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5 Things You Should Do to Prepare for the Inca Trail

Hiking the Traditional 4-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is an amazing experience. You get to trek the same stone path that the Incas created and used to reach Machu Picchu. After 4 days of hiking and visiting impressive Inca ruins, getting to the Sun Gate and getting your first view of Machu Picchu is exhilarating. That being said, this is NOT an easy hike. Permits generally sell out at least half a year in advance, meaning that you must book ahead of time. That gives you plenty of time to prepare for your once in a lifetime experience, and we highly encourage you to follow these recommendations:

1. FITNESS. The Traditional 4-Day Inca Trail involves hiking over 10,000 steps, for a total of 45 km or 28 miles. The second day, which is considered the most difficult, you need to hike up to Dead Woman’s Pass which is at 4,215 meters (13,828 feet). It requires hiking 1,000 meters up for about 4 hours. You need to make sure you are in good shape for this. That means doing cardio workouts and also preparing your legs for both the uphill and the downhill parts. Whether you are in the gym and can use an elliptical or stairmaster, or you have stairs at your house or apartment that you can climb up and down, make sure to exercise!

2. ALTITUDE. Being in shape is great, but even those with excellent fitness can have trouble with the altitude. It is important not to underestimate the side effects that you can experience from altitude sickness. It is great if you already have experience at high altitude and know how your body reacts, but if you don’t, then you should prepare accordingly. First, make sure to spend at least 2 days in Cusco or the surrounding high altitude area before starting your hike in order to get acclimatized. This will give you time to see how you do at high altitude and to adjust. Second, we recommend talking to your doctor about getting a prescription for altitude sickness pills, called Diamox (you can also get this medicine in Cusco where it is called soroche pills). Although Diamox is known for having some unpleasant side effects such as making your fingers or toes tingle, these effects are generally preferable to the effects from the altitude sickness. Third, once in Cusco drink plenty of water, drink coca tea or chew coca leaves, and don’t overeat.

3. PASSPORT. When you make your reservation for the Inca Trail, you need to provide your personal information including your full name, nationality, passport number, date of birth and gender. This is the information we use to reserve your permit, since each hiker’s permit is personalized and cannot be used by anyone else. When you start the hike, your passport will be checked and it needs to match the information on your permit. If you renew your passport in between the time when you booked and when you start the hike, you need to send us copies of both your old and new passports so that we can change the number on your permit. Please note that the only information we can change on your permit once it is reserved is your passport number. If the information on your passport does not match your permit, you may not be allowed to do the hike.

4. EXTRA QUECHUA. Since the Inca Trail is protected by the national park, we are required to use Quechuas (porters) to carry the equipment. Our Quechuas carry all of the general camping gear such as the sleeping tents, bathroom tent, kitchen and dining tents, table and chairs, food, cooking supplies, etc. Each hiker is responsible for carrying their personal gear, which includes the air mattress and pillow that is included in our service, as well as your sleeping bag. To be able to carry all of this on your own, it means having a 35-50 L hiking backpack. It is important to be realistic about the weight you will need to carry and to consider if you should hire an extra Quechua to help carry some of your gear. About 2/3 of our hikers choose to hire an extra Quechua to help with some of their gear, whether they have everything carried so they just hike with a small day backpack or they split the extra Quechua with their friends to have only their sleeping bags and mattresses carried. If you aren’t sure if you need an extra Quechua, get a hiking backpack and try it out. Fill it up with at least 18 lbs or 8 kg and see how it feels. Hike up and down some stairs with it, and imagine how it would feel at high altitude. If you still aren’t sure, then keep in mind that none of our hikers who have hired extra Quechuas have ever said they regretted it. It may be better to be safe than sorry!

5. PACK. When preparing for your hike, it can be hard to know what you will need to take with. However, it is important not to overpack since otherwise you will be stuck carrying extra weight which will make the hike more difficult. Please take a look at our recommended packing list:

  • Original passport
  • Sleeping bag
  • Backpack to carry your things
  • Trekking poles
  • Bathing suit (if you would like to enjoy the hot springs in Aguas Calientes)
  • Good sneakers or light hiking boots, and one pair of flip-flops or light sandals
  • Camera and extra batteries
  • Flashlight
  • Rain jacket and plastic poncho (especially if traveling in the wet season, from October to March)
  • Comfortable hiking clothes
  • Bug repellent
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Cap for the sun
  • Warm clothes for the nighttime including thermals, warm hat, and gloves
  • Travel towel
  • Toilet paper
  • Water bottle and about 1 liter of water for the first day until lunch, and after that we will supply you with boiled water for the rest of the hike

It is especially important that you have extra camera batteries and enough space on your camera’s memory card. During the hike, you will only have the chance to charge your batteries at the first campsite since there is a village there (it is necessary to ask your guide about this, since he needs to ask a local family to use their electricity and you may need to pay about 5 soles). After that, there is no electricity, and the worst thing is to run out of batteries or space on your memory card while you are in Machu Picchu! Keep in mind that batteries run out faster at high altitude.

Also, please make sure to take important medicines with. Your guide will have a basic first aid kit and oxygen that can be used in emergencies, but you should have your important prescriptions in your backpack.

We hope that this information helps you prepare for your hike to Machu Picchu! If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at info@cusitravel.com.