Inca Trail Peru: 9 Tips to Properly Prepare for a Trek through the Andes
I’m positively buzzing with anticipation! On the 10th of November, the time has come: I’m hiking the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu! I’ve been professionally involved with Peru for more than six years, working with travel agencies, traveling all over the country, and advising clients on their trekking tours. In my mind, I feel like I’ve walked them all: Inca Trail, Salkantay, Inca Jungle, you name’em … In real life, however, my feet have only touched the Ausangate Trek. And it was no joke! I struggled heavily with the thin mountain air, the extreme temperatures, and my „unfitness“ at that time. I was just badly prepared. Which won’t happen with the Inka Trail! In this article, you’ll find out what to expect on a trek through the Andes and how I’m currently preparing for the Inca Trail.
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So far, my own experience with a trekking tour has been the Ausangate. At 6,384 meters altitude, it’s the highest mountain in southern Peru and, in May 2013, I hiked around the entire mountain massif in five days. In contrast to the other trails, the hiking paths around the Ausangate receive only few visitors and this hike is therefore still an absolute insider tip! Thanks to the Ausangate Trek I was able to experience first-hand what it means to march through the Andes for several days, to expose myself to the mountain air and the extreme temperatures. From then on, I knew about the logistics of such a trekking and what you should take with you. This hike, which is definitely one of the most demanding in Peru, has taught me a lot, including what I’ll do differently on my next trekking. After all, you never stop learning!
Here Are Our 9 Tips on How to Prepare Properly for Your Trekking in Peru:
Tip 1: Get Fit before Your Trekking
I must have been a bit naive in 2013. At any rate, it was pretty courageous to go on the Ausangate trek (seven to eight hours of trekking a day) straight after sitting in an office for months and with almost no preparation for the trek. So much naivety was, of course, punished with the „brute marches“ (as I call them). I made it over the highest pass at 5,200 meters somehow, but please don’t ask me how. It was probably my willpower because it, too, can move mountains. I reached limits I didn’t even know existed before. It was hard. And that’s why I’m doing it differently this year. I go jogging and do regular weight training. When I return to Peru in the near future, I will prepare for my big hike with shorter day-trekkings. What I’m trying to say is this:
Physical fitness facilitates a multi-day hiking tour through the Andes immensely.
As you can see in my example, the opposite is also possible, that is to say, you can complete a trekking without much training. After all, you might want to take part in such a trekking tour rather spontaneously. But, if possible, I recommend a conscious „Peru trekking training plan“, which you can design any way you want: dancing, yoga, cycling… just keep moving, that’s the main thing.
You should be aware that you’ll cover many vertical meters in almost all trekkings in Peru, which means a lot of uphill and downhill hiking. Many people will feel it in the knees. Strength training for the legs is, therefore, a good idea, but you could also consider portable trekking poles.
Tip 2: Get Used to the Altitude in Advance
Did ok with this one because I’d been living in Cusco for months and was, therefore, sufficiently acclimatized. This time, I’ll again be in Cusco for over a month before I head to the Inca Trail. Many travelers don’t have this kind of time and find it more difficult, others even completely underestimate the altitude.
You should know that it really makes a big difference whether you’re hiking in the Alps or in the Andes. You can be the biggest hiking-fan, the altitude can knock anyone’s socks off, no matter how young or old, whether trained or untrained.
Before heading on a multi-day hike (Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, Choquequirao, Santa Cruz Trek or Ausangate Trek), you should stay at an altitude of 3,000 meters or more for at least a week. It’s the only way your body will get used to the reduced air pressure. Wondering what the change in altitude feels like during a hike? Personally, I would describe it like this:
All movements feel a lot heavier than usual. Sometimes you have the feeling that you’re hardly moving forward at all, especially when you’re walking uphill. There’s plenty of oxygen at a higher altitude, but the low air pressure means that less oxygen can enter the body and thus the bloodstream. The lungs hurt, too, because you’re breathing much heavier in order to supply the body with oxygen. Basically, a hike at high altitude is three times more exhausting than at sea level.
Tip 3: Wear Good Sunscreen
For me personally, this is a somewhat tedious topic. I’m not a fan of sunscreen at all. I can’t stand the smell and when you sweat, you always get that bitter chemical sunscreen taste in your mouth, know what I mean? In any case, you don’t really have a choice in the Andes, especially if you want to do a hike — you’ll be permanently exposed to the sun, even if it’s cloudy! The sun doesn’t just feel more intense because of the altitude, but it also will be because you’re closer to the Equator in Peru. Wear long, airy clothes and a sun hat to protect you from the sun. If you know a good natural product for an effective sun protection, please let me know in the comments!
