New York City is one of my favourite places in the world and I try to visit at least once a year.
I will never forget being there on September 11, 2006. It was a grey, drizzling day out as I made my way down to where the Twin Towers had once stood.
I remember them reading out the names of all those who were lost that day and looking out at the empty space that had, until a few years earlier, been the towers at the World Trade Center—a sight I would never see in real life.
As I’ve been off from my job as a flight attendant due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve been going through the tens of thousands of slides from my Grandma’s travels and recently came across a box labelled “Cruise from NYC to Bermuda 1993.”
As I began to click through them, one of the first slides in the carousel was this…
A grainy old photo she’d taken through the window on the cruise ship of the Twin Towers, standing tall above the Hudson River.
What a sight.
I sat for a moment taking them in and thinking about their horrific end along with the lives of so many, especially those in my field of aviation. Today, I found myself going back to it and thinking about all the stories of loss and love that took place 19 years ago. Never Forget.
I’ve been wanting to explore Flowerpot Island for a few summers now and with Covid-19 continuing to impede international travel plans, this seemed like the perfect time to explore more of my own province. Flowerpot Island is one of twenty islands found in Fathom Five National Marine Park, located off the coast of Tobermory on the beautiful Bruce Peninsula in Ontario.
We booked a glass-bottom boat ride with Bruce Anchor to take us out to the island, 6.5km from Tobermory. Before heading to the island, we sailed into Big Tub Harbour to see two of the over twenty historic shipwrecks found in the Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Through the clear turquoise waters, we came across the Sweepstakes wreck. This schooner was built in Burlington, ON and was damaged off Cove Island before being towed to Big Tub Harbour where she sank in September, 1885. It’s amazing how much of this ship is still intact 135 years later.
The second ship found in Big Tub Harbour is the City of Grand Rapids, a passenger steamer built in 1879 in Grand Haven, Michigan. On October 29, 1907, a fire broke out aboard the Grand Rapids while docked in Little Tub Harbour. To prevent the fire from spreading, the ship was towed out of the harbour and released to burn itself out. Eventually, the charred remains sank in Big Tub Harbour near the Sweepstakes, where it can still be found just offshore.
The cold water found here has helped to preserve these wrecks, and just sailing over them, it was clear why this area has some of the best freshwater diving opportunities in Canada.
From here, we sailed past Big Tub Lighthouse, which was originally lit in 1885, over to Flowerpot Island. As we got close, you could see the ‘Flowerpot’ rock pillars sticking up from the water.
We docked at Beachy Cove and decided to do the full Loop Trail, 2.6km, including hiking the Marl Trail.
It was a beautiful day to explore the island, although we came across a few too many snakes for my liking!
By the time we made it around to the Lighthouse station, we stopped to have our picnic lunch. Here, we found out that there are also an abundance of little red squirrels just waiting for you to leave your lunch unattended! The Lighthouse museum was closed this year due to Covid-19, but you could still wander around the buildings and down to the white rocky beach.
If you trade the rocks for white sand and the trees found here for palm trees, with the beautiful turquoise waters, you can almost imagine that you are in the Caribbean instead of Canada.
Unfortunately, the caves were also closed this year, so we just got to see the outside walls. The rock formations along the trail from the Lighthouse station to the Flowerpots were really cool.
The Flowerpots were definitely the highlight though. They were the reason I wanted to come here and they didn’t disappoint, standing tall against the clear turquoise waters. Crazy to think that these have been here for hundreds of years!
I took off my shoes and stood with my feet in the glittering cold water taking it all in (and wishing it was less crowded…) Such a beautiful spot.
After taking a bunch of photos at the Big Flowerpot, we headed over to the less crowded Little Flowerpot, finding a spot to sit and relax on the rocks nearby before catching our cruise back to Tobermory.
*We spent 4 hours on the island which was the perfect amount of time to hike the trails, have a picnic lunch and spend some time at each of the flowerpots
Like so many others, my travel plans so far in 2020 haven’t exactly worked out as I had hoped. I’ve really been missing getting out and exploring, especially during this beautiful summer weather.
