It was still dark outside when I took my rather heavy backpack (tent, sleeping bag, and food for a couple of days) and went to the San Pedro train station in Cuzco. There were already several people waiting, tourists with colourful backpacks and brightly dressed locals carrying bags of... who the hell knows what.

The train to Quillabamba was on time and the second-class cars were very crowded. With difficulty I found a few square inches of space on the floor for my backpack and sat on it. A couple of minutes after departure and the car was already full of noisy vendors making their way through the crowd selling breakfast goodies and a special kind of tea. I was a little nervous when pots full of hot water were being passed over my head but these people were very skilled. The tea sure helped make the 3-hour journey more pleasant.

Not knowing for sure if it was the right stop, I jumped out of the slowing train. You had to be really quick, the train stopped for only a few seconds. I was reassured by the sight of several other backpackers on the tracks. This was it , the famous “88 kilometer” stop, the most popular starting point for the Inca Trail.

After paying the $17 entrance fee I crossed the bridge over the Urubamba River and started the first stage of the trail, the 7km walk to the village of Huayllabamba (elevation 2750m). In the village the trail turned sharply right and followed the south side of the Llullucha River. This section was very steep and tiring. The sun was brutally hot and I was cursing my heavy backpack, sweat burned my eyes. Parts of the trail went through some pathetic looking forest but some shade was better than none.

It was starting to get dark when I noticed a tent city at the lower part of a grassy valley. One porter started to run my way until he saw the big backpack on my shoulders. Members of organized groups did not carry their own stuff. I pitched my tent about 200m up from the groups where I had a good view of the Warmiwanusca Pass (elevation 4198m) covered in clouds.

The cold woke me to find the day chilly and grey. I thought the temperature had even dropped below zero (C) during the night. I ate some bread and some weird-looking, but tasty, cheese that I had purchased at the market. An hour’s brisk walk brought me above the clouds where the sun was shining and the views were breathtaking. One more hour and I reached the Warminusca Pass, the highest point of the Inca Trail.

After a long and boring descent from Warminusca the trail went up again towards the next pass (elevation 3998m). Close to the pass the oval ruins of Runturacay are located. I stopped there for a quick lunch of water and a banana. Near the top of the pass I met the porters from a trekking agency and I was amazed with the size and weight of the loads they carried. From the pass the trail headed towards another set of ruins, Sayacmarca. After crossing the Rio Aobamba the trail goes towards the last high pass (elevation 3700m) and the ruins of Phuyupatamarca. Going down from the pass one has to take the famous “Inca Steps”. Everyone ends up with very shaky legs. The sun was setting when very tired I reached the hostel and neighbouring campground. There were tents everywhere.bAfter finding one of the last available spotsv I had just enough time to go for a walk to check out the ruins of Huinay Huayna, about 500m from the hostel.

The next morning I got up very early. After about a 2-hour walk I reached the “Sun Gate” (Intipuktu). There I found the much photographed and breathtaking view of the Incan lost city of Machu Picchu. It was only another hour from the “Sun Gate” to Machu and the trail was wide and comfortable.

Nobody except a few locals even knew about this place until June 24, 1911, when the “lost city” was found by the historian, Hiram Bingham. Even though many archaeological expeditions have been made to the site little is known about Machu Picchu. The theory is that because of the sophisticated architecture, and the number of ornaments on the buildings, the site was an important religious place.

The left side of the main square was the most interesting. Long stairs led to the “Hut of the Caretaker” from where the views were spectacular. Next to that was the most important temple of Machu Picchu – “Intinuatana”. The ornamental stone at the top was used by priests to predict agricultural seasons. As a note to anyone intending to visit Machu Picchu, it is well worth it to arrive as early as possible before the busloads of tourists coming from the train station make the beautiful site a zoo.

After seeing all the interesting spots and taking a few pictures (llamas are quite used to being photographed) I tried to just hang around and relax, breathing in the peace of the place. But seeing waves of people forcing their way through the entrance gate... I gave up.

I went to the train station at Puenta Ruinas that lies about 700m lower than Machu Picchu. The road is wide and packed with buses polluting the air. That was definitely the worst part of my “Inca Trail” walk. The station looked like a huge souvenir market full of locals and tourists. It took me 2 hours to get my ticket back to Cuzco. Oh well, all part of the travel adventure. All in all it was well worth the trip, another place to cross of my travel “to-do” list.

*Note: for the subsequent hiking season the Peruvian government changed the rules so that independent trekkers were not allowed. While this obviously made some people very unhappy, it was likely the best option for maintaining the site.