Hiking the Inca Trail in Peru was one of the best experiences of our 6 month backpacking trip last year. Actually it is one of the best experiences of my life. As I hiked the trail I would just look around and be amazed by what I saw. Beautiful snow-capped mountains, lush jungle, massive flowing rivers and waterfalls. Never in my life did I think I would ever step foot in this part of the world, yet here I was.
Before we set off on this adventure I did read about some experiences from other travelers who set off on this trek. I read about their experiences but I didn’t come across anyone who actually prepared you for this 4 day, 3 night journey. While the tour company does a decent job of informing you of the necessities, it does leave out some things that could make your hike more comfortable and enjoyable.
First off, you don’t have to do the hike to see Machu Picchu but in my eyes thats cheating. Nothing was more disappointing than seeing people coming off of buses, freshly showered, smelling good and looking clean to walk around the ancient city. The people who did the hike, in my opinion, earned their places there. Many of the guides and porters wholeheartedly agreed with this. You don’t get the full experience if you simply take a train and a bus to Machu Picchu. So if you’re adventurous like us, keep reading!
10 Things to Know Before You Hike the Inca Trail
1. Get Acclimated to the Altitude - I thought all the stories I read were exaggerated. I figured I was reading the blogs/articles of people who were just out of shape; after all I do Crossfit. Well, I’ll tell you the altitude in Cusco and the Inca Trail is the real deal. While, neither Laurie or I suffered from altitude sickness we did struggle with breathing when we first arrived to Cusco and a little on the trail. Everything seems to be set on a hill in Cusco and on the trail you’re constantly moving up and down. While you don’t need to be a super athlete to hike the trail you should arrive to Cusco at least 2 days before your hike in order to let your body get used to the altitude.
2. Book your tour with a Local Company - While there are tons of companies offering tours and hikes on the Inca Trail, booking with a local company will A) usually be less expensive than a bigger company like G Adventures or Intrepid B) ensure that you are supporting the local community who rely on tourism. We booked our tour with Alpaca Expeditions (they are known for their bright green t-shirts and packing gear) and we had an amazing experience. Our guide Isaac, who is part Quechua, was the very knowledgeable and proud of his heritage. The teams of porters were also amazing, hauling our gear passing us on the trail and setting up our tents and cooking delicious meals before we arrived at camp. Incredible job. There are other companies in Cusco and you should do your research but I feel Alpaca Expeditions went above and beyond and made our experience that much more memorable.
3. Rent Gear - Nobody told us that you could rent all of your gear when we arrived in Cusco. I was going to sacrifice a pair of sneakers I had brought with me and Laurie was going to buy, yet another, rain jacket. However, we found out from the hostel staff at Supertramp Hostel (insert link to favorite hostels here) that we could rent everything we needed. Now if you are not an avid hiker and don’t have all the gear necessary or you're backpacking for a long period of time (like we were) then you should just rent your gear. First, it was convenient. We shopped for our gear the day before our hike and found everything we needed. Hiking poles (necessary - at least one), rain pants and rain jacket, gloves (in case your hands get cold but totally not necessary, they will get wet and be useless), headlamps (very important when you need to use the bathroom at night) even hiking boots. Ew, you may think? Wearing shoes that others have sweated in? Well, they were already broken in and I didn’t get one blister. Plus, I just gave them back and didn’t have to worry about mud caked boots in my pack. Second, it was inexpensive. I believe Laure and I spent less than $100 for all our gear. So do yourself a favor, instead of hauling all that gear around and worrying about cleaning it after, rent it.
4. Rest Up - The night before you go hiking you should spend resting up. Have a good dinner, nothing exotic. This is not the time to introduce your stomach to Cuy (Guinea Pig) or Alpaca. You don't want to have an upset stomach, bathrooms are few and far between. You’re going to want to get some sleep because your guide will pick you up early. Lucky for us (I’m being sarcastic) we were the first ones to be picked up and therefore had to wake up the earliest. But I guess waking up at 3:30AM compared to 4:00AM is not a big difference. Also, this is not the night to go out with your new hostel mates. No matter how nice they are or how cute they are, stay in bed. Trust me. Grab their Facebook info and message them after the trek. Supertramp Hostel Cusco was an excellent choice to stay. It was peaceful and the beds were very comfortable. You can also leave your main luggage with them to hold while you are hiking. Side Note: Don’t be the douchebag hostel mate that decides to pack in the morning waking everyone up. Do everyone a favor and do it the right before.
5. Bring extra batteries for your phone/camera - While there is no reception in the mountains you will still be using your phone (most likely) to snap pictures of the gorgeous scenery. As there is no outlets throughout the trail (duh), you’re going to want to bring an external battery that can charge your equipment. I brought the Jackery External Battery which gave me almost 3 full charges. More than enough for what I was using it for.
6. Dress in Layers - This one is important. During the day while you're hiking you may become hot and need only a t-shirt or light jacket. At night however, it gets cold. You should have a sleeping bag that is suited for that kind of weather but we found it wasn't enough. Good thing I brought some layers with me and was able to stay warm and comfortable throughout the nights and on the hike.
7. Bring a Rain Jacket/Poncho - Most companies will provide you with a poncho. But it is plastic and not the most durable material. Ours were torn up by the end of the trail. Laurie had to rent a rain jacket (long story in India) and I had my Columbia waterproof rain jacket. It usually does the trick but with the amount of rain we experienced even that bled through a bit. You will get wet, there’s no getting around it but how wet is up to you and how prepared you are. Don’t skimp out on rain gear.
8. Bring Wet Wipes/Toilet Paper - While the company provides toilet paper for use in the portable restroom, they only bring a certain amount. Once it runs out there is no more. Don’t get caught in the Andes with no TP! Also, the bathrooms along the trail DO NOT have toilet paper, so do yourself a favor and bring a small roll. The wet wipes are merely to wipe the important bits (underams, under carriage). You will not shower for 4 days and you will be hiking up and down hills for 43km (26 miles). You’re going to be pretty ripe. Wipe yourself down.
9. Bring some Meds - If you have any allergies or conditions, bring your medicine. Last thing you want to do is be sick in the mountains. Bring antibiotics just in case! I caught a stomach bug on the second day and if our guide, Isaac (this man is a saint), didn't have antibiotics I’d be screwed! The 3rd day of the hike I was coming down with a fever, I was exhausted, sluggish and barely wanted to eat. After I took the antibiotics, I went to sleep for a few hours and by night time I felt pretty good. The next day I was back to my old self and annoying Laurie on the trail. So learn from me, buy medicine! Antibiotics are over-the-counter in Peru so no reason not to get them.
10. Travel Insurance - That brings me to my last point, Travel Insurance. Did we use ours? No, not during this part of our trip. However, if I didn’t get antibiotics who knows what I would have done. Plus, there are some sketchy parts of the trails where the rocks are slippery and the incline/decline is steep. Like I’ve said before travel insurance is like a condom, better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. There were some people that could not finish the trail and had to go back the first day. Guess what? They would have had to pay for a horse to ride back on, lodging for themselves and a porter because they can not be on the trail by themselves and that all adds up. Protect yourself. Click the button below for more information on travel insurance!
Wondering how we were able to afford traveling for 6 months? Our Resources Page is filled with tools we used to save money while on the road!
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