I may not be able to journey as far as I usually do, but for August, I promised myself I’d get out and explore local tourist spots.
So today, I went five minutes up the road to check out The Sunflower Farm, located just outside my little town of Beaverton.
This beautiful farm, with 10 acres of sunflower fields, just opened a few weeks ago and I’ve been dying to check it out. (Apparently I wasn’t the only one as the wait to get in with current Covid regulations was over an hour…. so be prepared!)
Once inside, you follow the trail past 1000s of bright yellow sunflowers. I was in heaven.
Sunflowers have always been my favourite flower so wandering along the path here, with a sea of yellow stretching on and on, was the perfect way to spend a sunny, summer afternoon!
If you had asked me growing up what my travel goals were, I would have given you a long list, which included travelling to all the continents, visiting all the countries my Grandma had travelled to and more, seeing the wonders of the world, and on and on…but climbing mountains was never something I had really thought much about. In fact, if you had asked if summiting mountains was a goal of mine, I would likely have just laughed—at least until I spent several months living in Kenya, and found myself climbing Mt. Kenya. It ended up being a tough but very cool adventure, and I thought, Well, now I can check climbing a mountain off my life list and move on!
Climbing bigger mountains definitely wasn’t in the plans until some members of the group who I had volunteered with in Kenya in 2008 started talking about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. After debating my plans to never climb another mountain, I decided it would be a great adventure and I’m never one who likes to be left behind or miss out on a great experience…even if it is a challenging one.
So this is how, exactly ten years ago today, I found myself in Moshi, Tanzania, having an early morning cup of Kilimanjaro coffee while waiting to meet our guide and set off on our trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
We met our guide, Julius, who told us to call him “Whitey,” an interesting nickname for this tall, dark Tanzanian guide. We all introduced ourselves and headed over to the Ahsante Tours office to pick up any rented gear and have a briefing before setting off to the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
We arrived at the Machame Route Gate, at a height of 1800m, got signed in and met our assistant guide, Benedict, or “Benny.” We took a group shot to mark the start of our trek and by 10:45am, we finally started making our way up the tallest mountain in Africa.
We spent the day hiking and chatting away, something that slowly died down on subsequent days as the air got thinner and our energy levels dwindled. But for now, we were fresh and excited. The setting today felt like hiking through a jungle, with some steep muddy parts thrown in to challenge us.
In between Whitey regaling us with songs, including a soulful rendition of “Hakuna Matata” and laughing and yelling out encouragement to us as we hiked along, I had some questions for him. I wanted to know how many times he had climbed this mountain, and he told me he quit counting at 120. 120?!? For me, once proved to be a challenge. I cannot imagine trekking up and down this mountain well over 120 times. (He is still a guide today, so I can only imagine what his count is now!) He’s been working on the mountain for 7 years, beginning as a porter at 18 years old, quickly working through the ranks to assistant guide and doing all the required training to become a lead guide. He told me becoming a guide was his dream. He grew up in Moshi and spent his childhood looking out at Mt. Kilimanjaro, knowing one day he wanted to climb it. Once he did, he couldn’t wait to bring others up his beloved mountain so they could see the beauty for themselves. We were definitely in good hands with him, and his love for his job and the mountain were unmistakable. He said he feels most at home on the mountain, and when he’s gone, he can’t wait to get back.
Around 5pm, we made it out of the jungle and into that evening’s camp, already set up and waiting for us. After settling into our tents, we met in the dining tent for hot chocolate and popcorn. Then we walked up to the ranger station to check in that we made it through day one, and then Whitey led us in what became a nightly routine of singing and dancing all together with our guides and porters.
This was a team bonding time, which became a little harder each day as our energy waned. But no matter how tired we were, we always mustered a last bit of strength for this fun. A perfect way to end each day of trekking!
The food prepared for each of our meals along this journey was delicious, made even more so by how hungry we were by the end of each day and how impressive it was that they were making pumpkin soup, pasta dishes and tasty desserts on the side of a mountain!
