“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take”
Travelling Solo was one of my top goals for this year and the timing to accomplish this goal couldn’t have been any better, since I got to experience this lifetime adventure on my birthday week! Hiking through brutal altitude and stunning panoramas towards an unmatched destination: the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu.
The Inca Trail hike is one of the most iconic treks that I had been wanting to do for past many years. And finally, in February 2018 I booked my itinerary to Cusco, Peru in a single day without deliberating too much on where I should travel for my Solo Trip.
My fitness regimen for the strenuous hike was already in line with my 2018 fitness goals, with weekly 30-minute mountain climber sessions, Reformer Pilates on weekends and daily 3 mile runs on my trail. Thankfully I was right on track with my fitness.
Access to the Inca Trail is strictly controlled — only 500 permits per day are issued (including guides and porters) and only authorized companies can receive permits. I was very lucky to find a spot with a group for my hiking experience so close to my birthday. The Inca Trail is among the most expensive and is undoubtedly the most exclusive hiking route to Machu Picchu; other options like the Salkantay or the Lares treks allow travelers to book mere days in advance and pay a fraction of the price. But I was fixated on the classic Inca Trail, that connected hauntingly beautiful archaeological sites, breathtaking views, and heart-pounding mountain peaks.
MY SOLO TRIP MOVIE
Thousands of my followers on Instagram were present with me virtually on my IG stories daily and kept sending me their love, best wishes and all the motivation I needed to go on this journey all by myself. It is unfair to log all of this by simply putting it in words and pictures, so I made sure that I can share this Lifetime Experience with all my readers and followers through a short movie that I made through my Go pro Hero 5 camera (P.S This is my first attempt to creating a Travel movie, I hope you like it)
I landed in Cusco, a vibrant city located in the heart of the Peruvian Andes Mountains, 2 days prior to my hike to acclimatize to the altitude. Cusco is located at an altitude of 3,400 meters (11,200ft), and I came from Houston’s altitude of 24 meters (80 ft.) ! Within hours of arriving I started to notice the difference in my breathing.
Once the capital of the ancient Inca Empire, this mountain city is steeped with Inca and Spanish history and overflowing with Peruvian culture. From the breathtaking architecture and lively artisanal markets to the friendly faces and delicious local cuisine, it didn’t take long before I fell in love with this city.
After checking into my hostel, I headed to get some breakfast, where I met with two young people who too were travelling solo like me from Germany and Mexico. It has always been easy for me to start up conversations and make friends with likeminded people. The three of us headed out in the morning for a day hiking trip around the city and exploring the streets and neighborhoods of Cusco. To my surprise and delight, I made it around the city, despite being ridiculously out of breath every time I attempted to climb upstairs. Other than a bad headache, I was in pretty good shape. I drank copious amounts of coca tea and tried to rest in the afternoon once I got my room keys at 2 pm, almost 6 hours after my arrival. Honestly, I was very exhausted from my travels as I first landed in Lima and had a 6-hour layover to Cusco starting at 12 am in the night, which meant I was travelling and had been awake for almost 14 hours.
My headache had been bothering me a lot for the first 2 days and to keep my attention diverted from it, I continued exploring the city on my own by visiting the top attractions closer to my hostel like the Plaza de Armas, Cathedral of Santo Domingo and the San Pedro local market. I loved shopping around the cute souvenir shops for colorful hats, scarves, amongst other things. Also, I made sure to enjoy the authentic Inca vegetarian meals on the upper floor with a balcony seating of two different restaurants placed at ancient colonial buildings overlooking the gorgeous Plaza de Armas.
The next day I met my guide for the pre-trek briefing. He was funny, with smiling eyes he reassured me that the symptoms of altitude sickness would pass and that trekkers with a good level of fitness would have no problems once they were off trekking. At the back of mind, I couldn’t help the nagging of self-doubt that was creeping through me. However, I kept my calm and mingled with my lovely group members. I made sure I had enough snacks and water for my hike so I went shopping for some chocolate, cookies and chips, (comfort food at its best.) Of course, I had the healthy granola bars stocked too.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
My expedition company picked me from my hostel at 4 am and we took a bus to the train station to leave on the 6:10 a.m. train, from Ollantaytambo. This is one of the most magnificent train rides in the world, with its phenomenal views of the Urubamba River, the soaring snow-capped mountain peaks and cornfield farms.
