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Trekking the Inca Trail
Day Four

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We had an early 5:00 AM wakeup to allow the trail staff to serve breakfast, tear down and pack up the tent site then make a mad dash down the mountain to Aguas Calientes to catch the noon porter's train back to Ollantaytambo.

The trail sign in front of the shower room near the campsite showed 6 kilometers (just over 3.5 miles) to Machu Picchu. With the sun still hiding behind the Andean mountains, we queued up with scores of other trekkers to go through the final checkpoint.

After less than an hour of easy walking, I saw another trail sign showing 1 kilometer/just over half a mile to Intipunku, the Sun Gate and my reward for the most difficult and rewarding walk of my life.

If you go:

Reserve early. In an effort to preserve the Inca Trail, Peruvian authorities imposed a trail limit of 500 people per day (about 200 hikers and 300 guides, cooks and porters). Permits sell out quickly especially during peak season. All reservations must be made with a licensed tour operator. Independent hiking on the trail is not permitted. I was extremely pleased with Intrepid Travel which specializes in small group adventure travel.

Acclimatize. If you live in a lower elevation city, spend at least three days (preferably more) at an elevation of 2500 meters (about 8,200 feet) above sea level or higher if possible.

Get fit. Trail literature states that any reasonably fit person can complete the hike. Reasonably fit in Washington, DC (125 meters/just above 400 feet) gave me a false sense of confidence as I struggled to reach Dead Woman’s Pass. Also, higher altitudes may have negative effects on the fittest among us.

Skip the hike. If you want to see Machu Picchu but don’t want to hike the trail, you can catch a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes then take the 20 minute bus ride up the mountain to the historic site. To reach a higher elevation to photograph the citadel, follow the signs to Intipunku (a moderate climb of less than an hour).

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Day Three
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