After dinner each night, Whitey came in to brief us on what the following day would entail and ask each of us to share our high and low moment of the day—another great daily tradition of this trek. Bedtime came early each night as we were always exhausted from the day.
“Now I’m in my tent, writing about day one by the light of my headlamp on Mt. Kili, 3000m up. How cool is that? Amazing!” — Journal excerpt
Day two began at 6am with a knock on the tent. “Jambo, good morning! Tea for you!” I opened the tent to find steaming mugs of chai tea waiting, a cozy way to start the morning, still wrapped up in my sleeping bag.
Breakfast was at 7am, before starting the day’s journey at 8am. Whitey told us today would definitely be “Pole Pole,” which means “slowly, slowly” in Swahili. He had told us from the start this was how we would be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and repeated these words often throughout the trek. Pole Pole was certainly the mantra of today as we made our way mostly uphill on a six-hour trek.
We stopped for lunch around 12pm and then made it to camp around 3pm. All day today, the scenery was beautiful. We woke up above the clouds and by lunchtime had climbed above a second layer of clouds.
In the distance, you could see the summit of Mt. Meru in Arusha peeking out from the clouds. We were now up at 3,800m. We climbed up to 3,900m and then back down a bit to sleep and let our bodies adjust to the altitude. “Climb High, Sleep Low” was another mountain mantra that helped us to safely acclimatize.
Tonight’s camp was at Shira Cave, so after settling in, Benny took us up to see the old cave.
“The sunset tonight was incredible, going down through the clouds, behind the hills, and the view of the peak was amazing. It’s so beautiful and peaceful up here. After dinner, once it was dark, the sky was lit up by 1000s of stars. Gorgeous. Tonight was one of the most beautiful sunsets and starry skies I’ve ever seen. Breathtaking!” — Journal excerpt
Once again, day three began at 6am with another steaming cup of chai tea at our tent door. A girl could get used to this kind of wake up…even if it is earlier than I would like!
Another incredible view this morning up above the clouds, with the summit stretching high above us and the sun just starting to streak through the clouds.
Our highest point today was Lava Tower at 4560m, a very cool rock formation created by volcanic activity on the mountain years ago. The tower stands 90m tall and is a beautiful backdrop for a much-needed resting spot by this point in the trek. We went back down to 3950m to sleep.
Every time I’d ask Whitey how much farther, he’d tell me we were almost there. Finally, about nine hours later, it was true! Each day, our singing and dancing ritual got a little more challenging, but still no one could resist celebrating the end of another day of trekking and being closer to our goal of reaching the summit.
On day four, after about 20 minutes of hiking, we arrived at Barranco Wall, a challenging climb up 257m. We went Pole Pole for sure here, trying not to lose our footing. We carefully made our way up this part of the trek, our guides helping us across the tricky parts.
As we got to higher altitudes and trickier spots, we had both Whitey and Benny, plus Francis and Joaquim, two other guides in training, with us at all times to help us along and make sure everyone was still doing okay with the altitude.
Today was when things really got tough. The higher altitudes and steeper parts were challenging and we were moving at a turtle’s pace. Even if we wanted to go faster, I’m not sure many of us could have done anything other than go Pole Pole.
Camp tonight had by far the best bathrooms—still just a squat hole in the ground—but this one had a cement floor, instead of the usual wood. And even better, the contents weren’t up around the top! (Some days it’s the little things that bring you joy!) Whitey gave us a pep talk as part of the briefing tonight and we all went to bed early to prepare for the summit.
We were woken up at 11:30pm to get ready and had hot chocolate, popcorn and porridge. I was dressed in as many layers as I could manage because it was freezing in the pitch-black night this high up on the mountain. We set off just after midnight, with only the stars above and our headlamps to help guide our way. You could only see what was right in front of you, which was likely a good thing, because if I had seen how far and high I still had to go in the freezing cold, I might have crawled right back into my warm sleeping bag!
We took a break about halfway up.
