Here’s a collections of thoughts that didn’t really fit in with the narrative, but nonetheless might be of some help for folks.

Trekking Company: We booked Enigma’s Classic Inca Trail to Machupicchu
4 days / 3 nights – Group Service
and we couldn’t’ve been happier. Relatively easy to book, their quality really shone through on the trail. The porters were courteous and well-equipped. The food was way beyond my expectations. And Jaime our guide was easily the best guide we’ve ever encountered, both from a knowledge and a team-building standpoint. Our group size was 7, even though their max is 12. The tents were roomy (4-person) and waterproof. The camp had a toilet tent so you didn’t have to bother with the squat toilets unless you wanted to. And we paid our own way, there’s no discounts or comps in exchange for this deserved praise.

Porters: We carried our own stuff — clothing, sleeping bags, sleeping mats. Other folks paid the extra US$170 for a porter to carry up to a hefty 40 lbs. It’s really just a matter of personal preference.

Trekking Poles: Didn’t have them, don’t use them, didn’t miss them. If you’re unsure how your knees handle a 3,000′ descent, then you might want to think about renting a pair. I know how my knees handle that kind of descent (poorly), but I also know how I handle trekking poles and camera equipment together (poorly). By going down the stairs carefully I had no knee issues. But the others in our group had them and used them. Again, probably down to a personal preference.

Wayna Picchu: I felt rushed to do both Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu in our time frame. We got through ticket control at 08:00 and took the bus to Aguas Calientes at 13:00. That meant 3 hours for Machu Picchu and 2 hours for Wayna Picchu. I would have used another hour in MP, but I dawdle and take lots of photos. If you stay an additional day then by all means do the hike, but if you’re coming from the Inca Trail just be aware of the timing. But you do have to make your decision beforehand – there’s only 400 tickets each day and the most always sell out.

Altitude Acclimatization: We live in Colorado so we’re already normal at 5280′. We also spent a few weekends ahead of our trip snowshoeing in the mountains around 10,000′ to get some altitude. The first day in Cusco, 12,000′, had a slight headache. But that was it for altitude effects. The trail tops out near 14,000′ so as few days in Cusco will do you a world of good, especially if you’re coming from near sea level. Flying in unacclimatized then heading straight for the Inca Trail will only increase your difficulties. Seriously, spend a few days in Cusco.

Physical Preparation: This is not an easy hike, especially if you’re not active and not in your twenties. I don’t even know how a 4,000-feet-in-one-day ascent gets classified as moderate. The better your physical condition, the less struggle you’ll have. But it’s also not a timed event. Our food illness whacked us for the first two days, but the end result was that our days were longer — not that we wouldn’t make it. But go hiking a number of times before you come, and try to do hikes with elevation gain. Your body will thank you on the trek.

Should You Do It: We’ve trekked before and I like exclusive ruins, so was a no-brainer for us. I think immersing yourself in the wild environment relatively unchanged since Inca times, walking the paths & stairs the Inca themselves laid, and visiting the ruins they built gives you a greater understanding of their world than day-tripping at individual ruins can provide. Everyone has their time and money constraints, and trekking the Inca Trail taxes both. But if can afford the time & cost I don’t think you’ll regret it. You arrive in Machu Picchu using the same route the Inca did. Your legs will tell you how remote the ruins are, not your tour guide. And since your feet brought you there through three days in the Inca world, you feel a bit like you’ve earned your place there. You feel like you are coming home.