Peru & Chile in 11 Days – Part 8 – Hiking to Machu Picchu’s Inca Bridge

Our Itinerary:

Hiking to the Inca Bridge

Hiking the Inca Bridge trail is not for the faint of heart, but we didn’t tell Mom that.

Truth be told, we weren’t quite sure what to expect after making our way to the trail head marked by the posted wooden signs.  The first indication that the hike would be more than a walk in the park surfaced when we encountered the manned sign-in booth.  Every visitor past that point had to sign in with their names and start time and then sign out again upon return.  Apparently, there was a slight chance of danger ahead if they had to keep careful count of all the tourists.

Mom, however, was more concerned with how long the hike would take, particularly since her backpack didn’t exhibit any signs of lightening up after the first two-hour hike.

“What does the guide book say exactly about how long this hike is?” she queried suspiciously.  ”If it’s longer than 30 minutes then I’m going to wait for you guys here at the trail head.”

Without directly answering her question, I played the “How-many-times-are-you-going-to-visit-Machu-Picchu” card and pointed to her backpack.  ”If you would just drink your water, it wouldn’t be so heavy, you know?”

“If I drink a lot of water, I’ll have to go use the restroom and you told me that the only one on the premises is back at the entrance.  Do you know how far that is??!!”

It was definitely a catch 22.  Drink water and have to waste time running back and forth to the entrance to use the facilities or risk dehydration and the burden of a heavy backpack full of water.

For me, with my smaller than average bladder, the answer was clear – small sips periodically.  But that didn’t make my pack noticeably lighter as the day wore on.

Brushing aside my own hesitation, I grabbed my mom’s arm and guided her forward.  ”Don’t worry, I think it’s probably just a little over 45 minutes and it shouldn’t be that hard.”  Under my breath I added, “At least I hope not…”

Entering the Rain Forest

Hiking through a tropical rainforest

The hike to the Inca Bridge is known as a short adventure trek not because of its strenuous trail conditions or steep ascents, but because of the sheer drop-offs one encounters along the way.  The trail itself winds through a tropical rainforest complete with lush foliage, exotic wildflowers and the requisite swarm of mosquitoes and then meanders out to the edge of a heart-stopping ridge.   Looking down, there is little between you and a 1,900-foot drop to the open valley below.  Fencing or railing would be nice, but that would destroy the view.

Surprisingly, once Mom started moving she didn’t look back and I soon found myself heading up the rear of our group, with Mr. Travelbypoints in the lead.

“I thought you were tired!” I feigned indignation. “Your pace doesn’t seem to indicate any signs of exhaustion.”

In answer, she looked at me and shrugged her shoulders, “It’s not that I’m moving particularly fast, it’s just that you’re moving really slow.”

Ah, I walked straight into that one.  Touche, Mom.

“Hey, don’t stop moving. ” Mr. Travelbypoints yelled from up ahead. “If you stop moving you become mosquito bait.  Keep walking.”

My mom and I shared a sympathetic glance.  Our faithful tour leader sure knew how to motivate the troops.

Trail leading to the Inca Bridge

After 15 minutes of trudging through the rain forest and evading persistent mosquitoes, we reached a clearing where the trail narrowed and began to wind its way alongside a stone path carved into the mountain cliff.  To the left of us, the granite face of the mountain.  To the right, a stomach-churning 1,900-foot sheer drop.

I moderated my already slow pace and grabbed onto the metal and rope hand grips that jutted out periodically along the most narrow stretches of trail.  Forget the germs, I’d slather on the Purell later.

Trail to the Inca Bridge

Pausing for a breathtaking (in more ways than one) view

The Inca Bridge

Soon, we reached the focal point of the hike – the legendary Inca Bridge.  And it was roped off.

Behind us, a solitary woman hiker made her way to our viewing point.  ”What? We can’t even cross the bridge?  What a disappointment!”

My eyes latched on to the remnants of a rickety-looking wooden bridge that spanned a 20-foot gap in the stone path several hundred yards ahead of us.  A couple inches of wood separating a person and almost certain death.  Apparently the bridge was once passable but has since been roped off after a hapless tourist fell to his death while attempting to cross it a few years ago.  I shuddered at the thought and said a prayer for the poor soul.

Looking around us, we tried to drink in all the breathtaking details – panoramic cliffside views of the surrounding valley, the soft sound of the rushing river below us and mountainside air so fresh it dissipated our exhaustion in just one long breath.

Another side of Machu Picchu often overlooked by tourists

Mr. Travelbypoints turned to us and pointed back in the direction of the forest.  ”Okay, how about a quick snack and then onward to the main attraction?”

This time, my mom and I both grinned.  Our second wind had arrived and we were ready to go exploring!

Next up: Exploring the grounds of Machu Picchu

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  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.larson Steve Larson

    I just got back from Machu Picchu a month ago, and hiked this same trail.  I wish I had my better camera with me at the time.  As someone who’s very afraid of heights, I can’t believe I actually took this trail.  My palms sweat just from looking at your pictures.  The vertical drop along the path was insanely high!  I was hugging the wall along the way at times, especially around some of the narrow bends.  What an incredible experience though!

    • http://www.travelwhimsy.com/ Prana

      Congrats on successfully tackling the Inca Trail, Steve!  I too was surprised that there was little mention about how potentially dangerous this trail was given the sharp drop-offs with no railing.  My first inkling about the danger came when we encountered the mandatory sign-in book at the entrance to the trail.  But what a beautiful experience it was to see a different side of Machu Picchu – well worth the adrenaline hit!