January is the wet season and I had my concerns about the weather and from online forums can see many others do as well. While the Inca Trail is closed in February for maintenance (this is also the rainiest month) tours continue as normal in January. Originally we intended to hike the Lares or the Salkantay Trail. Usually the Inca Trail requires reserving months in advance. As we prefer to be flexible this wasn’t an option for us. We were surprised to find that the Inca Trail was indeed available and our tour included only two others, plus our guide, our cook and six porters.
Choosing a Trek & Agency
In Cusco we investigated all three tours with several different agencies. The Inca Trail is more expensive due to the permits required. We paid $470USD for the Inca Trail with X-treme Tourbulencia . The Lares trek was my preference and offers the experience of trekking through traditional Andean communities, with some Inca ruins. Due to the season, agencies could only offer private tours, which are considerably more expensive (minimum $490USD – $800USD+). The Salkantay Trek varied from $255USD with Eco’s Peru treks and up to $400USD with premium operator Salkantay Trekking. This is the most economic option and offers stunning scenery, though there are no ruins apart from Machu Picchu. After spending some time in the Sacred Valley we had whet our appetites for Inca ruins and that solidified the decision for us.
When choosing an agency, check ratings online and ask other travellers. Go to the agency and ask questions about food, water, gear, how much porters will carry, client to guide ratio, whats included etc. Don’t be afraid to negotiate especially in low season.
The climate on the Trail
Hiking in the wet season meant that we did experience a lot of rain. The path traverses through high mountains, fertile valleys and wet jungle at altitudes spanning from 2,400 – 4,200m so you can expect rain at any time of year. Temperatures vary considerably too. It could be hot and humid in the day, with temperatures plummeting when it rains, at night and at higher altitudes.
Our first day could not have been more perfect, with only a sprinkling of light rain early in the journey. This is the easiest day. The path is mostly flat with only a few hills, crossing through farmland. Local homes provide frequent refreshments and toilet stops (1 Sole). We visited one Inca ruin Willcarakay before stopping for lunch in Tarachayoc, where we we dined on fresh trout and rested on the grass by the river. The sun came out and continued to shine as we hiked the path beside the Kusichaca stream. Our first night was spent camping in a family’s backyard in Wayllabamba, the last village along the route, where we had our own private camping area and the last western toilet until Macchu Pacchu. After this it’s government camping grounds where dozens of people from multiple tours share a couple of squat toilets, and cold water showers are available.
This is the most physically challenging day of the hike. From the village, it’s uphill (including many Inca steps) all the way to dead woman’s pass, the highest point on the trail. I could feel the oxygen thinning with every step, despite being well acclimatised. The morning was sunny and everyone had high hopes for the weather. As we approached the top of the pass the rain began, and continued for the rest of the day. It was a cold, wet hike (but mostly downhill) to our campsite at Pacaymayo. We spent the rest of the afternoon cooped up in our tent resting.
Day 3 is the longest hiking day and there are numerous Inca ruins to visit. The morning cleared enough to see the snow-capped tops of the San Francisco mountains and it was a dry hike to Runkurakay ruin, about halfway up to the second pass. On the descent we stopped in at Sayaqmarka ruin, where it began raining again. In the afternoon we experienced sporadic rain but it was mostly a mix of cloud and sun. After the third and final pass it was all downhill through thick jungle, along the way is Phuyupatamarca and the most impressive so far, Winayhuayna. 30 minutes later we reached camp at Winay Wayna.
A 3am start, heavy rain and a leaky tent left me with little sleep. We sat on cold benches for two hours waiting for the checkpoint to open. 5km further and we arrived at the Sun gate, an underwhelming experience not worth the early start. Shrouded by cloud we could see nothing but white. We reached the iconic Machu Picchu without even knowing it, there was so much mist we could see only a few metres in front of us. Fortunately, the haze began to lift, slowly uncovering the ancient city and adding to its mystique. Nobody knows exactly when it was abandoned, only being rediscovered little more than a century ago.
Tips for surviving treks in the wet-season
Would I recommend the Inca Trail in the wet season? Most definitely! There are less people on the trail and fewer crowds at Machu Picchu. It will be wetter and muddier. Our only regret of the whole trip was letting our guide take photos of us with my SLR. He was a great guide, but he has no idea how to use a camera, and I had to delete most of them. Thankfully at Machu Picchu we asked multiple people and eventually we found someone who took a half-decent photo. The art of photography is becoming lost in a sea of smart-phones and selfie-sticks (sigh!).
- Waterproof jacket
- Rain poncho
- Waterproof backpack cover
- Waterproof pants (we survived without them, but wish we had them!)
- Waterproof hiking boots (there is nothing more miserable than wet feet on a hike and the inevitable blisters…ouch!)
- Baby wipes are extremely handy in lieu of a shower and go a lot further than toilet paper.
- Extra clothes
- Lots of plastic bags to seperate damp clothes and in case your backpack does get wet the stuff inside stays dry (we learnt this lesson after being caught in hailstorm hiking a mountain in Albania)