After the train ride our group met with our porters and chef and enjoyed the breakfast before we prepared for our hike. Our hike was challenging but rewarding and honestly manageable as we were all coursing with energy and excitement.
Chachabamaba was the first ancient Incan checkpoint for entering to the Inca trail. While hiking I would stop and look around the breath-taking scenery and the stunning landscapes. I knew then that over the course of the next two days, I would never fail to be moved by the beauty of my surroundings. After the first three hours of climbing we reached the most famous Inca site along the trail, Wiñay Wayna. This site was a teaser to what was coming at Machu Picchu and I couldn’t have been more excited. Wiñay Wayna consists of two constructions, one is located on the top, and the other is below that, united by a type of stairways, where you can see some of the terraces used for agricultural activities.
We took a break near the site and were served delicious buffet style Inca meal by our chef and porters. The variety of vegetarian options had blown my mind and I was pleasantly surprised by the local recipes.
We headed towards the Sun Gate for another round of an uphill and downhill hike. (The Sun Gate was used by Incas to observe the sunrise from Machu Picchu during the summer solstice.) It started to rain on our way. Now, I always end up forgetting to pack something or the other during my trips and this time it turned out to be Poncho! However, I had my rain jacket that gave some protection in a rain forest. (some)
We stopped on our hike a few times to spot the beautiful orchids and plants, click some pictures, grab a breath and just like that on one of our stops, an Andean Bear also known as Spectacled Bear jumped out in front on our trail a few feet away from us and ran away into the forest. We got just a brief glance of the animal. While most of us initially thought it was a big black dog, our guide confirmed that it was a BEAR! This was one the most exciting episodes of my hike and was just adding up to this once in a lifetime experience.
Once we reached the Sun Gate I got to experience the climax of our hike with the dramatic dusk and the stunning views of the Ruins of Machu Picchu! The air had retained all the grandeur and mystery around this gorgeous site. The elegant Sun Temple, the surreal Royal Mausoleum, the monolithic shrines of the Sacred Plaza and the mysteriously carved Intihuatana stone. I was in awe of this wonder and proud of my journey. Never again would I recapture that feeling, the pure wonder and elation at being there. My moment, alone, on the mountainside, feeling like I had discovered Machu Picchu for myself.(This ancient city was never revealed to the conquering Spaniards and was virtually forgotten until the early part of the 20th century)
The next day we hiked back at 6 am from our camp site to Machu Picchu, this time to explore the site with a guided tour and know all about its fascinating history and see the sun rising from the site. I can’t effectively describe what I saw before me. I’d seen it on so many websites, in guidebooks and on countless social media pictures, but nothing prepared me for that view. I breathed in the fresh morning air and gazed at the 600-year-old citadel. Gradually the sky grew lighter and I gasped as the first rays of sunshine touched the tips of the ruins. This was it, my magic moment – sunrise at Machu Picchu. I explored the ruins for few hours with my group, got some great pictures and selfies with the Llamas and then headed for a short hike to the Inca Bridge. The Inca bridge, which is constructed of a few narrow logs perched above a sheer vertical drop – is believed to have served as a secret entrance to Machu Picchu. The trail to the Inca Bridge wraps around the backside of Machu Picchu Mountain in the opposite direction of the Inca citadel.
After exploring the ruins for from 6 am to 1pm we headed back to Cusco in our private van, it was a long journey with beautiful views of the Andes and the countryside. This time I choose to stay in a traditional boutique hotel with a bigger bed and an attached bathroom! I had been wet, cold, hot, sweaty and exhausted from the hike and needed some extra comfort. I was travelling back home the next day and after stuffing everything in my back pack, I headed to a spa for the best 90-minute massage and some last-minute shopping.
Truly, what an amazing experience this has been! What a fantastic gift I gave myself. This Solo journey to Cuzco, Peru and trek to Machu Picchu is one of the most valuable collection of moments and experiences that has added depth and value to my life and who I am. I have realized to live a fulfilled and meaningful life, you must live it yourself. I finally found the courage and willpower to go on this trip by myself. This adventure was impossible without the support of my amazing husband as he watched our toddler for 7 days while I was gone! (Parent of the Year) Thanks to my family and friends who supported me and sent me all their love and best wishes to do my dream hike.
I hope this inspires you to do your dream trip by yourself when you are ready! If you are planning a trip to South America, you must stop at this world wonder and see it with your own eyes. I can’t wait to get back there sometime soon.
( In my next post I will be sharing more details on my trip details , recommendations, logistics etc with links)