“When you looked out across the darkness, you could see the red/orange line of the sun beginning to rise above the clouds and there was a tiny sliver of a crescent moon just above the cloud line. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, and for a moment, I forgot about being freezing and exhausted and just stared out at the beauty, taking it all in.” — Journal excerpt
The higher we climbed, the harder it got. My muscles burned and near the top, my breathing became more laboured. We made our way through the snow and ice closer to the top, past the glaciers.
Whitey said he’d already seen a dramatic decline in the size of the glaciers in the seven years he had been climbing Kilimanjaro due to global warming. It was still an impressive sight, but I wonder what it used to look like?
We stopped for a tea break, before slowly continuing along the snowy, rocky trail to Stella Point. From there, we only had an hour left to go, but that last hour felt like we were hardly moving, everyone inhaling deeply, trying to get enough oxygen to take our next slow step.
Finally, around 8am, we rounded the last bend in the trail and made it to the summit, 5896m up. Making my way over to the flags and the sign saying, “Congratulations, you are now at Uhuru Peak,” welcoming me to the highest point in Africa, I burst into tears, exhaustion and excitement flooding over me.
Even though I wanted to quit at least 100 times today, I had made it. I could check climbing the highest mountain in Africa off my travel list!
Watching the sun rise over the rooftop of Africa is a moment I will never forget.
Those of us who made it to the summit got a group shot and quickly took our photos with the sign. Then, about 15-20 minutes later, we were on our way back down. Such a long way to go for such a short stay, but with the high altitude, we couldn’t linger.
We made it back to camp eleven hours after leaving it, toenails bleeding from the impact of heading basically straight back down, slipping and sliding through the gritty sand. After a nap and lunch, we packed up and hiked another two hours or so to that night’s camp. Today the highs were all about making it to the top and celebrating that victory!
The final morning after breakfast, we gathered for one last dance party before packing up and heading down the rest of the mountain, about a five-hour journey.
Back at the hotel that night, after having my first shower in six days (which was amazing), we met for one last dinner all together and toasted our success with cold Kilimanjaro beers.
Climbing mountains may not have started out on my life’s travel list, but the fact that I made it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro remains one of my proudest travel experiences. Standing at the top, smiling through my tears and watching that incredible sun rising to the “Heaven of Africa,” as Whitey put it, is definitely a moment I will never forget.
I always knew I enjoyed a challenge and was not a quitter, and completing this trek cemented that for me. But now I’m seriously through climbing mountains…I think!
For some singing, dancing, hiking and commentary on this beautiful but challenging trek, check out the video below!
Like so many others worldwide, I’m currently sitting at home, trying to help stop the spread of Covid-19, while desperately wishing I was able to be out travelling. I spent some time this morning, looking through photos of my trip to Peru and all the photos of llamas brought a big smile to my face.
Hopefully, these adorable llamas along the Inca Trail can bring a smile to yours as well!
I’ve been spending a lot of time in Moncton, New Brunswick with work this winter, and on a rare day off, I decided to go check out the famous Tidal Bore. This natural phenomenon is caused by the Bay of Fundy tides and takes place twice a day. As the Tidal Bore comes in, the water in the Petitcodiac River rolls back upstream in a rippling wave that can get to a height of 60 cm.
The one I witnessed wasn’t anywhere near that high. In fact, a man passing by commented that it was one of the smallest he’d ever seen. Oh well – at least I can say I saw Moncton’s Tidal Bore, one of the world’s highest tides!
You can find the estimated daily Tidal Bore times online. From downtown, the best viewing area is at Bore Park. Be sure to arrive early as many factors may affect the time of the Tidal Bore by 15 to 20 minutes either way.
Winter has never been my season. Although born and raised a proud Canadian girl, I prefer to watch the snow from inside, cuddled up with a blanket and a cup of coffee instead of outside bundled up in all my layers, still freezing. But, when on a recent trip to Edmonton, Alberta, my friend suggested a trip to the Ice Castle there. So, I decided to channel my inner Elsa and go explore this frozen wonderland, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed!
The original Ice Castle was built in Utah in 2011 and has since expanded to six locations across North America, including Edmonton.
