While traveling in Croatia, I happened to cross paths with a couple who had just finished hiking the Inca Trail (4 days of hiking leading to Machu Picchu). I, of course, asked them all about their experience. They were so enthusiastic about their journey and couldn’t stop praising the company they had chosen — Alpaca Expeditions. Naturally, their excitement piqued my interest.
When I returned home from my trip to Croatia, I googled Alpaca Expeditions and the “Classic Inca Trail Hike, a 4-day/3-night hike — ending in Machu Picchu that was offered. They provided the option for either group or private guided hikes. And while I’m generally okay with traveling with small groups, the idea of tackling high altitudes left me with some reservations. I knew we were up for the challenge, but I didn’t want us to feel rushed or hold anyone back (or be held back) in a group setting.
So, after some consideration, I opted for the private Classic Inca Trail hike. I contacted a representative from Alpaca Expedition, finalized the dates, and submitted the required deposit. They handled the rest—securing passes, assembling the team, and so on.
I chose late March because the rainy season is tapering off, the dry season is beginning, and the temperature remains warm. While there might be occasional rain, the overall weather is expected to be pleasant. Sure, we might get a bit of rain here and there, but overall, the weather’s supposed to be quite nice. Plus, since it’s an in-between time for tourists, I figured I’d have a good shot at avoiding big crowds, especially when I reached Machu Picchu. And besides, a bit of rain is totally fine with me– it keeps everything lush and green.
I also figured late March would be a great time to see flowers, or at least I hoped so. Plus, the clouds that roll in with rain often make everything look more dramatic, which I thought would be great for photographs. So, March was the perfect fit for my trip.
I received the itinerary along with a packing list. In addition to the essentials like clothing and toiletries, we would need to pack a sleeping bag. Alpaca Expeditions suggested a foam mat or air mattress for added comfort. We decided to rent what we could from them —for convenience and to lighten our load. However, we invested in compact travel pillows and sleeping bag liners. They strongly recommended hiking poles, so Morgan and I each purchased a set. And, of course, we packed a good rain poncho since the likelihood of getting some rain would still be high.
A couple of days before our adventure, Morgan flew to Lima to meet me. I was already in Peru, just finishing up a week-long yoga retreat. After a brief overnight stay in Lima, we hopped on a flight to Cusco. We had intentionally planned a few days there to adjust and casually explore.
The evening prior to our hike, we went to the Alpaca Expeditions office for check-in and the mandatory orientation meeting. Fletcher, our guide for the next four days, briefed us on what to expect during the upcoming trek. Before our departure, he provided each of us with a duffle bag to pack our essentials. As a parting note, Fletcher encouraged us to stay hydrated and aim for a good night’s sleep.
After the briefing, Morgan and I headed to Morena Peruvian Kitchen, a little restaurant we passed while searching for Alpaca Expeditions’ offices. We wanted to grab a bite to eat and enjoy a pisco sour to celebrate the journey that awaited us.
The following morning, we were picked up at our Cusco hotel and driven to The Porter House in Ollantaytambo, where we once again met Fletcher. As it turned out, we enjoyed a breakfast cooked by a chef and some porters, the very ones who would be accompanying us on our hike. After breakfast, we were formally introduced to our team—the chef and five porters (yes, including Fletcher, our guide —seven people for Morgan and me).
We handed our duffle bags to a porter and, following Fletcher, proceeded to KM82—the Starting Point of the Inca Trail.
Upon reaching KM82, a short drive from The Porter House, Morgan and I snapped a quick photo in front of the iconic Inca Trail sign (because, why not?). Then, we set off (after having our passports checked and our duffle bag weighed, of course), following Fletcher as he led the way out of town and along the path—which ran parallel to the Urubamba River.
The scenery along the route took our breath away. At times, rows of stunning cacti adorned the path, and, of course, the majestic Andes always dominated the view. I had hoped to see flowers along the way, which I did, including some exotic-looking orchids.
We reached the first of several Inca ruins early in our hike. Patallacta — was only about a mile from the start of our hike. After we explored the ruins, we hiked for a few more hours before taking a break for lunch.
Our porters reached the Hatunchaca campsite hours ahead of us. Upon our arrival, a dining tent was already set up—the aroma of lunch filled the air. After about 4.5 hours of hiking, Morgan and I were eager to eat.
