Every journey has to begin somewhere. Since travelers on the Inca Trail are fairly tightly controlled of late, a journey on the Inca Trail starts at a checkpoint. In this case, the checkpoint at the km 82 marker (measured from Cusco — possibly along the river, or possibly along the rail line, I never asked).
Checkpoints tend to be fairly spartan affairs — although the km 82 checkpoint is a relatively nice one. Outside, there are some benches under covers, a thoughtful touch since you’ll be spending a bit of time here while your guide takes care of the necessary paperwork (we waited about 15 minutes). Inside, there’s a small interpretive center and restrooms — use them, they’ll be the last flush toilets you’ll see for a few days.
On the other side of the checkpoint, the trail starts in earnest. You get a group photo in front of the “Camino Inka – Inka Trail” sign (you’ll have the opportunity to buy this at the end of the trip for a few dollars), and you’re on your way. Head along the river and across the Piscacucho bridge, and you’re going.
Enjoy a quick look back, you won’t see civilized amenities again for a few days.