a light breakfast, we were back on the trail! Our porters went ahead of us to meet us at our next checkpoint. Our legs were shaking and cramping by the time we made it to Dead Woman’s Pass–the highest point of the Inca Trail. Due to the elevation, we were in for the coldest night of the hike.

Before we knew it, it was time to start Day 3 of the hike. The porter crew woke us up at around 6AM with warm Munya tea. Watching the sunrise was absolutely amazing as it peeked through the many clouds.

We were greeted with a 4AM wake up call as we prepared for our last day on the hike. Today, we were finally going to arrive at Machu Picchu! As we made it to the overlook at Machu Picchu, a crowd of people had gathered at the lookout. Looking out, all you could see were dense clouds. We all waited in anticipation as the clouds cleared and when they finally did, people started cheering.

Looking down at Machu Picchu, an overwhelming sensation of gratitude overtook us all! Our journey over the last four days to hike the Inca Trail had finally come to an end for this very moment. This was moment was absolutely sensational!

There was an optional hike up to the peak of Waynapicchu that many of our crew opted in to participate in. Ropes helped us climb the steep stone stairs leading up to the peak. At the very top, you could see everything through the valley.

hike the inca trail, macchu picchu

The next day, we piled into a van for another day of sight-seeing as we made our way back to Cusco. It was a great way to decompress after our hike on the Inca Trail.

The following day, we said goodbye to the majority of the group. We hung around Cusco, sipped on some coffee, picked up last-minute souvenirs, and reminisced on the last week’s adventures. It was a bittersweet goodbye as we were able to build beautiful friendships along this journey.

Aaron’s Interview: Everything You Need to Know to Prepare to Hike the Inca Trail

What inspired you to hike the Inca Trail in Peru, and how did you prepare for this adventure?  

Our good friends, Bob and Thomasina from Waking Nomad, were putting this adventure together as a transformational experience. They partnered with me to document this adventure and I was more than excited! I knew this was something I wanted to do to challenge myself mentally and physically while immersing myself to learn more about this vast world. I’ve always been intrigued by the Incan history and the way of the Peruvian lifestyle. To prepare, I was watching Youtube videos and reaching out to some of my hiking friends for recommendations. I would go on extra hikes and train the best I could to stay in shape for the trek.

The Inca Trail is known for its stunning landscapes and archaeological sites. Share a memorable, striking moment or sight that stood out to you during the hike. 

There were so many stunning views along the way. As we started we went through some remote villages. Their way of life is so amazing. They would have to travel so far to gather supplies and prepare for harsh weather. There were kids playing and working, all around. Everything is just so simple yet challenging and they all keep their spirits high, despite any challenges. We saw so many ancient ruin sites and terraces along the way that are just mesmerizing. It makes you wonder how they did it back then with no machines or resources. The quality of work is amazing, down to the intricate detail. 

Hiking at high altitudes can present challenges. How did you acclimate to the altitude, and did you have any strategies for managing altitude sickness? 

We had already been in Peru for two days prior to the hike so we had a chance to acclimate. But the trail actually goes higher for the first 2 days and then down from there. I actually didn’t struggle or suffer from altitude sickness but others from my group had a much harder time. There were some breathing techniques to help train for high altitude before our trip that I was doing proactively. 

We also had coca leaves that would help give us strength and minimize altitude sickness–coca leaves are filled with minerals and alkaloids to replenish your body. Staying hydrated was also something we had to stay on top of because you can only get water at specific places. It had to be boiled first to remove any microorganisms. Additionally, we would add some electrolytes to our water to help retain and keep muscles from cramping. I found out I needed more water when I was on Dead Woman’s Pass as my thigh muscles would cramp and spasm from all the 3,000 steps straight up.

Peru and the Inca Trail is extremely rich in history and culture. Did you have any interactions with the local communities along the way, and how did that enhance your experience? 

We did! For the first 2 days of the hike, we still went through some remote villages and most of them were excited to have us there visiting. The villagers can make money from tourists to use their bathrooms or stop to buy supplies.

Additionally, our amazing porters were all locals. This is their life and they are so proud of their beautiful country. They told us stories about how they grew up there and learned the trails like the back of their hand. Growing up, they are taught about their rich history and how they are one with the land and the animals.

On the second morning, our porters stopped at a local village to drink their historic chicha–a traditional corn beer traditionally made and consumed in communities throughout the Andes for millennia. The Inca used chicha for ritual purposes and consumed it in vast quantities during religious festivals.

Packing wisely is crucial for a successful trek. What are some essential items you brought with you, and are there any items you wish you had packed differently? 

I knew I wanted to bring all my photography gear so I would need a pack that could hold it all and a way to keep my equipment powered.

