The 7 Stages of Inca Trail Trekking

August 11, 2014 Phil Wild

So you’ve decided to take on Peru’s famous Inca Trail, huh? It’s worth taking some time to reflect and think, “why did I do that?” Your friends probably think you’re crazy to voluntarily subject yourself to such an endeavour on your leisure time.

Lucky for you, I’m here to guide you through this process. Sit tight and put your feet up as I take you through the Seven Stages of Inca Trail Trekking.

1. Shock

Welcome to the “why did you sign up for this?” stage! There’s no air at this ridiculously high altitude, and you can’t even see the top of the mountain you’re headed for today, let alone Machu Picchu itself.

Day 1 is all about acclimatization and culture shock. Best advice: Just go with it. These thoughts are barely rational, and you’re probably delirious from the altitude anyway. You didn’t eat a big meal and go out partying in Cusco last night, did you?

Wait, you did? Well… you’re on your own.

Guide resting on the trail.

When the guide is looking beat, you know you’re in trouble.

2. Pain

Pain, so much pain! Why does it hurt so much? You were running up flights of stairs for months to train for this. Doesn’t that count for anything?

No. No, it does not. Welcome to Stage 2.

The task of simply putting one foot in front of the other is sapping your confidence, step by step. At the end of the first day, you can barely move, and you’re silently cursing the porters who breeze past you with 20kg (44 lbs) on their backs and a spring in their step.

3. Guilt

Not only did you subject yourself to this cruel, cruel task, but you encouraged your friends to join you on this tour as well. You are a bad friend. Now they’re starting to resent you (even more than usual), and you suspect that they’re planning to poison your food. Racked by guilt and suspicion, you collapse into your tent, alone.

hiker mounting inca stairs

Oh, the pain! The pain of it all.

4. Anger and Bargaining

Dead Woman’s Pass? Up there? You’ve got to be kidding, right? You’ve just hiked for four hours through the rainforest and only now can you see the top?

vista of dead womens pass

That’s it over there. Yeah. That’s it. Just to the right of the one you’re looking at.

No. Just… no. Why did the Incas put their city all the way up in the mountains, anyway? If you’d been emperor, you would have hiked for an hour or two, have seen a nice view, and set up permanent camp.

Okay, okay. You’ll just walk a couple more steps and then you’re done with this. Maybe if you look at the ground for a while, you’ll be a little closer to the top when you look up again. Mountain gods, let’s work this out.

5. Loneliness and Reflection

Oh, help. You’ve just gone up the painstaking last few steps to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, looked over the other side, and you can see steps stretching away as far as the eye can see. You’ve spent the better part of the day puffing and panting up this godforsaken mountain, and you’re going to go straight back down again. Why are you doing this again?

Nobody is going to do it for you. Look on the bright side: You can switch from burning calves and hamstrings to burning quads now. Hooray!

6. Acceptance and Hope

trekkers in a line walking down hill.

One foot in front of the other.

Day 2 has passed, and you’ve now only got the Gringo Killer steps to come on Day 3 before you attack the Sun Gate on Day 4. Maybe this is possible after all?

You: “So how many kilometers do we have to walk today?”
Guide: “Sixteen.”
You: “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you properly, I thought you said sixteen.”
Guide: “You’ll be fine.”
You: “Gulp.”

Will you? Will you, really? Probably, yes. At least it’s all downhill. Savagely, steeply, downhill. But at this point, if you collapse from exhaustion, at least you’re closer to Machu Picchu than you are to Kilometer 82, the start of the trek.

view of a moutain gorge with a river at the base

Gorge-ous, right? Right?

7. Triumph!

Day 3 is done with and you are on top of the world! While you’ve got an early wakeup call tomorrow, it’s only a short hop, skip and jump over to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu itself.

The hard work is done and it’s time to judge all those lazy tourists who took the day trip train, and to intimidate them with your powerful trekker’s musk.

View of Machu Picchu from the sun gate

Machu Picchu awaits!

It’s over.

Although it’s an ordeal, ask absolutely anyone who has conquered the Inca Trail whether it’s worth it and the answer is always a resounding YES. Never has the adage “it’s the journey, not the destination” seemed more appropriate than when you take those final steps up to the Sun Gate and feast your eyes on Machu Picchu – because you earned it.

The story of being in isolation with Pachamama (Mother Nature for the native Andean people) for four days – on a trek used by people from a culture as ancient as the Incan – is one you will tell your grandchildren about.

Do yourself a favour and experience it for yourself while you have the chance.

Getting There

G Adventures
 runs a number of departures on the Inca Trail encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of getting you on the trail today! Check out our small group trips here.

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