They placed out bins of warm water, face cloths, and soap for us to freshen up before lunch.
While Morgan and I washed up, the crew worked their magic, preparing a fantastic lunch—actually, it was nothing short of a feast. This initial taste of the chef’s cooking skills hinted at the hearty and delicious meals that awaited us throughout the trek. I was totally impressed.
After our lunch, we continued to Huayllambamba— our first day’s ending destination. We had about two more hours of hiking left after lunch —passing a few little villages along the way.
The porters were nothing short of amazing. They carried everything we needed for the next four days – tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses for nine people, a camp stove, food supplies, pots, pans, dishes, silverware, and even a portable private toilet for our convenience. No need to search for a tree!
Upon reaching the Huayllambamba campsite (meaning “grassy plain” in Quechua), we found everything ready – air mattresses fully inflated, sleeping bags neatly arranged. After slipping off our boots, we relaxed on our comfortable beds. Despite a brief rain shower just before reaching camp, the day had been wonderful.
Dinner, like lunch, was delicious and plentiful.
We went to bed early, knowing Dead Woman’s pass awaited us the next day.
Distance hiked: The distance covered today was 14 km (8.6 miles) — KM82 in Ollyantambo to Huayllambamba. I would stay we hiked for about 6.5 hours.
The Campsite elevation at Huayllambamba campsite was 2,750 meters above sea level.
From everything I read about this hike, day one was considered a moderate hike, and I would totally agree.
Our second day began with an early wake-up from one of the porters—seemingly at dawn. Still half asleep, I unzipped the tent. After washing up, we sipped on hot cups of coca tea— believed to help ward off altitude sickness. I drank mine — Morgan passed on hers.
We dressed and then headed to our dining tent, where we enjoyed a hearty breakfast before heading out on the second day’s journey. Today was the real challenge. If Morgan and I could make it to Dead Woman’s Pass, I was confident we could finish the hike.
Fletcher’s unwavering encouragement fueled our journey through rugged terrain and thin mountain air. We pushed ourselves to the limits, taking one small step at a time. Maintaining a deliberate and steady pace, Fletcher consistently reminded us to go “Pole Pole” (pronounced “po-lay po-lay”), meaning slowly, slowly. I followed his advice, pausing to catch my breath and regulate my breathing. To combat altitude effects, I chewed on coca leaves, finding relief in the challenging ascent.
Throughout the day’s hike, we encountered several spots where we had to climb stone stairs. The views were stunning, and our efforts eventually brought us to the summit of Dead Woman’s Pass (Warmihuañusca summit) at 4,200 meters.
Reaching the summit was an incredible feeling. Despite warnings about the challenges, it wasn’t as tough as some had made it out to be.
I don’t know if the hiking was so challenging, but the hike, along with the high altitude, made for a slow, tough day.
Tackling Dead Woman’s pass proved to be both awe-inspiring and physically challenging, but we did it.
It had taken us almost 4 hours to reach Dead Woman’s pass and then another two hours to get Pacaymayu —today’s spot for lunch. And believe me, we had worked up quite an appetite. Once again, our crew had everything ready for us as we collapsed at our lunch table— ready to eat.
After lunch, we tackled a second pass— Runkuracay (though not as tough as Dead Woman’s had been), taking a couple of hours to complete and ending at Runkuracay, another ancient Inca site.
After leaving Runkuracay, we descended the trail for about another hour until we reached the second Inca site of the day, Sayacmarca. After some exploring, we proceeded towards our campsite for the second night, Chaquicocha. Morgan and I went to our tent, took off our hiking boots, and took a well-deserved rest before dinner. It was a great day — we conquered two passes, explored two Inca ruins, all while being well taken care of by our attentive crew.
Distance hiked: we covered a total hiking distance of 16 km (9.9 miles) from Huayllabamba to Chaquicocha.
Hiking time was about 8 hours.
The elevation at Dead Woman’s Pass was 4,200 meters above sea level; the elevation at Runkuracay was 4000 meters above sea level.
The Campsite elevation at Chaquicocha was 3600 meters above sea level.
Today’s hike was strenuous, and I would rate it as challenging.
We woke up to some strange animal sounds. When I unzipped our tent, I discovered a bunch of llamas right outside. It’s not every day that llamas startle you awake.
