Finding Peace while Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

By Susan Lee

Machu Picchu from a distance

I'm not the kind of girl who needs to travel to the other side of the world to find a sense of inner peace, but I found it unintentionally while hiking the 4-day Inca Trail on the mountains of Machu Picchu, one of my lifelong dreams.

Little did I know that this breathtaking journey through nature would have such a profound impact on my mental well-being.

So much of sustainability is focused on material goods like fashion and beauty, when it starts with our own mental health. Are we living sustainable lives? Without the first step in caring for ourselves, it seems overwhelming and hopeless to try to care for the entire planet.

As numerous studies have shown, spending time in nature can do some amazing things for our mental health. A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that spending at least 120 minutes per week in nature is associated with good health and well-being.

Embarking on the Inca Trail, I experienced these mental health benefits firsthand. The lush forests, mist-covered peaks, and sweet scent of wildflowers immediately began to melt away the noise and clutter in my mind. With each step along the trail paved by Andean ancestors hundreds of years ago, I found myself more focused and present than I had been in months.

The physical challenge of the trail, with its steep inclines and high altitudes, pushed me to my limits. My body was already aching by the end of day 1 and it was much steeper and rockier than I had expected especially at an altitude above 13,000 feet where breathing became a struggle.

But in those moments of breathlessness, I learned to pause, refocus, and breathe deeply. I refocused on the task before me: one foot over the other, following the trail of the Andean ancestors who had risked their lives to pave the way.

As my group made our way along the trail, the surrounding nature was a sight to behold. The vibrant green foliage of the tropical forest was teeming with life, and the air was filled with the sweet fragrance of wildflowers.

It was a dreary, dull day but as we embarked on the Inca Trail at four in the morning, the first light slowly revealed lush forests and mist-covered peaks that stretched towards the heavens. The air was thick with the sweet, earthy scent of the jungle, and the sounds of exotic birds and animals filled my ears.

The Inca Trail became my natural meditation, teaching me resilience and mental fortitude. I remembered reading that exposure to natural beauty has been linked to increased feelings of awe, which can lead to a more positive outlook on life and a greater sense of connection to the world around us.

When we finally reached Machu Picchu on the fourth day, the clouds parted to reveal the ancient city bathed in golden sunlight. The air was crisp and clear, and the light seemed to dance across the ancient stones, creating a sense of awe and mystery.

The experience of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was a journey through time and space, a trek that connected me to the natural world and the history of humanity.

The Inca Trail taught me that sometimes the most profound experiences can be found in the simplest things - the rustle of leaves, the scent of wildflowers, and the soothing sound of a waterfall.

The sense of accomplishment, combined with the awe-inspiring view, was a powerful reminder of the healing power of nature. Although I think we could all find this natural healing closer to home if we look for it, sometimes, you don’t find it until you’re on the other side of the world. That’s okay, too.

The peace I felt on that trail was a gift from the mountains, the kind that makes you believe in the magic of nature simply by being in its presence.

The kind you never forget.


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