Each year, the Ice Castles are built by skilled ice artists using hundreds of thousands of hand-placed icicles and then lit using LED lights.
The result is a magical fairytale world of ice with tunnels, slides, thrones, fountains and beautiful displays to enjoy.
With fireworks lighting up the sky above, making the ice twinkle brighter, it certainly is a winter wonderland worth exploring!
Planning your trip:
The Ice Castle is open daily but keep in mind that dates and hours are weather dependent. Entries are timed and pre-booking your tickets is highly recommended.
For more info and to book your tickets, click here.
One year ago today, I got to cross a major travel goal off my bucket list. After four days of hiking, we made it to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail was challenging at times, but the views were beautiful… as I mention many times in this video!
(I blame the lack of oxygen and exhaustion for my limited vocabulary!!)
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list for years. The more photos I saw of this mysterious Incan wonder and the more I read about the Inca Trail and how Machu Picchu was ‘lost’ for years, the more I wanted to see it for myself. While there are options for just seeing Machu Picchu, I didn’t want to arrive at the site by train. I dreamed of following the path of the Incans and hiking my way along the Inca Trail.
One of the most famous treks in the world, the Inca Trail trek itself is 42km, leading you along ancient narrow paths in the Peruvian countryside, up into the Andean Mountains. This mix of jungle, Incan ruins, cloud forest and beautiful Sacred Valley views lead the way to the incredible Machu Picchu, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.
Machu Picchu’s existence was not widely known in the West until it was “discovered” in 1911 by the Yale University professor Hiram Bingham, who was led to the site by a local Quechua-speaking resident as he sought to find the lost city of the Incas.
I couldn’t wait to get there!
Our trek started in Cusco. Here, we met with our guide, got our gear and learned about what each day would entail, before taking a bus to the town of Ollantaytambo to stay overnight.
During the Incan Empire, this area was the site of the Emperor’s royal estate. Today, the small town is basically built around all the trekkers heading to the Inca Trail. We took a tour of the town, filled mainly with shops and restaurants for tourists, and then climbed up one of the surrounding hills to an old Incan site that used to be storehouses for the Inca’s crops.
Being up high helped protect the crops from both thieves and decay. The view of the Sacred Valley was beautiful from up here.
After a dinner of alpaca pasta, we headed to bed, ready to start our trek in the morning.
After breakfast, we drove over to the start of the Inca Trail, Kilometre 82. We got our bags all sorted out (what we were carrying and what the Porters were taking), making sure the weight was under the limit. Then we got our passports checked and tickets taken and headed across the bridge one at a time to start our trek of the Inca Trail!
It was so beautiful. I have been wanting to do this trip for so long that crossing that bridge was an exciting moment for me.
By 9:30am, we were hiking and it was uphill pretty much right from the start. We spent the next couple of hours going uphill and downhill, stopping for breaks every hour. The landscape was incredible. Most of it was so green, especially down in the valley when you were looking up at the hills surrounding you. As we passed various old Incan ruins our guides would give us some info about what we were seeing. The first big one we stopped at was Patallacta or Llactapata.
As you make your way along the trail, you are walking on a mixture of the original Inca Trail and a newer one, located nearby. This has been done in places to help preserve the original trail. Looking at all the sites and even parts of the trail itself, it’s incredible to think that most of this was built pre-1500s. How were they able to get all this stone here? This would be a challenge to build today, and yet they did it without any modern tools. Each time we came across a new site, this is something I marvelled at again and again.
As we walked, the sun soon turned to a misty rain. This continued on and off for most of day one, so it was nice to stop for our lunch break at Tarayoc for warm tea and soup followed by fish with rice and vegetables. After a break, we headed back to the trail. We passed houses along the way, and locals out on motorbikes, and horses and donkeys carrying loads along the trail. What a view you would have living out here (and also what a challenge unless you could completely live off the land!)
