How To Prepare For Your Inca Trail Hike
Quite possibly the most popular trekking route in the world, the Inca Trail has long been a bucket list staple and with good reason. The trail winds through the Sacred Valley, which provides a staggering backdrop of grass-covered cliffs that tumble down from snow-capped peaks, and winds up at the world-renowned archaeological site of Machu Picchu. While the path is well-beaten and thousands of people complete the route every year, hiking the Inca Trail is no mean feat and if you want to make it all the way without too much hassle, you’re going to want to spend a bit of time preparing before you go. Not only will you need a certain level of physical fitness but you will also need the emotional stamina required to get you through roughly 12 km of walking every day at a high altitude. So let’s take a look at everything you need to do before you embark on your Inca Trail tour.
Hiking is demanding wherever you do it but it is especially difficult when you are 4,000 metres above sea level. If you have ever spent any time at altitude you will understand the challenge of breathing when there’s much less oxygen than you’re used to. When you get above around 3,000 m you can find yourself panting for air even when you’re sitting still. Now imagine how you’re going to feel on a strenuous hike. It helps being physically fit, but altitude sickness really affects each individual differently. Some folks don't even notice a difference in altitude at all. We recommend spending a couple of days in Cusco and the Sacred Valley before your hike. That way your body will have some time to adjust to the altitude. You can read our Altitude Sickness Guide for more information.
2. Physical Fitness
Of course, breathing is only half of the struggle when it comes to the Inca Trail. During your excursion you will be walking around 12km per day, which can take anything from 3-6 hours depending on how many breaks you take, how difficult the terrain is and what kind of an incline you’re faced with. Needless to say, trekking 12km around your hometown is significantly easier than doing the same distance through the mountains of the Sacred Valley. With this in mind, physical fitness is a must and you should start training several months before you intend to do the trail. A good training regime is one that focuses on cardio (running or swimming) with a light to medium intensity and a high duration– this means you do a mild workout but for a longer period of time.
One thing to remember, however, is that regardless of your fitness level, you shouldn’t push yourself too hard whilst hiking the Inca Trail. Firstly, you don’t want to burn out after day 1 and secondly over-exertion leads to altitude sickness and if this happens it’s game over for you my friend.
When you’re packing your backpack for your Inca Trail tour you should constantly be thinking about the fact that you have to carry it. This means that under no circumstances should you be packing anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Even if you decide to hire a porter to carry your things, he will still have to carry it so don’t make it any harder for him than it already will be.
When it comes to clothes the most important things to take are items that can layer up. When you start walking at 5 in the morning it is going to be freezing cold but as you start walking and the sun starts rising, you are going to heat up and sweat. Removing a layer or two every now and then is a great way to make sure your body is always at a comfortable temperature – just taking one big coat is only going to give you the too hot or too cold options. Good hiking boots for the Inca Trail are also a must but, of course, you won’t be packing these, you’ll be wearing them from the get-go.
Unsurprisingly, there is more demand than supply for treks to Machu Picchu. The reason? Well, the demand side of things is fairly self-explanatory - hiking the Inca Trail is on many people's bucket list, both young and old. The supply side is maybe less obvious. Since 2002, in order to preserve the fabled route from over-use and irreparable damage, the Peruvian government have restricted the number of Inca Trail permits (i.e. people that can hike the Inca Trail) to 500 per day, but only 200 of these are actually available to hikers, the other 300 being reserved for guides and porters.
Permits usually go on sale for the following year in October. Permits for March, April and May dates tend to sell out by the end of November, June and July dates by the end of December. August and September, the two busiest months on the Inca Trail, are often sold out come February. Be aware the Inca Trail is closed in February. In conclusion, make sure you have a permit and be sure to book early to avoid disappointment!
5. Tour Guide
It is a legal requirement that everyone who does the Inca Trail has a tour guide with them. With Rainforest Cruises you can be sure your experience hiking the trail will be life-changing. The Inca Trail tour to Machu Picchu, a sacred journey over the mist-covered peaks of the Andes, is undoubtedly the most famous hike in South America, and perhaps the world. Leave it to the experts to help guide you through it, from the booking process and preparation, to the flight back home.
There are no two ways about it, hiking the Inca Trail is tough but it is also exceptionally rewarding. To round off this piece I have one final piece of advice for all you potential hikers. Attitude is everything. You are going to ache, you will be tired and things aren’t always going to go as planned but you need the mental strength to push through it all and keep going no matter what. Let the unbeatable view of Machu Picchu and chance to explore the ruins keep you going through it all and, most importantly, enjoy yourself. For more information about how to prepare for your Inca Trail hike, or to book your tour, please contact us or call 1-888-215-3555.