July 25, 2017

We often plan and travel with a destination in mind. But traveling is in the journey, not the end. Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu taught me that. In this article I share my first attempt at hiking to Machu Picchu, why I didn’t make it and what travel lessons the experience taught me.


There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu.We chose the adventurous way – the four-day Inca Trail. I did not pick up a guide book. I did not ask dear Mr. Google for any photos. That moment when I would walk the ancient road into the lost civilisation, I wanted to be 200% wow-ed.

After all, you need to go with a guide for the Inca Trail. It was the best opportunity to show up and be surprised. We chose G Adventures. What was the worst that could go wrong?

As it turned out, a whole lot.


At 3,399m above sea level in the ancient city of Cuzco, altitude sickness hit. You know that feeling when your face is swollen, your extremities are cold, and your head had a woodpecker living in it? That was me.

The rain whipped mercilessly on our backs for all four days on the Inca Trail. With a pair of running shoes, no fleece and no waterproof pants, I could almost hear someone say “Booyashaka” over and over in my ears. As we shivered in the rain, I told myself: bones of steel, brains of steel.

Finally, on the last day, I woke up with a smile on my face. Today was the day. My tenacity would finally bring me to Machu Picchu.

But the mountain had other plans.


In our haste to get to Machu Picchu before the sunrise, I sprained my ankle. Cursing under my breath, I pushed on. An hour later, I sprained it again. This time, I broke down. I sat on the ground and refused to move. My bones and brains had melted away into nothing but pain and helplessness.

The villagers carried me down the mountain on foot and in a makeshift stretcher. I was whisked straight into an ambulance that picked up several other locals along the way. It was strange to feel like I was having a party of injured folks, but I was in that ambulance for three full hours.

And that was how I hiked for four days along the infamous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and left without seeing it. I wanted to be surprised by Machu Picchu. Instead, I was surprised by my ability to feel pain, frustration, exhaustion and utter defeat.


Two years later, I found myself back in Peru for a stopover en-route to Bolivia. I had hopes of finally witnessing the grandeur of Machu Picchu, and thankful for this opportunity to return. This time, with altitude sickness pills, a 3-in-1 winter jacket, waterproof boots and a fuller heart.

Traveling is in the journey, not the end. Till today, Peru and Machu Picchu have a special place in my heart for that. Of course, I have gotten a whole lot better at trip planning. And I always buy travel insurance.

Our travel plans may not always work out as we want them to, our health, the weather and other outside factors can impact our itinerary and experience. But it is important to remember with each expereince, even if it is not the one that you imagined when you planned your trip, you learn something new about yourself that you can take forward into your future travels.

Have you been disappointed by a travel experience, what did you learn from it and how has it helped you when travelling in the future? Please share your own experiences of travel or hiking to Machu Picchu with our readers in the comments below. Read Next > Ascending The Ruins Of The Sacred Valley, Peru

By We Are Travel Girls Contributor Sheryl Soh SohSheWent.Wordpress.com
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  • Reply Ciara July 25, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    Great article. I actually hiked Machu Picchu this time last year and really struggled myself; the altitude gave me terrible stomach cramps and bloating; it was like someone was inflating a balloon in my abdomen that didn’t go away for over a week when I returned to a normal height. I struggled with breathing too, as an asthmatic- no one prepares yoy for these things so well done for writing the article. We both made it in the end and here’s to the lessons we learnt along the way x

    • Reply We Are Travel Girls July 26, 2017 at 2:17 am

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting Ciara. Pleased to hear that despite the challenges you were also able to reach the Machu Picchu in the end, its good for travellers to hear that not all adventures are as easy as they may appear. Thanks, Becky x

    • Reply Sheryl July 26, 2017 at 6:39 pm

      Hi Ciara! Thanks for reading. The Machu Picchu hike is not easy! Another one of my teammates had to be admitted into the hospital. He was fit, with a six pack and all, but when altitude sickness hits, it takes you out like the wind. No one can say for sure who’ll be affected by it, so now I take altitude sickness pills with me each time I visit the mountains. Because nothing can keep me away. Cest la vie.

  • Reply Vivian July 26, 2017 at 4:46 am

    Amazing that you set off on this journey in the first place! We can all learn from your experiences~ well done girl!

    Vivian | http://www.viviyunn.com
    IG | @viviyunn_


    • Reply We Are Travel Girls July 26, 2017 at 5:39 am

      Thanks for reading and commenting Vivian. Glad you enjoyed this post! Becky x

    • Reply Sheryl July 26, 2017 at 6:41 pm

      Thanks Vivian! When adventure calls, we take a deep breath, a giant leap of faith and dive right in. Glad to have a fellow traveler in you. Keep traveling!

  • Reply Karin July 26, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    I had a similar experience – my boyfriend picked up a stomach bug and had to dive behind a bush every five minutes. I struggled in the heat and with the dust kicked up by the porters who practically run up in their flipflops! We spent our first night with some locals in a room shared with a wild hamster (at least I think it was!), before doing the walk of shame back down the mountain the next day. A day and some super-strength antibiotics later, my boyfriend was fine and we had a few days to ourselves in gorgeous Cusco before getting the train to Aguas Calientes and a bus up to Macchu Pichu to rejoin our tour group. Far more civilised! We were disappointed at not hiking there, but we still loved it and enjoyed taking our time getting there. Amazing place, fabulous people.

    • Reply Sheryl July 26, 2017 at 6:43 pm

      Hi Karin. Thanks for sharing your experience! Machu Picchu is so special, it allows us to discover who we are and what we are capable of. And often, we realise that we are more resilient than we think. Glad you had your own special adventure!

  • Reply Mona July 28, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    Auch a nice article! We are about to leave for machu pichu, interesting! Thanks so much for sharing 🙂 we just started our blog and it’s so inspiring for me to read others !!
    Besos from Argentina

    • Reply We Are Travel Girls July 28, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      Hi Mona! Thanks for your comment! Glad you liked the post! X, Vanessa

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