How to Survive the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

 

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Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu over four days in the Andes mountains was an incredible experience. When people have asked me, “How was it?” my response has been “It was an adventure. It was beautiful. It was challenging.” Basically, it’s been difficult to describe to others that have not experienced it for themselves. I was so fortunate enough to be able to make this trip happen – a bucket list trip. I wanted to provide a little more insight on how to survive the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and a few tips I learned along the way.

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To start, backpacking for four days is not the kind of experience that everyone wants and there are ways to go to Machu Picchu without having that type of experience. Of course, it is incredibly awesome and beautiful, but it’s important to evaluate your ability to backpack in the mountains for four days straight.

For those looking to tackle the Inca Trail, I think it’s appropriate to take time to really think about why you want to. Are you looking to see Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate? If so, you can do that by simply staying taking the train to Aguas Caliente, take a bus then walk 30-40 minutes after entering the park. Do you want to hike the Inca Trail but are nervous about your ability to hike to 4,200m? There is a 2 day hike on the Inca Trail that reaches a highest point of about 2,700m. Or are you looking for the ultimate challenge and to experience the trail like the Incas did- a true pathway to Machu Picchu? If trekking to this ancient city is the way you wish to go, below are some tips on surviving the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

  • Acclimate. Sometimes you are unlucky and the altitude gets to you more than others – no matter how fit you think you are. If I could change one thing it would have been to spend more time in Cusco (at altitude). It takes more than two days to adjust to the altitude so do yourself a favor and stay longer before starting the trek.
  • Take care of yourself. Get lots of rest and be sure to take it easy at first if you have never been at high altitude.
    • Quick tip: Hike Goo was my life saver, it looks gross but it saved my feet. Each morning I lathered it on, and I walked away without a single blister!
  • Be prepared & get proper gear. Spend some time hiking where you live and climb stairs. Walking sticks were extremely helpful on the downhills and it was my first time using them. I got used to them very quickly.
  • Go at your own pace. Pay attention to how your body is feeling. My body told me that I needed more breaks, while Mike’s told him that more breaks would slow down his momentum.
  • Be confident and stay positive. Many people have completed this hike and you can too. Just take it “step by step” and tell yourself you can do this!
  • It’s okay to accept help. During the last 100m of hiking to 4,200m I was going incredibly slow and really struggling. Our guide was kind enough to carry my pack for that last stretch.
    • Quick tip: Try not to over pack your backpack.
  • Hydrate! Gatorade/powdered sports drinks helped me get all those electrolytes I needed most on day two of the hike, which was the toughest day.

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Over those four days I learned that I really can do anything I put my mind to. Along the way I told myself that it was too difficult, and often wondered why it was so hard for me when I considered myself to be a very active and fit person. It just turns out that each person’s body reacts differently to the altitude and four long days of hiking. However, looking back on it now, I would not have changed my experience at all.

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Have you completed the 4-Day Inca Trail trek or any other length? What was your experience like and what advice would you give to future trekkers?

  • What a gorgeous collection of photos! I would love to hike and enjoy these amazing views of the Andes mountains!

    • justcherished

      Thank you! Yes, the views were fantastic. I would have loved to spend more time there.
      I like your blog as well, I was just looking through it. 🙂

  • Bernadette Uniacke

    Great read Stephanie, well written.

    • justcherished

      Thanks! And thanks for visiting/commenting!

  • Great tips and nice article. I hope to visit here one day! It’s high on the list. Awesome photos btw. – Stephanie | http://www.thepassportlifestyle.com

  • Rachel Bland

    I just finished the 4 day trek this past Saturday. I can definitely echo the sentiment about being patient with your body and how it deals with altitude. Its hard to watch other people pass you by on the trail, but its a great life lesson in accepting your body. My body struggled from the middle of day 1 to the middle of day 3 and then sprang back to life.

    Also..pack lite, one change of clean, warm clothes for night time, one change of clean day time clothes, maybe a couple of extra shirts (I recommend long sleeves and long pants), 4 changes of underwear, baby wipes, toilet paper and deodorant. Bug Spray, a good rain poncho and a jacket with a removable fleece + a hat.. Pack your outfits in ziploc bags and at the end of the day, swap the clean for the dirty. I recommend the toe sock liners, I wore mine every day with a light weight pair of hiking socks and they saved my feet. I also chose a hiking sneaker (Asics) instead of boots – the boots were too heavy. Bring cash and buy water or gatorade, until you reach the halfway point of day 2 – Deadwoman’s pass you can buy that stuff…don’t carry it. Bring iodine tablets with you for Day 3 and beyond when they start boiling water for you.

    Last but not least, bring a lot of cash. Peru is a tipping country and you need to understand that, people are lovely and gracious and so helpful, but their salaries are very low. Tip your cook, your guides and especially your porters! Porters are the work horses of your trip, they are up before you, they carry up to 25 kg each all day, they run faster than you, and they go to bed long after you.They get paid a very small amount and from what I understand they only get paid once per year. They are generally subsistence farmers from rural areas and they are doing this to provide cash for their families. Tip them generously because their labor is making your bucket list vacation a reality!

    I recommend more than 150 soles per porter from your group if you can afford it – and ask your tour company in advance how many porters will be on the trip and how many travellers, if you can discuss tipping with the other travellers before you leave Ollantaytambo, last chance for cash until Aguas Callientes and only the guides are still with you then – the porters travel separately on Day 4 because the path is too narrow for them. For 6 hikers we had 2 guides, 1 cook and 9 porters. It takes a village to you across those mountains safely and comfortably, be kind and generous!

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