Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of the Inca Trail

So you don't think I'm totally negative I'll start with the good. The Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu has amazing mountain scenery, beautiful cloud forest, a very cool trail, and fascinating ruins and history.

But ... it also has too many people, crowded campsites, and not enough toilets. Many of the people are in over their heads, ill equipped, unfit, and unprepared for a demanding high altitude hike. Our group, including an 82 year old traveled quite slowly, yet we often caught up with other groups at rest spots. Between the altitude, traveler's diarrhea, and over exertion many people were not feeling their best.

Our first campsite was quite nice - small with only one other group. But after that, our other campsites were much larger. 400 people per day are allowed on the trail (I'm suspicious of anyplace with a quota!) and almost all of them were concentrated into the same camp sites. There weren't enough toilets and often they were a long hike away. And I still can't figure out how you get feces sprayed over the walls four feet off the ground, no matter how bad your diarrhea is!

Our guide (Fredy, short for Frederico) was very good to us, patient and considerate. I question some of the approach but the problem seems to be more a reluctance to change their routine. For example, when it's raining and you're moving so slow you're going to get in after dark it doesn't seem like an appropriate time to stop for an archaeology lecture. Several days we stopped for close to two hours for a huge three course cooked lunch that most of us barely touched, waiting over an hour for it to be prepared, shivering in wet clothes. Maybe that works for the sprint and crash majority, but it doesn't fit with a slow and steady approach like our group's. We asked several times for a smaller, quicker lunch (to which they said "of course") but we failed to budge them from their routine.

I would love to do this trek if it wasn't such a circus. As it is, if it was just up to me, I'd do one of the less crowded treks instead. If you want to see Machu Picchu (and it is impressive) take the train to Aguas Calientes. By the time you've trekked there, you're too tired to appreciate it anyway. (We stayed overnight in Aguas Calientes and went back up to Machu Picchu in the morning.)

photos of the trek

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