I love the saying “It’s about the journey, not the destination”. In everyday life, I think it makes you focus on the moment – seeing the value in the process rather than the final result. When applied to travelling, it takes on a much more literal meaning. The greatest memories and stories often come from the “how you got there” rather than the “where you went”. No matter how amazing a destination, it can always be improved by the journey taking you there.
Machu Picchu is an epic destination that takes your breath away in itself. Every day, hundreds of tourists take a train from Ollantaytambo, Peru to visit this ancient Incan citadel. One can spend the day wandering the terraces and stony ruins, marvelling at the dramatic Andean setting. The only way to make this place a more incredible story is to arrive grimy and exhausted after 4 days of hiking the most famous and sacred trail in South America – the Inca Trail.
I hiked the Inca Trail with my family in 2012, with the company G Adventures. The well known, 40km hike takes you from the base of Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Three nights on the trail, three mountain passes to climb by day, and one amazing story to tell.
The very first day was a relatively easy one, passing through terraces and small ruins. Following a camp at Wayllabamba, we began the biggest climb of the trail to Dead Woman’s Pass. This was the hardest day, but as we trekked, we could look back for the entire hike and see where we had camped the night before growing smaller in the distance. It’s the sort of thing that makes you amazed with yourself, and with human capability. The third day took us through cloud forest as we passed the smaller two of the three summits. It felt like a piece of cake compared to the first pass, perhaps as we acclimated to the altitude.
Something I didn’t expect about the Inca trail is that all of the ascents are staircases made of massive stones. So far from current civilisation, it’s hard to imagine that these stones were carried and laid to set a trail for Incan emperors to reach the hilltop citadel of Machu Picchu. Climbing the large, irregular steps through the mountains felt very sacred. It made arriving at the Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate, and gazing down upon the ruins all the more epic. On the morning of our arrival, Machu Picchu was initially shrouded in fog. Standing on tired feet we watched as the mist lifted and the iconic ruins were unveiled. It was such a magical experience, making for a journey and a destination I will never forget.