I recently had the chance to hike the Inca Trail again, for the first time in several years. It was a great opportunity to reflect and look at it with new eyes. People are often talking about how packed it is, that there are too many hikers on it, that it doesn’t feel like a real trek where you are “getting away from it all”. And after the third time walking it, I still don’t feel that’s true.
Yes, there are 500 people on the trail each day that it is open, which is every day except for the month of February. But everyone walks at a different pace. I have always found it easy to find spaces of time in which I could not see anyone ahead or behind me.
It’s actually nice that you will pass the same people from time to time on the way— or they will pass you. Or, usually, if you are hiking around the same pace, you’ll take turns passing each other. It builds a nice sense of camaraderie.
This time, the moments when there were people around me and I was chatting with them here and there, it occurred to me. Back in the time of the Inca, it was likely that this trail was meant as a way of making a pilgrimage to the sacred site of Machu Picchu. And, in our own ways, we are still making that pilgrimage.
Of course, everyone has their own motivations for doing the trail. Some people are just checking it off a bucket list, rushing to get to the next scheduled stop. I don’t count that type of trekker as being on a peregrination.
Many though, have other motivations. They want the physical challenge of it. They want the chance to hike this gorgeous trail through the Andean mountains, down into the cloud jungle and entering into the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu. And some, whether fascinated with history or Inca spirituality, are excited to be walking this same path that the great Inca Pachacutec himself may have trodden (or been carried) on to get to the enigmatic citadel that he had built.
Whatever your personal reasons for hiking the Inca Trail, or any other trek here in Peru (or elsewhere), I invite you to consider it your own personal pilgrimage. It doesn’t have to be in the spiritual sense of the word. But why not make something more out of it than a vacation pastime?
Why not make it the start of a new beginning, whatever that means for you? A change of habit toward a more healthy lifestyle, a pause when making a career or life change, a commitment to spending more time in nature, or simply to live more in the present.
When you are out among these gorgeous mountains, if you really take your time to appreciate your surroundings, you may start to feel something shift inside of you. Many people do, even those who have no spiritual practice and have no patience for things they consider “new-age, hippie, airy-fairy” get affected by the incredible landscapes here. Walking into the awe-inspiring city of Machu Picchu is the icing on the cake, the final smack up the side of the head of perspective that can change lives or, at the very least, create a memory of a lifetime.
You are going to do the trek anyway. And it is fabulous even if you just treat it as such, with no thoughts of anything profound. But Peru really is a magical place, trekking to Machu Picchu really is something indescribable, and setting a specific intention that first day as you set out just might take you someplace you never imagined going.