We hiked for about six hours that first day and of course the last 45 minutes was once again pretty much straight uphill! Camp tonight was at 3100m. I was exhausted by the time we made it there and so happy to see my tent! After arriving at our first camp, our guide, Odie, introduced us to the rest of our crew. The cooks and porters ranged in age from teens to their mid fifties, some of them earning money for school or training to become guides themselves, and others who had hiked this trail working as either cooks or porters their whole lives. While the language barrier made it hard to have conversations, learning something about each of them and sharing something about ourselves was great. We all sat for our first “Hot Drink Happy Hour” and had a hot chocolate or tea and cookies before having dinner in the dining tent around 6:30pm: soup followed by chicken and vegetables. By 7:30pm we all made our way to our tents, exhausted. It was pitch black and cold, but you could see so many stars. What a day!
The day started with a knock on the tent around 5am. “Good morning, would you like a hot drink?” A very early start, but such a lovely wake up call! We were given warm water to wash our hands and faces and a cup of hot tea. We had a breakfast of porridge and pancakes with chocolate sauce and coffee. By 6:30am, we had loaded up and were ready for what Odie said would be our toughest day, as we gained 1000m in elevation and then had to come back down 600m. It was steep right from the start!
Twenty minutes in, we stopped as Odie had to do some paperwork at the checkpoint. They make sure everyone is accounted for and that none of the porters are carrying more than the allowed weight of 25kg. It’s great that they are being monitored and that this rule was put in place to protect them from being completely overloaded.
The first part of the hike today was through lush vegetation, at times with small waterfalls and a river flowing beside us. The trail was a mix of dirt and rocks with large stone ‘steps’ in some parts (which I found much harder to climb). The trees were covered in moss and we saw some very large hummingbirds, in beautiful colours. The misty rain had settled in again by this point and the higher we went, the harder it was to breathe. At one point, I was stopping for a breather every twenty steps or so.
We climbed higher and higher and after three hours of climbing, we finally reached Dead Woman’s Pass – a name that was quite fitting for how I was feeling by that point!
The view was incredible and looking down at where we came from was almost unbelievable. We had a nice break here, taking photos and catching our breath.
Although being up at 4215m, it was quite chilly. At one point, someone yelled that they saw something moving. We all ran to look at what Odie called a Bobcat – dark in colour, with a long, ringed tail – a wild Andean cat. He said in the 10 years he’s been leading treks here, he’s only seen a couple of others, so we were very lucky to have spotted this cat!
After 15-20 minutes, we were all starting to shiver, so we began the trek back down the other side of the pass. As always, the scenery was gorgeous, although you needed to spend a lot of time looking down at where you were stepping so you didn’t go tumbling.
Just before 2pm, I saw Jorge waving the purple G Adventures flag meaning I had made it to tonight’s campsite. What an amazing sight!!
The porters all cheer you on as you make it into camp and hand you a refreshing drink. By 2:30pm, we sat down for lunch. I had been saying all day that I just wanted some spaghetti and cake and that’s what we ended up having for lunch! It was delicious! We had a restful afternoon until “Hot Drink Happy Hour” before dinner. The campsite tonight was around 3600m and the view was amazing. Definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever camped!
Another 5am wake up call with a cup of coca tea before breakfast. We set out around 6:15am for our 16km hike today. It was a beautiful sunny day as we started our uphill climb.
We soon came to Runcuracay Ruins, which Odie said were discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1915. This site had been used as a resting spot for Incas using the Inca Trail. The entire trail is 40,000km long, so this was one of the resting spots used by messengers as they travelled along the trail. We explored the ruins and then continued on our way.
The view from up above was beautiful, looking down on the ruins, with the morning mist still casting shadows over the mountains. The trek was challenging, but the views kept me going.
Today wasn’t as steep, but was more of a rolling up and down.
We also came across a number of llamas walking along the trail today. This made my day!
Each llama had an ear tag and Odie explained that their name was printed on the tag. One of my favourites was Doris.
She walked along with me for a little while before running back with her pack as we entered a cave.
Our lunch spot had a view where you could see for miles.
