Having put the difficulty of day 2 behind us, we were all feeling good about day 3. In comparison, day 3 would be long but not as technically challenging. We had 16 km to travel in total, including a (now) easy 300 meter (about 1,000 ft) climb. However, this was all we knew; every time someone talked about the Inca Trail, it was all about day 2, and day 3 hardly got a mention. I’m almost glad I went into this last full day blind because it turned out to be a beautiful treat.
Once again, we woke up at 5:30 am so we could be on the road by 6:45 am at the latest. Feeling rested and barely sore we went through our morning routine: coca tea, warm water, get dressed, pack up bag, breakfast, refill water, grab snack bag backpack and walking stick, pass through the checkpoint, get your passport stamp and be on your way.
After a short hike we came across a set of mountaintop lagoons, where we sat for a few minutes to soak up the scenery. Right after you pass the lagoons you encounter the hardest part of day 3: 30 minutes of climbing to the days highest point, otherwise known as Runkuraqay Pass. While it doesn’t quite measure up to Dead Woman’s Pass, it still sits at a pretty 3900 meters (~12,800 ft) up. After having completed day 2, this was a piece of cake (mentally) and we quickly scaled it (enduring the same respiratory distress as always) and continued onward.
If the theme of the previous day was to conquer the highest mountain pass, then the theme of day 3 was to slow down and enjoy the adventure. With little physical worry on my mind, I was finally able to lift my head up from the ground and look around me. And what a perfect place to do it: the city ruins here are more complete and better preserved, and as we descended down into the high jungle, we saw pink and green mosses literally dripping with mountain dew, hummingbirds, butterflies, orchids and heard the sound of small waterfalls and trickles making their way down to the Urubamba river from the faraway glacier where they originated. On this smaller level, there was always something to catch your eye as you made your way through the trail, but on the grander scale day 3 offered some of the most breathtaking and awe inspiringly beautiful mountain vistas.
The grandeur and depth, while i tried, can in no way be captured by a camera; These amazing views can only be truly appreciated in person. To make sure we did just that David had our whole group stop on one particular bend, after we had gotten out ahead of the other groups and had some time on the trail to ourselves. We would sit here for 10 minutes, in silence, and try to fully appreciate what was going on around us and where on this planet we were in that moment. I remember so clearly the heat of the sun, the buzzing sound of small wings flapping, the perfect amount of breeze and these vast and seemingly infinite valleys then hills reaching so high, they made the clouds look approachable. Wowww…. Then just as we were finishing up, we saw another group coming our way in the distance and scrambled back up to get going again.
Soon, we broke for lunch and ate yet another delicious meal. Right afterwards our chefs presented us with a cake (they made a cake! on a mountain!) and we eagerly devoured it. We continued to appreciate the views from our lunch site and much of the group settled in for a siesta. Instead, ready for some quiet time on the trail, a friend and I decided to head out ahead of the group. We took advantage of the next 2 hours to move at a more leisurely pace and take some more photos. We reflected on the previous days’ journeys and about how unbelievable the porters are. On David’s orders, we stopped when we reached Intipata to wait for the group. At this Inca city, we took the time to savor the still ridiculously amazing views before we made the final push to our night’s base camp at Winaywayna.
As it was then the end of day 3, we would spend some time that night to say thank you and goodbye to our porters, who would leave us in the morning when we set out. As a group we collected money to tip the guys who made this amazing adventure possible for us and composed a thank you letter in Quechua, their native tongue, to read to them that night. After one last delicious dinner and our exchange of gratitude and gratuities, we headed to bed. The next morning we would complete the final leg of the journey that leads straight into the grand finale: Machu Picchu! We had an early (3:30 am early) and exciting day ahead of us and needed to be well rested.