For my photography gear, I brought my Sony A7iv, 35mm Gmaster, 70-200mm Gmaster OSS II, DJI Air S2, Peak Design tripod, disposable film cameras, and GoPro Hero 8.

I went with a 65 Osprey backpack to allow for the most room in my pack. As for power I got a solar panel charger and a nitecore power bank. I also purchased extra batteries to keep them charged and rotated. 

As you hike, you pass through diverse ecosystems and terrain. Could you describe how the trail’s scenery changed throughout the journey and how that impacted your overall experience? 

The views in nature ranged from deserts and prairies to mountain tops and rainforests. We also seen wildlife–alpacas, steer, sheep, snakes, and hummingbirds. You have to be prepared for whatever Pachamama (Mother Earth) will throw at you. We hiked at mid November, so typically it is the start of rainy season, which is known for its torrential downpours. Fortunately, the weather was amazing for us, continuing with their warm sunny days.

However, at the high elevations it was still extremely cold overnight. I wish I would have had a better sleeping bag because it got down to 35 degrees at our highest point one night. Other than that, it was manageable.  

Many people dream of hiking the Inca Trail. What advice would you give to someone considering this trek for the first time?

Don’t hesitate and take the chance if you get it. Prepare for any weather and make sure you do some training beforehand for physical fitness and altitude. Pack as light as you can because your pack can make or break you. Some snacks are nice but you won’t be hungry! The meals they cook for you are outstanding. We are talking 5 course dinners and some of the most amazing fresh food. They even baked a cake for our last day.

Preserving the environment and respecting the trail’s cultural heritage are important. How were these aspects managed during your hike, and what do you think is essential for responsible trekking in sensitive areas like the Inca Trail? 

Be respectful to preserve this amazing historic landscape. The historic sites are chained off in some spots to preserve the stonework and respect their culture and ancestors. L.N.T.(leave no trace) Is so important to keep the wildlife and ecosystem thriving. If you don’t know much about this, we highly recommend taking this free course to learn more. With so many visitors, it’s easy for their lives to become impacted negatively so we should all do our best to support the natural habitat. 

How did it feel to arrive at Machu Picchu after your hike, and did the journey enhance your appreciation of its historical significance? 

That day, we woke up at 4AM to get an early start. It was dark so we all put on our headlamps as we packed up and filled our waters for the day. We were exhausted from the previous days. We ate some bars and grab and go fruit so we could hit the trail.

At this point, we merged with other groups all on the same quest to reach Machu Picchu. The sunrise was beautiful and we moved with great vigor through the rainforest, feeling the soft glow sunlight energize us. It got warm fast as the chill from the night before subsided.

When we finally arrived at the sungate lookout to Machu Picchu, the area was filled with clouds and fog. The suspense was killing us as this was the moment we had all been waiting for. The crowd chanted in excitement for the clouds to clear up and when they finally did, everyone cheered with amazement. It was such a beautiful monument and a place to take it all in from a distance.

We continued to hike down to explore the magic of the Inca empire. I feel like we were all a bit worn out by the time we arrived but that made it no less amazing. I would love to go back another day by train just to spend a day there, refreshed and full of energy to learn all it has to offer. We spent a couple hours there exploring and hiked the other site, Wynapiccu, that I would highly recommend. It is very physically demanding and very high with no barriers  but super beautiful.

Hiking the Inca Trail can be both physically and mentally demanding. Can you share a personal challenge you faced during the hike and how you overcame it, highlighting any lessons you learned along the way?

Just believe in yourself! Try not to worry and stay in the present moment to enjoy the wonder that is all around you. It was hard to be away from my family with no service for 4 days but I just had to trust that they were okay and that they knew I would be too. When I got home, I was so excited to share my journey with them and tell them everything. I would journal every evening so I could make sure to not leave anything out. It’s a lot to process and journaling helps integrate that back into your life and the lives of others. It was also a process to let go of all that shit that can hold you down with the stressors of everyday life.

When I left, we just finished our busy season shooting wedding photography and I jumped on a plane for this adventure the morning after our last wedding of the season. Our bodies are capable of more than we could ever fathom and this was a practice for growth to let go and let God while basking in all that this amazing world has to offer. “I’m going to hike the Inca Trail” is a big statement but you can absolutely do it!

The relationships formed within our group were something we were all so grateful for. We were all there for different reasons and different things in each of our lives that we wanted to overcome and shed. But altogether, we got to support and encourage one another. I’m not sure what all the future has in store for me but I know i’m here for it–to embrace the adventure and live a fulfilled life and teach that to the ones I love most. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to hike the Inca Trail.

Enjoy hearing about this adventure? Check out some our other blog posts to hear about the amazing adventures we get to embark on as wedding and elopement photographers!


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