It also had a bunch of llamas to take photos of! Today’s meal was a feast. We had pizza, ceviche, veggies, chicken stuffed with peppers, pasta with cheese, quinoa burgers, squash, fried jungle potatoes, beef, corn and fried chicken!
Our head Chef, Wilbur, was great. We were certainly never hungry along this trek!
After a break to digest, we began the 3-hour mainly downhill section of today’s hike, much of which had very steep stone steps.
We stopped at another Incan site, Phuyupatamarca. With its elevation around 3600m, it’s also known as “The cloud above the town.”
This site had many different levels and some great views out the ‘windows.’
Shortly after, it began to rain, which made our rock-filled trail very slippery. Soon it was pouring, so the hike along this beautiful, jungle part of the trek was a slow one. We were soaked and cold by the time we finally made it to camp and had a tough time getting warm and dry as the rain continued. Not the best afternoon on the trail, but as we went to the dining tent for “hot drink happy hour,” the Chef surprised us with a cake that said, “Well done Inca Trail 2018.”
Such a nice surprise! We had another great dinner and then said our goodbyes to the cooks and porters as they would be leaving early in the morning to catch the train back to town. Then, it was early to bed as our final day would be an early start.
We were up by 3:30 to have a simple breakfast of bread and coffee and head out to get in line at the final checkpoint. We had to wait there until sunrise as the trail isn’t safe in the dark. Watching the sun rise over the Andes was incredible!
The final hike was about 45 minutes, including one super steep 52-step hill to reach the Sun Gate, or Inti Punku.
From here, you could see the sun rising over the valley on Machu Picchu. We were almost there!
We continued hiking down from the Sun Gate, passing several other Incan sites along the way, until we finally reached the entrance to Machu Picchu, which means ‘Old Mountain.’
I got some more llama selfies on the way and then continued on to what Odie called the “classic picture spot” in Machu Picchu, looking at all the old ruins with Huayna Picchu standing tall in the background. We made it!
We toured around the site, with Odie telling us about the different parts. The detail is incredible, especially considering how old it is and how remote.
There were terraces all the way down to the river below, but the brush had only been cleared down to a certain point after being found again by Hiram Bingham in 1911.
The site has several temples, including the Sun Temple and the Temple of the Condor. You could tell the difference between a temple and a regular building because the temples were built using only rock, with no mortar in between. There were huge storehouses for grain and crops and a large sundial at the top, as well as many other buildings which would have been living quarters.
The Temple of the Condor was made to look like a giant condor, with a cave below. Here, an ancient mummy was found. It was also the place where sacrifices would likely have taken place.
The one downside to this incredible place was the crowds. Tourists flock to Machu Picchu and there were tour groups EVERYWHERE. It was hard to get to see everything with as much detail as I would have liked as you were constantly moving from one point to the next, dodging people. We spent several hours here, taking photos, learning about the history, and walking from building to building.
Before we left, I just stood there and took in this beautiful wonder of the world, so happy to have finally made it here to see this old Incan world for myself!
Since 2002, access to the Inca Trail has been limited to 500 people per day (this is roughly split between 200 tourists & 300 guides and porters). It is necessary for everyone to obtain permits in advance to do the hike. The only way to secure a permit is by booking with an approved tour provider who buys these daily permits in advance. This means that you can only do the Inca Trail with an approved tour company and spaces are capped. Be sure to book early to avoid all the permits being gone for the time you want. (We went with G Adventures on their 7-day Inca Trail tour and had a great time).
There are a number of toilets located along the Inca Trail. They range from outhouses that locals own (they usually cost 1-2 sol to use), to actual restroom facilities located mainly at the campsite. Most are squat toilets, but some flush. The campsite ones had running water to wash with and freezing cold showers if you dare! Best to bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you!
Dress in layers. The temperatures varied from day to day and hour to hour, depending on your elevation. Also be sure to have a warm fleece for the nights and rain gear as we had some rain most days, varying from a light mist to pouring. You’ll want comfortable hiking boots and good socks to avoid blisters.
Most of all, come with an open mind and a camera to record the breathtaking beauty you will find along this ancient trek!