Day 4 Highlights :
1. The Llactapata Ruins- RIGHT in front of Machu Picchu
2. The various views of Machu Picchu (above, across, below)
3. Getting to hike along original Inca trail
4. Sunrise on a stunning valley
5. Continued jungle wildlife- especially birds
Day 4 Stats:
Distance: ~18km or 11.5 miles
Elevation: ~2,500 feet up, ~4000 feet down
Time: 9 hours with stops
*You can shave off 3 hours and at least half the mileage by paying $30 and taking the train from Hydro Electric to Aguas Calientes.
Our morning started with epic views on the hike uphill to the ridge
Day 4 was our earliest start on the trail, with a wake up of 4:30 aiming to leave 30 minutes earlier. While we had electricity in camp the night before, the power was out for the area in the morning so it was DARK indeed. We ate breakfast using the collection of headlamps our group had ( I can’t imagine how they cooked stuff for us) and packed our stuff up as normal. This was our last morning with our chefs who we tipped and said goodbye to before hitting the trail at 5:30. The first few hours of the trail were steady uphill and we raced to be done with the uphill before the sun heated everything up. Watching sunrise over the valley was STUNNING and overhead flew parrots squawking and making a ruckus so even with a few hours of sweaty uphill, the morning was a killer hike.
The trail this day was 100% Inca made and required permits to enter which our guide supplied at the start booth. After about 1.5 hours of steady sweating, we took a break at the only stand on that side of the ridge where people got fresh orange juice for a dollar and others used the open air toilets (they were pink!) on the back side of the hut with incredible valley view below. There was a cute puppy wandering around we all shared snacks with before pressing on for another 45 minutes or so to the summit of the ridge. Then it was about 20 minutes downhill to the Inca site Llactapata.
View from our break spot- Almost to the top of the ridge!
Adorable dog at our break spot
Even though we were sweaty and most definitely tired of going uphill, some parts of this trail were just complete magic.
The name of this site means elevated place or “at the top of ” and has a direct view across to Machu Picchu (albeit a little higher up) and had an ornamental fountain and gate that framed Machu Picchu perfectly.
A lot of the site was still overgrown meaning what we saw was only the tip of the iceberg here but wow, the views across to Machu Picchu as well as being able to look to the side and see Salkantay mountain was mind blowing. We’d come so far and were within sight of our final destination!
We took another break here, eating snacks and snapping photos while Carlos explained more about the site and its connection to Machu Picchu. He explained it was used as a preparation place for the wealthier/ more important Inca families as they traveled to Machu Picchu. The site was initially reported by Hiram Bingham in 1912 (same explorer who discovered Machu Picchu) but wasn’t actually extensively explored and mapped until 2003.
The main buildings that are uncovered at the site
Can you spot Machu Picchu’s terraces?
The central gate
I loved exploring this site
After a brief rest here, we pressed on another 30 minutes or so down steep, muddy switchbacks to another rest stop called Llactapata Lodge (you could actually spend the night here) where more toilets and snacks were available. At this point a few members in our group were struggling with the downhill (knee pain) so our numbers were spread thin as everyone moved at their own pace. We didn’t stop again for another few hours until reaching a small shack where we stopped to wait for Carlos to catch up at least and guide us on.
He walked us 15 minutes further to our lunch stop at the restaurant Aobamaba while he ran back up to assist the last people in our group. Lunch here was a family owned restaurant right overhanging the river. We had a type of yellow curry over rice that was delicious and were able to rest a while and digest while waiting for the last of our members (who caught up to us) to finish their meal. We were finally about done with the uphill/downhill game but we still had a LOT of walking ahead of us.
View from Llactapata Lodge
Continuing down the trail, we caught site of a beautiful waterfall just in front of the Machu Picchu site. So beautiful!
After the restaurant we came to the long, and a bit scary suspension bridge that spit us out just below a waterfall running down from Machu Picchu.
After the waterfall we reached the small town of Hydro Electric where you have the option (for $30) of riding the train the rest of the way into Aguas Calientes. A couple of people opted for this option to save their feet and knees but the majority of us pressed on for the final 3 hour walk to our lodging for the day. The trail cut across 2 of the switchbacks the train takes through massive banana trees before then just following the train tracks the rest of the way.
Passing along the bottom of the same waterfall we’d seen in the distance. It was HUGE.
Almost to Hydro Electric
At hydro electric looking straight up the base of Machu Picchu Mountain. That line cutting across the center is actually where the Inca Bridge is (you can hike to it from Machu Picchu as part of your ticket)
It was a BEAUTIFUL walk with the river on one side, and often little streams or falls flowing in from the other side of the tracks. In a couple places you were forced to walk ON the tracks as there wasn’t a separate bridge for pedestrians.
The trains passed us pretty slowly allowing for plenty of time to hear and get out of the way. Eventually our guide caught up to us and guided us off the train tracks and down to the road that would take us straight into town. Unfortunately for us, our hostel for the night was on the upper far side of town. We all settled into our rooms for showers to clean up and nap a bit before dinner.
*Tip pack your soap and change of clothes in your day bag for this day as you barely get your duffel bags before dinner. The room was pretty nice in that it was cooler, with decently comfortable clean beds! (after 3 nights in a sleeping bag, the sheets and bedding were a welcome respite)
The trail cutting across the train track switch backs through epic banana tree forest
The train tracks are so scenic
View from the tracks looking straight up to the bottom of Machu Picchu
Crossing the tracks as there weren’t any pedestrian bridges
Watching a train go by.
After 3 hours of flat walking along the train tracks we finally made it to Aguas Calientes. (the launch pad town for Machu Picchu)
We walked as a group from the hostel to a restaurant where we had dinner (in much the same fashion as we had along the trail) and here you could also order drinks but they were not included in the tour price. (It was again difficult to pay for things when we were charged as a group for drinks… try to have close to exact change and small bills)
After dinner we walked as a group to the bus ticket office a block away where we could purchase bus tickets to Machu Picchu for the following morning. Out of the 11 of us including Carlos, only 2 chose to continue the trail and hike UP to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. The bus tickets cost $15 pp round trip and was well worth it as the trail to MP from town was straight up LARGE steps offering no other perspective than what you can get from the bus. After purchasing our tickets, we were able to wander town a bit if we chose and make our own way back to the hostel on our own. But with a VERY early morning the next day, most everyone headed back to bed.