Since I first saw Machu Picchu in a photo, it has been a dying wish to hike the classic 4 day Inca Trail to the lost Inca city! The hidden location of Machu Picchu at the top of a mountain covered by lush rainforest immediately caught my attention. I was fascinated!
In July last summer, my dream became reality as I hiked the 43 kilometers the trail stretches from its starting point at Piscacuchu Km 82 all the way to Machu Picchu.
7 Tips for Hiking The Inca Trail
July is dry season, but even in rainy season it’s possible to hike the popular route. Only in February, the trail is closed so that the authorities can maintain the trail. I booked about 6 months in advance, which is necessary for access in June, July and August, the summer high season for many countries. Note that you need to book through a travel agency as the regulations require that everyone goes with an authorised guide as well as with porters.
Before you book, check the reviews of the agency first. You will want to go with an agency whose guides speak good English and which pays its porters a fair pay. Some of the agencies pay the porters really lousy, which is not fair considering the hard job they do! An important clue is the price the agencies offer.
Avoid the cheap offers. The only place the agencies can cut the costs, is the pay they offer the porters. To be able to offer the porters a fair pay, the price the client pays needs to be at least 600 USD.
Worth Knowing About Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness doesn’t affect everybody the same way, and how bad it hits you also varies from person to person. But expect to affected in one way or the other.Typical symptoms are fatigue, headache, nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness. It is therefore important to acclimatize, ie. let your body get used to the thinner air, by staying a few days in, for example, Cusco before embarking on your big Inca Trail adventure.
Because I had already suffered from altitude sickness on a previous journey to Peru, I chose to take altitude sickness pills as a preventive measure from the day that I arrived to Cusco, so I didn’t experience any of the usual symptoms.The pills, that don’t cost much, can be acquired in any pharmacy in Cusco – practically on every street corner! However, consult with your own doctor before leaving for Peru.
The first days in the high altitude it is important to drink lots of water, to eat food rich in carbohydrates, to strictly avoid alcohol and to get enough sleep. You can also do like the locals and enjoy a nice cup of coca tea (mate de coca), which also relieves the symptoms of altitude sickness (and don’t worry, you are not going to be high from coca tea! 🙂 ).
Is It Really That Hard?
Yes and no. Let me explain. It is of course important to be in a minimum of shape. But on the other hand, I am in no way near of an Ironman shape. I am the type of person who stays in a good basic shape by biking to and from work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, etc. Although, on the infamous day 2 of the Inca Trail, I wished that I had put a bit more enthusiasm into the training up to my departure.I was the youngest person of our 4 person group (and ideally the fittest!), but there was no way I could compete with Dave, aged 50+, who is a serious amateur runner. He had an amazing lung capacity, almost sprinting up the trail in the thin air, all the while the rest of us had to take constant breaks to catch our breath! It was really impressive! Before departure, I had expected to suffer from sore feet, sore muscles, but no…. thanks to my really good hiking boots, I didn’t suffer from any of this! I was really surprised! Think about that before you begin your Inca Trail hike. Proper foot wear is important! However, my biggest challenge was my lung capacity. A whole new feeling from someone who comes from a very flat country like Denmark! It was the constant shortness of breath that was my biggest challenge. If I ever hike the Inca Trail again, I will definitely make sure to train more focused the last months before departure.
“What about me?”, you may ask yourself. “Can I do it?” Based on my experience, I would say that you don’t need to be in a superhero shape to complete this 43 km hike up and down the mountain sides, in more or less thin air.But of course, you need a good ground shape, but what is really important along the way… is to follow your own pace and take all the breaks you need. If you on certain stretches need to stop literally every 10 steps because you – again – is short of breath, like I had to on day 2, then that’s what you got to do. You might progress slowly, and feel in the world’s poorest shape, but on the positive side, you get to enjoy the amazing scenery. That is not a bad trade-off!
So, if you are in a good ground shape, I can only recommend to take the challenge. Do it! Hiking the Inca Trail was without doubt one of the biggest travel experiences I ever had!
General tips for hiking the Inca Trail:
- Don’t underestimate the importance of proper footwear.I recommend hiking boots with thick soles.The advantage of boots,compared to shoes,is that they support the ankle.
- Zig-zag uphill instead of walking in a straight line.This way you get a gentler gradient and avoid straining lungs and knees more than necessary.
- Take small steps.
- Take breaks when you need it.
- Consider using trekking poles.I personally didn’t use trekking poles, because I am the type of person who takes pictures every 5 seconds, so I was carrying my camera.If I didn’t bring my camera,I would have been happy to use trekking poles. One important note: Make sure to bring trekking poles that don’t cause any damage to the trail.If they come with a metal point, you have to buy some rubber tips. Bring extra rubber tips.
- Bring snacks.Some of the stretches of the trail are long and without possibility to buy anything.
- Keep your spirits high! Sing songs, tell jokes, tease your guide (with love of course! :-)) and whatever you can think of to keep the smiles broad!
What to bring
From you start the Inca Trail till you reach Machu Picchu you are going to hike through different microclimates and you will experience big differences in temperature (warm during during the day and cold at night). The key to staying comfortable is layering: don’t bring clothes designed for only one climate, but bring clothes that can be used in any climate. Another important thing to consider is not bringing too much – you are the one who will be carrying it! (Unless you hire an extra porter who can take only 3-4 kg.)
Here is what I recommend to bring on the Inca Trail:
- Trekking pants with zip-off, so that they can be used both as long pants and shorts
- 2 T-shirts. Avoid cotton! Choose either wool or synthetic microfiber (they’re breathable). I personally prefer merino wool. It’s very comfortable and really convenient, because when it’s warm, it cools, and when it’s cold, it warms. Besides that, it is anti-bacterial and stays odor-free longer (which allows you to use it for 2 days instead of just one).
- 1 long sleeve T-shirt/bluse (again of wool or synthetic microfiber)
- 2 pairs of trekking socks
- Long underwear or tights
- Wind-proof jacket
- Down jacket/vest
- Warm hat and gloves
- For women: sports bra
- For rainy season: rain poncho.
- Hiking boots/shoes
- Light running shoes to use in camp and as reserve shoes if you should get blisters.
TOILETRIES & PERSONAL CARE
- Tooth brush and tooth paste
- Hair brush
- Travel towel
- Towelettes (there’s only cold showers the first days)
- Toilet paper
- Blister plasters
- Small plastic bags for waste
- If necessary, pills for altitude sickness
- Hand disinfectant
- Sunscreen min. factor 30
- Lip balm (the air is dry in the mountains)
- Dry shampoo.
- Passport (to show at checkpoints along the way)
- Cash (soles and maybe dollars) (for water, snacks and tips on the last day. Count on a minimum of 10 % of the tour price for tips to the guide,the cook and the porters)
- Travel insurance.
- If you have hired an extra porter to carry your things: bring a small backpack for water, camera, gloves and other things you need during the day
- Sleeping bag (can also be rented with most agencies)
- Small travel size pillow
- Water bottle (polycarbonate or hard plastic) with a strap or carabineer to attach it to your backpack
- Extra batteries for your camera (no possibility to recharge along the way)
- Headlight or flashlight
That was my great tips for hiking the Inca Trail! I hope you enjoyed it! Do you also find yourself dreaming of walking in the footprints of the Incas? Don’t hesitate more! Start your big adventure on the Inca Trail!