Machu Picchu

You cannot say the word “Peru” without someone immediately following it with a comment about Machu Picchu. This means two things regarding the Lost City of the Incas: It is a truly magnificent destination in South America and secondly, it’s the biggest tourist magnet south of the equator. With this in mind and our constant desire to take the road less traveled, we opted to not hike the “Classic Inca Trail” (which was partially paved by the Incans and packed to the gills) and started researching tour companies that could provide an equally cultural experience without as many gringos. After weeks of researching, all signs were pointing to Andean Treks and their Moonstone to Sun Temple five-day trek. With 32-years of experience leading adventures throughout South America, Andean Treks knows the ins-and-outs of the Incan back roads for the most intimate access to the ruins of the Sacred Valley.

Group at Quillarumi “Moonstone” in the Quechua language trek

Traveling along the Royal Inca Road, which goes from the historic Inca capital of Cusco through the northern villages of the Empire, ending in the majestic Machu Picchu, we made the first stop at the sacred Inca shrine known as Quillarumi (“Moonstone” in the Quechua language of the Incas and the inspiration for our hike’s namesake). Here, our six new hiking mates share a smile and a bit of common jitters before we embark on our five-day high-altitude adventure.

Andean Treks WATA trailhead to meet our hiking crew, encompassing two guides, two chefs, four wranglers, and six horses

We arrive at the WATA trailhead to meet our hiking crew, encompassing two guides, two chefs, four wranglers, and six horses (hey, you can’t go roughing it too much on a honeymoon!). We weren’t expecting such luxury for a camping trip but the team carried all of our bags, set up all the equipment, and always hiked speedily ahead to make sure camp and meals were ready and waiting upon our arrival.

Huatta, a breathtaking pre-Inca fortress dominating the crest of a ridge at 12,645ft Andean Treks

The Machu Picchu hike started along the west bank of the Huaracondo River. After an two-hour warm-up hike, we reached Huatta, a breathtaking pre-Inca fortress dominating the crest of a ridge at 12,645ft. In the forefront of this shot you can see one of the burial areas for the high priests and nobility, and in the distance you can see all the mountains we would traverse in coming days, including the “W-shaped” 15,200ft. mountain pass.

The mountains of Peru Andean Treks

The mountains of Peru are like nothing you will see anywhere in the world–from jagged peaks, to glacier-encrusted horizons to the perfect triangle formations seen in the above photo.

Young peruvian boy on mountainside.

One of the most amazing parts of the hikes was the window it gave us into local life in the mountains, from a women driving a herd of sheep to graze on a terrace to horses loaded down with the day’s potato harvest. We were very excited to hear that much of the food we were eating along the way was purchased from the local villagers who graciously allowed us to camp on their land. Andean Treks is extremely conscious of the footprint they leave, trying to minimize the impact on the land and maximize the benefits for its inhabitants.

Andean Treks view of Mount Pinkulluna and the towering Veronica Glacier in the distance

Each day was adventurous and breathtaking, but we never hiked to exhaustion. We took plenty of stops to learn about the Incan ruins we were passing, enjoy a hearty snack from the chefs and take in the scenery. Above, the team starts day three with a glimpse at Mount Pinkulluna and the towering Veronica Glacier in the distance.

Ollantaytambo with Andean Treks

Descending through the rock fields of the Incan quarry and passing through acres of quinoa fields along the base of the Sacred Valley, we reach the sacred 15th-century town of Ollantaytambo on Day 4. The stone streets wind like a labyrinth, revealing a still traditional Andean way of life. Meandering through, we arrived at the home of the first Andean Treks chef to for lunch and to celebrate the 45k hike we had just completed.

Peru Rail’s panoramic windows looking out to the towering peaks

The one seemingly bad thing about not hiking the Classic Inca Trail is that you have to do your final leg to Agua Calientes/Machu Picchu Village by train. Though with Peru Rail’s panoramic windows looking out to the towering peaks, Incan ruins, and the rushing Urubamba River, we quickly forgot this fact.

Andean Treks in bustling town of Agua Calientes

Wedged between massive mountains and a rushing river, it is amazing to think that a bustling town like Agua Calientes even exists. Upon reaching Aguas Calientes, the first item on our list of things to celebrate was Mike’s birthday. We went to dinner at a romantic Italian restaurant then relaxed under the stars at the town’s famous natural hot springs.

