As a young boy it was a special treat during the summer months to be allowed by my parents to pitch my tent in the back garden and to spend the night sleeping outside, listening to the night sounds and feeling the freedom of being a part of the natural world. It’s a thrill that has never left me, and so it was with great enthusiasm that I embarked on a four-day camping trip through possibly one of the most beautiful and breath-taking hiking trails on the planet, the Peruvian Inca Trail.
The Inca Trail is only 43 kilometres long (26 miles), a distance that could be covered in twelve hours on flat ground, but as it winds over ridges, through deep valleys and cloud forests, often at high altitude, it takes three full days of the most spectacular hiking you will ever do to complete.
As a lot of the trail is in the wilderness you will need to go with a guide and in a group, for safety reasons. There are no shops, cafes or towns along the route though there are some settlements of local people who survive in the age-old fashion of their ancestors.
Then where does the camping come into it? Well, there are numerous campsites along the Inca Trail. your guide will choose which one is most appropriate for your group and reserve a spot in advance. The campsites have water, basic toilet and shower facilities, and space for a few groups of hikers, so it can resemble a whole army of people, cooking, eating, washing and taking care of blisters on their weary feet. Your group will have a designated area just for them and you will all be close together, but there will be another group, or groups, nearby in their own area.
The supplies for this momentous movement are all carried heroically by the porters. You will see many more porters on the trail than other hikers, each one with up to 20 kilos of supplies, including all the food, tents, cooking equipment, tables and chairs, sleeping bags, mattresses, and anything else that could be needed along the way. This herculean task requires a large number of porters to zip ahead of the hikers so that when you arrive at the campsite the tents have already been set up, the dining tent has tables, chairs, knives, and forks, dinner is nearly ready and they give you a big glass of cold fruit juice.
The food prepared by the chef is excellent, considering the circumstances, and you certainly won’t go hungry, with ample breakfasts, lunch, and dinner to keep your energy levels up.
After dinner it’s usually time for bed, it’s probably earlier than you are used to, but the sun has gone down so after marveling at the night sky devoid of any nearby light pollution, you will be very happy to crawl into your sleeping bag and fall into the deepest of sleep.
Rising with the sun the next morning, you get yourself ready, have a leisurely breakfast, and start hiking, leaving the porters to pack up the whole campsite and move it to the site where you will have lunch, and then again for dinner. Many porters have done the Machu Pichu Inca Trail hundreds of times, and they make the whole experience so much easier and more enjoyable for you. You are expected to tip the porters at the end of the hike, (about 20 Dollars or Euro from each hiker is usual) and it’s a small price to pay for the work they put into making your trip as easy, as exciting and as much fun as possible.