That is what the t-shirt and 2 certificates say, so it must be true. Not that there was any doubt about this, although I have to admit that the days when I was the first one to reach the top of the pass are over.
The Inca Trail is the one activity in Peru that needs to be pre-booked well in advance, as the government (rightly so) only allows 500 people a day. I booked my trek with Peru Treks for their excellent price/quality ratio. They are able to offer good rates because the group size is relatively large with 16 people in a group. For me that was not an issue, and it actually made it more social, especially during dinner where everyone was sitting together in a large tent. It was all very well organised. I was woken up with tea/coffee/hot chocolate at my tent in the morning, there were 3-course lunch and dinners, a large cake at the last dinner, and the tent was already built up when we arrived at the campsite. My sort of camping. I also had a private tent, since there were only 2 people in each tent for 4 people, but there were 3 Swedish guys that wanted to stay together. Aside from the Swedish and 2 Irish guys, the rest were all couples though.
Although it is not the toughest trek in the area, the Inca Trail is not a walk in the park. The second day has a 1100m increase in altitude to 4200m, called Dead Woman’s Pass. On the last steep uphill bits I had to stop every 50m or so to have my heart beat normally again. I really noticed that I got 5 years older since my last real high-altitude hiking trip to Nepal in 2005. Need to do more exercise when back in Europe. I do feel it is getting better though, but I guess that I am also getting used to the altitude. The one thing that makes the Inca Trail stand out from the other treks in the area are the remains of the Inca Empire, like the Llactapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna Ruins.
The last day of the Inca Trail starts early in the morning, with all the groups leaving at the same time to Intipunku, the Sun Gate. Unfortunately, when we arrived to Intipunku all there was to see were white clouds, no view at all of Machu Picchu. So we continued down to Machu Picchu for our guided tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before the tour started, I was able to get a space to climb Huayna Picchu (spaces to climb sell out quickly in the morning), making it possible to see everything in one (long) day. During the morning tour we learned a lot about the site and its amazing stonework. By 11:00 the clouds had dissipated, so there was a clear view of the site when I climbed Huayna Picchu. After 4 days of trekking and the additional climb I was quite exhausted, so the hot springs in Aguas Calientes were very welcome at the end of the day. The next morning I took the train back to Cusco.