Sunrise over Machu Picchu with Andean Treks

On day five, the day we’d all been waiting for, we woke up before dawn to catch sunrise over Machu Picchu. Our sense of accomplishment and excitement was through the roof as we gazed over the 15th-century marvel and it only got better as the day went on. It is hard to believe that this incredibly complex city took 50 years to build then was abandoned a little over 100 years later to avoid Spanish conquest. Amazingly, the Spanish never actually discovered the city and the site was virtually untouched until 1911 when American historian Hiram Bingham arrived guided by some locals. With 400 undisturbed years and many recent years of painstakingly accurate restoration, Machu Picchu is an impeccable example of the way Incans built, farmed, worshiped and lived.

Crazy stair climb up Huayna Picchu Andean Treks

Touring the temples, houses, terraces, and shrines of Machu Picchu is at the heart of a visit to this UNESCO heritage site but for a real sense of its grandeur and ingenious construction, you must climb Huayna Picchu. Yep, that massive peak behind the citadel, also said to be the nose the sleeping Incan (turn your laptop sideways, you’ll can see his profile!) Not exactly for the faint of heart, Huayna Picchu is a 1,080-ft ascent from Machu Picchu—and we mean straight up! Using our hands, knees, and ropes when available, we hiked the very windy tiny stone stairs and ledges leading up to this dizzying Incan site.

View of Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu with Andean Treks

Way below our feet you can see the clearing in the trees lies Machu Picchu. After five days of hiking through the most extreme and beautiful mountains in Peru, the feeling we had sitting together above the legendary Machu Picchu was as fulfilling as a honeymoon gets.

If you are looking for another alternate way to approach Machu Picchu, check out our friend’s Philip & Thea post on the Salkantay Trek!

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  1. KimRogers2012 says:

    Those picture and descriptions were simple amazing!  The views are spectacular and history amazing.  I can only imagine how those moments must have felt.  I love your adventures, but I have to say this one made me pause.  Thanks so much.

    1. wow, your comment made me pause Kim! thanks for your thoughtful posts all the time, and for actually reading what we write. i know you have a busy life….having great people following along makes our writing and photography that much more fulfilling!

      1. KimRogers2012 says:

        I love seeing a posting from you guys in my in-box. I go through all my emails and save yours for last so I can go through the pictures and descriptions slowly. Thanks for taking me along with you on your honeymoon. ☺ lol

  2. Kenneth Webster says:

    Another great adventure. And report! That last bit of the climb? Dizzing for sure 😉

    1. ken, yeah this was definitely a highlight, even though there were lots of tourists….they were there for a reason, this place will move you. oh yes that last part with the stairs, up Huayna Picchu gives me the willies still.

  3. Man you guys are hardcore! Q & I just might end up taking the train. 🙂 By the way, is it me or am I seeing double with your photo gallery?

    1. Gerard, #1. thanks for posting a comment, great to see you over here. #2. We are not that hardcore, we had porters carrying our gear, running ahead to set up the most amazing lunches and dinners. So while we did rough-it a bit, it was also pretty lux! #3. Thanks for catching that (and actually looking at the slideshow photos), i have deleted all the dups that wordpress added in)

  4. kevin, thanks for the love. the trek really was fantastic! yeah this alternative was very special, and very unique. we HIGHLY recommend these guys!

  5. Hey, your trekking trip looks awesome! may i know the rough cost per pax? and which service provider did u engage? thks!

    1. of course Joan….we are happy to answer any questions from anyone! Our rough cost per day for the HoneyTrek is just under $100usd per day (that is for two people, and all inclusive of our flights, trains, visas, meals, drinks, excursions, safaris….ALL IN). Which might sound like a lot, but its actually cheaper than it costs us to just sit on our couch in New York City.

      1. thks Mike! may i know which travel agency or service provider did you engage? any contact / add / website i can refer to ? thks a lot !

        1. Joan, sorry I thought you were asking about our overall HoneyTrek budget, didnt realize you were talking about the Machu Picchu trek. We did this trek with a company called Andean Treks, and could not have been more pleased. Our guide was Desnarda, excellent guide.

          Website –

          Contact name of two great guys we dealt with over there that can give you all the details. – &

          We loved the Moonstone Trek, we say lots of old Inca sites and we did not see a single group on the entire trip (aside from another group from our company) until we got to Ollantaytambo on day 4!

