Hiking the Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu was one of the main driving forces behind our decision to visit Peru this year. It is a true bucket list experience but it is also one that takes a fair bit of planning. You can’t just rock up in Cusco and book a tour on the Inca Trail so if you want a spur of the moment, spontaneous trip you would need to look at another option such as the Lares, Salkantay or Jungle Treks (all of which I have heard great stuff about so I don’t think you’d be massively missing out, they are also a fair it cheaper so that’s an added bonus). With that said I am so glad we did the original trail and here are all the things I would want to know before setting off.
- Book early. You ideally need to book at least 6 months in advance, probably further if going t high season. There are limits on the number of people granted permits every day (including the guides and porters) so it can be fully booked if you leave it too late. The company you go with can apply for permits from January that year so when we booked we were not 100% guaranteed a place until that time.
- Find a good company. You cannot do the Inca Trail independently, you have to go through a hiking company. I did a fair bit of research prior to booking and Peru Treks was highly recommended so we chose to go through them which worked out perfectly for us, they were really great although they are one of the slightly pricier companies. I feel like we got what we paid for though. Other popular companies are Llama Path and G Adventures.
- Hire half a porter. This is definitely a personal choice and our hiking group was split about half and half between those who hired “half a porter” to carry some of their stuff and those who didn’t. There were people of all levels of ability with us and some struggled with carrying the load especially on day 2 when crossing Dead Woman’s Pass (two did actually get a local porter just for that day whilst on the trail although these are not always trustworthy and it’s best to get recommendations from your guide). We chose to hire them and although it cost more I feel like it increased our enjoyment of the walk as we weren’t completely burdened with our belongings.
- Take layers. Whilst hiking we got very hot, on the tops of the passes it was windy and cold and at night it was very chilly so we needed things we could put on and take off really easily throughout the day. We were also told that we were very lucky that it didn’t rain at all as most people get hit at least once during their trip so waterproof layers are also a must.
- Take a hat. I had to use both a woolly bobble hat and a cap during the trek. Much of the way is very exposed so you either have the wind whipping through your ears or the sun beating down on your head. Having already managed to get sunburn on my scalp whilst climbing Rainbow Mountain the day before we started (it was so painful and it blistered, the sun is intense here) I can only tell you how vital this is.
- Pack snacks and plenty of toilet paper. Apart from on the first day there is nowhere to buy any supplies until you reach Machu Picchu so make sure you take anything you may want from the start. If like me you don’t function with English Breakfast Tea in the morning then you will need to take your own as you will rarely find it anywhere in Peru let alone in the packs of the porters. Also if you are a fussy eater like myself it is well worth taking snack bars to fill up on if the food provided isn’t to your taste. The toilet roll one I think is pretty self-explanatory and I would over prepare in that sense, fortunately Fraser and I didn’t have any issues but some people had dodgy stomachs and you wouldn’t want to be caught without loo roll in that instance.
- Bring a camera and way to charge. You will want to take hundreds of photos on this trip so don’t get caught out and lose charge. Either take a stock of batteries or if your camera is like mine and you need to recharge it a power bank or solar charger is vital. As our weather was so nice my solar charger was enough to keep 2 phones, a camera and a go pro going until we reached Machu Picchu at the end.
- Bring a head torch. I didn’t… it was a big mistake. I regretted not having one every evening in the campsites.
- Take the leap and book it. Fraser and I were both very nervous prior to starting out; what if we were too unfit to make it? What if we were the slowest in the group and held everyone up? We are not the two fittest people in the world although we do manage to do a bit of walking every now and again. There were people of all ages and fitness levels out on the trail at the same time as us. We needn’t have worried we were often the second or third people to get to the check points which meant we had more time to take in the views or climb extra little bits to get a different outlook but those towards the back also got plenty of time to rest and take it all in as well. If it is something that worries you then try and get some exercise in before going and hit any local hills/ mountains to get some experience in hiking before going. We also swear by our hiking poles to offload ourselves whilst walking (I get annoyingly tight calves when going up hills) so these may be a good investment but do try practising with them first.
Those are the top things I could think of that were so useful to me whilst doing the Inca Trail. It really is amazing and I am so glad I was able to do it and was gutted when it was over. If it is not on your bucket list, add it, NOW!
Are these tips useful to you? Is there anything else you wanted to know before doing the Inca Trail?