Today, we conquered our third and final pass — the Phuyupatamarca Pass. The entire hike had been beautiful, but I must say, today may have been the most stunning. We trekked through lush forests and explored Inca sites like Phuyupatamarcas (Town in the Cloud), Intipata (Terrace of the Sun), and Wiñay Wayna (Forever Young) along the way.
The hike began with a flat terrain for the first hour. The final stretch, a 2.5-mile descent, required using our hiking poles. Descending always makes me nervous about potential ankle injuries (I’m a bit accident-prone).
The intermittent rain throughout the hike added to the challenge, making the trail slippery and demanding increased caution, especially on the rock staircases.
You can’t help but feel a strong connection to the ancient Inca civilization and appreciation for the dedication and skill needed to create such an extraordinary trail.
Day three was easier than the day before, but it still presented its own challenges. Taking our time on the downhill stretch made it feel like a longer hike than it actually was. Reaching camp at the end of the day was a relief, especially considering the short distance left to Machu Picchu the next day.
At our tent site, the crew was waiting for us. They clapped in celebration as we approached, acknowledging our progress through the most challenging sections of the hike. The dining tent was even decorated with balloons to mark the occasion.
Later that evening, we enjoyed a spectacular meal, and to make it even better, the chef pleasantly surprised us with a cake adorned with icing. It was an incredible day, and I was genuinely amazed by the exceptional care we received throughout the trip. We turned in early, aware of the early start awaiting us the next day.
Distance hiked: we covered a total hiking distance of 10 km (6.2 miles) from Chaquicocha to Wiñaywayna.
Hiking time was about 5 hours.
The Campsite elevation at the campsite was 3600 meters above sea level.
Today’s hike: though nowhere near as challenging as yesterday’s, I was exhausted by the end of the day. Going downhill has its own challenges.
On our fourth and final day, we began hiking at 4:30 a.m. to ensure we reached the entrance gate by 5:30 a.m. — it was roughly a 5 km hike to reach Machu Picchu. Despite some fatigue, a blend of exhaustion and excitement pushed us forward.
At 4:30 a.m., we navigated the dark using our headlamps, adding to the adventure. The remaining trail took us through a cloud forest, eventually leading to one last stone staircase as we approached our ultimate destination – Machu Picchu.
As we entered the Sun Gate I (at the top of the stairs), we looked down upon the wonder that is Machu Picchu. Words can’t quite capture the emotions I felt at that moment. You must see it in person to grasp the stunning beauty of this ancient citadel and appreciate its historical importance, which left us truly moved.
Upon reaching Machu Picchu, Fletcher guided us through the various buildings within this magnificent place—which many consider an architectural wonder.
After a few hours, we hugged Fletcher goodbye, thanking him for his encouragement and guidance, and then caught a bus bringing us to the village of Augus Calientes, where I had booked a cheap hotel room so we could take our first shower since the start of the hike.
Once showered, we grabbed a bite to eat and enjoyed a celebratory Pisco sour. Then we said goodbye to this incredible place and hopped a train from Aguas Calientes Railroad Station to Ollantaytambo Railroad Station and then back to our night hotel.
Distance hiked: we covered a total hiking distance of 5 km (3 miles) from Wiñaywayna to Machu Picchu.
Hiking time was about 1.5 hours. The entire hike was approximately 28 miles.
The 4-day hike to Machu Picchu with my daughter was an adventure that exceeded my expectations. It challenged us, strengthened our bond, and allowed us to witness the world’s wonders. From conquering Dead Woman’s Pass, enjoying stunning views along the trail, and climbing up to the Sun Gate for a breathtaking view of Machu Picchu, I’ll treasure these memories forever.
The entire team took exceptional care of us during the hike. Our chef’s meals were impressive and delicious, and our guide, Fletcher, was outstanding. Given the physical and mental demands, I couldn’t have asked for a better leader.
Alpaca Expedition is a company owned and run by locals who deeply care about their country. They’re committed to preserving the environment and supporting local communities.
My main suggestion is to wear comfortable hiking boots, bring a durable poncho, invest in a good set of hiking poles, and take your time. Enjoy this journey at your own pace. Remember— the hike is moderately challenging, so being in good health is essential to fully appreciate the experience and the incredible beauty and history surrounding you. It’s genuinely one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done and worth the investment.