          Email them Joan and book your trip, you will not regret it!

          1. thks Mike! hope that i can be there as soon to see the magnificent view!

  6. Clare Arch says:

    Do you know how hard the hiking is compared with the classic inca trail?
    (we want to do a trek with our 2 boys ages 11 & 9 (we live in Sao Paulo Brazil) but are not sure which trip will be most suitable. How many hours did you spend actually walking each day? Does the Moonstone – Sun Temple trek involve less up/down each day and less high passes?

    1. clare, thanks for the comment, we are happy to share what we know. #1. Andean Treks is a top notch company, the food, service, pace & knowledge about the region and temples was fantastic. with regards to the pace, we did not do the Classic Trail (as we heard its a lot of paver stones, backpackers trash, and well….lots of backpackers on the trail and campgrounds). With regards to hours on the trail it was prob around 5 or 6 per day, but with all the stops for rest and history it was much less than that actually walking. up and down there wasnt many stairs at all, everything was super gradual and so beautiful you didn’t even think about it. If you want to find our more email at Andean Treks, he was our point man, great guy. Tell him Mike & Anne from HoneyTrek sent you, and you want Desnarda as a guide 🙂

  7. hey mike and ann
    I just stumbled upon your website and i am hooked and INSPIRED. Both of you are an inspiration and i am going to spend the next few days reading all you have posted! And i am setting up a travel vision board. Your website couldnt have come at a better time in my life.
    Thanks, really, for taking the effort to share your experience!
    I hope to bug you with little little questions sometimes.
    Congratulations!Wish to do someday what you are doing today!!!

    From India 🙂

    1. that is so great Shash. so nice to meet you as well. we are so stoked we can inspire someone else to travel the world! are you on Facebook as well? if so come say hello at that info is more fluid and things we don’t post here on the blog. Thanks for joining the HoneyTrek!!!!

  8. What month were you there, and how cold was it in your sleeping bags/how warm was it during the day? Looks like it was nice and sunny! Did you bring your own sleeping bags?

    1. We were there in May of 2012….and the weather was fine, even at 5,000 meters it wasn’t that cold. And the sleeping bags that Andean Treks provided were more than warm enough.

      We did this trek with a company called Andean Treks, and could not have been more pleased. Our guide was Desnarda, excellent guide.

      Their website is –

      Contact name of two great guys we dealt with over there that can give you all the details. – &

      We loved the Moonstone Trek, we say lots of old Inca sites and we did not see a single group on the entire trip (aside from one other group that was from Andean Treks as well) until we got to Ollantaytambo on day 4!

      Let us know if you ever decide to go @disqus_3H59n67pRh:disqus!

      1. Hi Mike,

        We did decide to go, and since I’m having trouble seeing your thumbnails at full size, I have a clothing question for you. We’re going the first weekend in May. It looks like you wore a regular t-shirt sometimes and hiking pants… I see one photo where someone’s in shorts…
        Was it warm enough that you wanted to be in short sleeves every afternoon? What did Anne think? (I know some are more warm-natured than others!)

        Currently, I have on the packing list a smartwool longsleeve base layer, a zip-up polyester athletic shirt layer, a thick warm wool sweater, a waterproof shell with a hood, two pairs of hiking pants (one that rolls into capris), two wicking short-sleeve polyester t-shirts, and was thinking about bringing a regular cotton t-shirt for Machu Picchu, since we won’t be there late enough in the day that getting chilled would be a problem. (Also have fleece leggings for warmth under the hiking pants for early mornings/after dark, and hat, gloves)
        I could bring a lightweight windbreaker, but do I need to? Do I have to buy two more ‘technical’ ts (or even a tank), or will I be happy in that long-sleeved zip up shirt most of the afternoons? All the backpacking types swear cotton = death, but I have lots of cotton ts on hand, of course, and could bring some of them. Will I be sorry if I don’t have shorts?

        At home, I’ve always hiked in t-shirts and jeans or shorts and maybe a windbreaker or warm wool sweater over it, except for our one experiment with winter camping to prepare for this… but I’m generally going just seven miles, not camping, and on peaks no higher than 4400 feet.

  9. Machu Picchu is one of my dreams. I hope to go there eventually and see.

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