“You’ll hike for three days and then the next morning, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. It’s an incredible view, so you need to do it!” I would wager a guess that anyone who has “hiking the Inca Trail” on their to-do list has heard someone summarize the trip in this way. That’s what I had heard before I left. I read several books and researched blogs, but only one of them gave a glimpse into the challenge that is the hike to Machu Picchu. Thank goodness I read that blog post (which I, unfortunately, didn’t save!) to prepare myself that it wouldn’t be a walk in the park.
Because I was surprised, I wanted to share those things that I think every Inca Trail adventurer should know before going.
1. You are going to Be dirty
For anyone who has been camping for multiple days in a row, this may seem obvious. I knew I wasn’t going to have a shower, but nothing could prepare me for how gross I was going to feel after strenuous hiking for three days. That’s why a hat is important and the porters bringing water to wash is a godsend. Not sure what you can do to prep for this…
2. Altitude can affect you even if you run
I knew altitude sickness was a possibility. When we met our group in Lima, our guide gave us a suggestion for a medication to help with altitude sickness. We got this at the drug store and took it just in case. The last thing we wanted was to ruin our trip because we were sick from this!
Before we left, I wasn’t worried because I had been to Tibet (around 12,000 feet). I was one of the only people in my group who didn’t feel ill – winded yes, but not ill. Well, that’s what happened this time, but with a lot more physical activity. I thought I was in better shape and had done a good job training for the Dopey Challenge. Needless to say, it didn’t help. I was still incredibly winded, which leads me to #3.
3. Dead Woman’s Pass is 13,828 feet high
That’s very high and it is not the same as hiking the same distance at a lower altitude. It is not a stroll in the park; it is challenging and you need to go slowly. I was one of the last in my group to finish, but our guide said we still made good time. It took us about 6 hours to make it up! The advantage is you have an incredible view from the top and then it really is “all downhill from there!” The better your endurance, the easier this should be, so just make sure you are exercising a lot before your hike.
4. You Won’t lose weight because the food is so good
When I pictured this trip, I thought this would be a great, healthy trip and that I would lose weight because of all of the activity. I also thought the food would be simple, but instead, we have gourmet camping food that would have been impressive if it was made in a proper kitchen. I was also hungry from all the walking, but I always left the table wishing I hadn’t eaten so much!
5. sleeping in a tent is hard
My assumption is that many Incan Trail hikers are not used to camping. I don’t think many people in our group camped regularly, so it was hard for most people to sleep in a tent. Personally, I didn’t sleep a wink. I didn’t think I would have a problem with this, but I did. No idea why. I suggest bringing Benadryl or something. I took this after our hike over Dead Woman’s Pass, and it was critical to my getting some sleep that night.
6. You can’t pack very much
You see people posting really cute pictures of themselves at the Sun Gate and along the trail. I have absolutely no idea how they do this. Maybe different tour companies have different packing limits, but porters have to carry all of the gear, so I can’t imagine there isn’t some type of restriction. Maybe some people are just normal and naturally cute. I give them kudos but there is no way I would be able to do that. I packed a variety of my long-sleeved running shirts and hiking pants. It really is all you need, and I don’t think anyone was judging us for our appearance! If they were, I really didn’t care.
I hope these tips are helpful for your trip to Machu Picchu! I hope it gives a little advice in resetting your expectations for the trip to make it even better.