Reflections on the Inca Trail

February 3, 2010 EL PASO, TEXAS.  Trying to record a summary of memories of our recent INHL Inca Trail Adventure to Peru is as difficult as holding onto a reflection in a clear pool of water.  You try to reach for the image, and the reflection scatters into a million scintillating ripples of thoughts and impressions.  A tome comes to mind which I reflected upon at the beginning of this adventure:

“It is only by thinking about great and good things

that we come to love them,

and it is only by loving them

that we come to long for them,

and it is only by longing for them

that we are impelled to seek after them;

and it is only by seeking after them

that they become ours.”

–Henry Van Dyke


THE INCA TRAIL:  An awesome physical and spiritual experience.  

The physical side: 45 Kilometers from the start at the Kilometer 82 Checkpoint to the end at Machu Picchu.  Nine measurable ascents and descents: 6,716 feet of total ascent (3,937 feet the greatest single-day ascent), versus 7,766 feet of total descent (3,281 feet the greatest single-day descent).  Highest point: 13,779 feet (4,200 meters) at Warmiwanusca Pass.  Three camp sites, four days of hiking anywhere from 12-18 kilometers per day.  It is advised that you buy and use a bag of coca leaves to chew and use in your tea!  Seven significant Inca ruins lie along the trail, a warm up before arriving at Machu Picchu!  150-170 trekkers (plus porters and guides) are allowed to start the trek each day, who become your fellow pilgrims on this journey through the Andes Mountains. Arrival at Intipuku before sunrise is dependent on leaving Winay Wayna just as the checkpoint opens at 5:30am and really pushing the hike to the Sun Gate.  Once you get there, be patient, you will have plenty of time to tour the ruins of Machu Picchu and still make it down the mountain to Aguas Calientes for the train ride back to Cuzco.  It’s a grand vista from the Sun Gate, and a beautiful easy walk down to Machu Picchu.

The spiritual side: The Peruvian people are sweet and gentle.  Their spirit imbues the trek with a sense of peace, in spite of the physical challenges.  Smile at them and they smile back.  Test your Spanish, they’ll try to communicate.  The food prepared by our Llama Path chef was superb, and used so many native ingredients that I felt we were eating as Incas while walking their highway.  The flowers (orchids, bromeliads, etc) we saw in our summer-time trek were amazing.  The waterfalls cascading down from the high peaks were gorgeous.  The rain (for an old desert rat) was beautiful and made everything so fresh and green.

I will do the Inca Trail again in a few years, with my son Liam, God willing!  He’s only 14 now…give him two or three more years and we’ll be back!

View of the Cathedral and rooftops of Cuzco

CUZCO:  A gorgeous gem of a city, high in the Andes.  I could have spent weeks just in Cuzco and the surrounding countryside!  From the cobblestone streets lined with ancient Incan stone foundations, to the red tiled roofs and brilliant blue sky, this city that was the capitol of the Inca Empire deserves time to explore.  Our hotel (the Monasterio Hotel) was a monastery in the 1600’s and is beautifully appointed and managed.  One of the finest restaurants in Cuzco is right in the hotel.  But, nearby are many other choices for either housing or eating…the city is compact and well designed for visitors.  Get out and walk it!  For nightlife lovers, the parties went on until early morning.  For shoppers, the markets and shops were seemingly endless.  Flights into and out of Cuzco are limited to the early day, due to thunderstorm danger in the afternoon and evening.  We had a serious four or five hour delay trying to get back to Lima.  Remember, it’s Latin America, roll with the flow.

If you are doing the Inca Trail, get there three days early to acclimate.  Be sure to enjoy the coca leaf tea offered at your hotel and most restaurants…it helps.  Many trek outfitters and tour operators can be found in the city, we had found Llama Path ( on the Internet months earlier and booked our place on the trek well before we left.  Everywhere we went on the Internet researching the trek, we found high praise for Llama Path.  Now that we have actually experienced their service, I can’t imagine using anyone else or recommending another outfitter!  Their “Imperial Service”, which is a private group trek-not their large group of 15-16 hikers, was $765 per person.  The extra couple of hundred dollars per person for the private group was well worth the investment.

Cuzco main square from Saqsaywaman

The South Pacific Ocean from the cliffs of Miraflores in Lima, Peru!

LIMA:  This gigantic Latin American capitol city sprawls against the South Pacific Ocean, where the best neighborhoods to visit and stay are located: Miraflores, Barranco, and San Isidro.  Most people just travel through Lima on their way to Cuzco or some other South American destination.  It deserves a couple of days of your time.

If you’ve seen other large Latin American cities, this one will seem familiar and won’t shock you.  If you’re used to Europe or North America, well… grit your teeth.  Here’s what you do: find a good hotel (we stayed at the Miraflores Park Hotel), and trust them to get you a good taxi driver.  Pay him to take you on a day-tour:  Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral (with Francisco Pizzaro’s tomb), the San Francisco Monastery and Catacombs, the Huaca Pucllana ruins, the Larco Museum (with it’s superb restaurant and courtyard bar)…and the Larco Mar Shopping Center overlooking the ocean from the cliffs in front of the J W Marriott Hotel and Casino in the Miraflores district.  That’s all you need.  Don’t drink the water, eat raw seafood or use ice in your drinks!

Larco Museum

Larco Museum restaurant and bar in a beautiful courtyard!

The Larco Mar Shopping Center, built into the cliffs overlooking the South Pacific Ocean!


~ by Dave Etzold on February 4, 2010.

2 Responses to “Reflections on the Inca Trail”

  1. Dave,
    A good friend of mine from Mexico DF and I made the trek back in 1980. Times have changed since then. We were all alone with just a hand drawn map. Coca leaves and tocra in our mouths just like chewing tobacco for endurance. We carried 80 lb packs.
    I understand a new site has been found in another location. Would love to go there next. Supposed to be unspoiled by tourists so far.
    Jodie Hoover

    • THe “unspoiled by tourists” thing is a real issue, Jodie. However, the incredible trek overcomes most all of the criticism. The Peru government is doing as good a job at controlling this as they can. Thanks for checking out the blog….

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