Tip 4: Bring Enough Water
I think I drank too little back then. I only had a small water bottle with me, which I filled up with boiled water in the morning and again at noon. I probably didn’t want to carry more weight, but I was most definitely dehydrated and quickly got the ticket for wanting to avoid the extra kilo. You’re supposed to drink on average two to three liters of water per day — which should, of course, be a lot more on a hike, where you sweat a lot!
As a rule, you can stock up on water yourself on the first day of the hike, while the cooks provide you with drinking water on the remaining days. In general, you should take the opportunity to drink a lot during breakfast and lunch. Although I love coffee, I’ll probably prefer to drink warm tea on the Inca Trail, simply because it doesn’t draw water from the body. It makes sense to bring your own drinking bottle (800 ml to 1 liter) or a hydration system because the plastic of a purchased bottle quickly deforms when you fill it with warm water.
Many readers also ask us if they should bring along water filters or tablets to clean the water. Sure, why not. If you refill your water bottle with one liter at breakfast and one at noon, you’ll be well stocked for the two stages. There is nothing wrong with drinking the water from streams and springs, but only if you use a filter or tablets.
From the website www.kompass.de: „As a rule of thumb: the colder the water, the cleaner it is. Dangerous bacteria and viruses can multiply much faster in warm water than in cold streams. The same applies to the flow rate. The faster the stream rushes through the mountains, the cleaner the water. You can’t drink from stagnant water — it’s a paradise for bacteria.“
Tip 5: Pack the Right Hiking Boots
A friend of mine walked the Salkantay in Chucks (simple sneakers) and had a great time — or so she says. I can only speak for myself and I could never do a mountain hike without good hiking shoes. The mountain trails can be rocky, sandy, or muddy, depending on the season. Your chosen hiking boots should, therefore, have a good profile. The most important thing, however, is that your shoes have been worn in properly and have adapted to your feet because nothing is worse than blisters within the first ten kilometers. Ouch. The choice of ankle-high shoes or normal ones is up to you. For me personally, it’s not that important.
Tip 6: Consider Using Trekking Poles
I did the Ausangate Trek without hiking sticks. Today, I’m a few years older and wiser and will probably use them on the Inca Trail — For the simple reason that trekking poles are a great relief during a hike, providing a safe grip and relieving the knees during difficult descents (especially on steps and rocky paths).
Tip 7: Choose the Right Clothes for Your Hike
Agonizing over the right choice of clothes can make your head spin. They need to be convenient, take up as little space as possible, and look good at the same time, right? Yep… not always that easy.
First of all, you should be clear about what time of year you’re going hiking in Peru (which actually only has a partial effect on the choice of clothing). From May to October, it’s dry season in the Andes, so you’ll probably be spared any heavy rains during that time. However, most hikes lead down into the mountain rainforest where it can rain all year round. The rainy season lasts from November to April, during which, big surprise, you should be prepared for rain. As you know, the weather is going crazy all over the world, including Peru. We are noticing more and more how the rainy season is slowing down and how more heavy rains are occurring in the dry season.
Nothing is certain. The only sure thing is the right choice of clothes, which should be composed of a selected trekking outfit and a change of clothes. The classic „multi-layer principle“ is advisable. This could be a pair of comfortable leggings plus lighter hiking pants or zip-off pants, from which you can remove pieces depending on the heat. For the top half of your body, the combination “shirt plus long-sleeve plus fleece jacket plus light rain jacket” works well. It’s best to use a quick-dry jacket and pants, that way you don’t necessarily need to take a second pair. You can buy a rain poncho and a warm sweater made of alpaca or sheep wool in Cusco. For cold nights, thermal underwear, warm socks, gloves, and, for sensitive souls, even a hot water bottle (can be filled with hot water in the evening) are advisable.
Tip 8: Decide for or against Your Own Sleeping Bag
It’s a very popular question that we get asked a lot and the answer is: Better not. Unless you have an intimate love affair with your sleeping bag from home, you’ll be fine with a rented sleeping bag in Peru. Our tip for the faint-hearted: A sleeping bag liner is ideal if you’re unsure about the hygiene of the sleeping bags. You can rent a sleeping bag directly from your trekking agency, usually for $ 5 a day, or from one of the many outdoor stores in Cusco. Incidentally, the same applies to the trekking poles.
Tip 9: Take a Second Travel Bag
For a trekking, you’ll need an additional travel bag (also known as „duffle bag“) that can get dirty. It should have a capacity of 40-50 liters. This is the bag for your change of clothes, sleeping clothes, towel, toiletries, and sleeping bag. On organized hikes, you’ll hand this piece of luggage to the horse-handlers or (in the case of the Inca Trail) to the porters. You’ll carry everything you need in the course of the day (camera, rain jacket, snacks, water, sunscreen, etc.) in your daypack.
Who is writing?
Hola! I’m Nora, Co-Founder of ALL ACROSS PERU. I cannot live anymore without Ceviche, mountain air and cumbia sounds. On this blog I share all my travel insights for Peru!