The Road to Machu Picchu
road to Machu Picchu, AKA the Inca Trail, is a beautiful 45 km hike (about 28 miles) that generally takes 4 days of hiking and 3 nights of camping, to reach. The views along the way, and at the end, are simply amazing. Stunning. The time on the trail will leave you lost in thought, challenge you physically, bond you to new friends, and leave you in awe of the ancient Inca civilization. It’s not considered one of Seven Wonders of the (modern) World for nothing! It’s really such an incredible place.
If you’re considering making the legendary pilgrimage to Machu Picchu keep the following in mind:
Entry to the trail is HIGHLY regulated and permits are required. In fact only 500 people are allowed on the trail each day, and about 300 of these people are porters carrying equipment.
You’re only allowed on the trail when accompanied by a licensed tour guide.
TRAIL CONDITIONS + PREP
The trail is made up of rolling hills and ancient stone steps, with some stretches that are VERY STEEP UP (aka the infamous ‘Dead Women’s Pass’ which takes you straight up hill to the highest point in the trail, 13,780 feet) and VERY STEEP DOWN.
There are amazing Incan ruins to see along the way. The most famous is Machu Picchu, which is the crown jewel at the end of the hike!
Training is ESSENTIAL for this hike for your own safety, and the safety of the group. Anything you can do to bolster your endurance, strength (especially in your legs) and lung capacity is key!
Altitude: the hike starts at 9,000 feet, goes as high as 13,780 feet, and ends at Machu Picchu, which is at 7,875 feet. Keep in mind most trips start in Cusco, which is at 11,152 feet. To combat the risk (+ effects!) of altitude sickness keep the following in mind:
Take the time to acclimate your body to the higher altitude. Generally 36-48 hours before the hike starts is sufficient.
Train your body for the hike. Bonus points if you can train at an altitude higher than where you usually train!
Take it slow on the hike and take breaks often. It’s not a race!
Drink LOTS of water on the trail.
And most importantly: talk to your Doctor before you go to ensure you’re physically fit for the hike, and have all medications handy in case of altitude sickness.
PACKING + CAMPING
Porters: they’re incredible. Because horses aren’t allowed on the majority of the trail, all the camping and cooking equipment, and your bags, are transported on foot by a team of porters. Your porters will set-up your tent, prepare all the (delicious!) meals, prep your drinking water, bring you coca tea in the morning, warm water to refresh each night, etc. They work so hard!
Your stuff: you’ll carry a backpack large enough for the supplies, layers, snacks and water you need for the day. Your tour leader will give you a duffle bag for extra clothes, supplies, your sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow, etc. These bags have STRICT weight limits (i.e. it will need to go on a scale before you start the hike!) of around 7 kg (about 15 pounds) and the porters will carry your duffle bag from campsite to campsite. Your hotel in Cusco will generally hold the rest of your luggage.
If you don’t have compact camping gear that’s required for the hike (sleeping pad or sleeping bag) or hiking poles (recommended), these can generally be rented through your tour operator.
You’ll spend three nights camping. The tents provided are generally 2-person tents, and snug! Bring ear plugs so you can more easily sleep through your tent mate, or person in the neighboring tent, that snores, the occasional bird or dog that makes noise in the middle of the night, etc.
There is at least one spot on the hike that you can shower in (but the water is very cold!) or you can do a daily washcloth/baby wipe bath with hot water the porters will bring you.
Some toilets are nicer than others. Portions of the first part of the hike have flushing toilets (they usually cost 1 Sol to use) but on later stretches of the hike it’s all squatty potties. Bring your own toilet paper, baby wipes and hand sanitizer. And maybe something to cover your nose while you use the facilities if it’s been a few days since the bathroom has been cleaned.
This isn’t an exhaustive supply list, but some of the highlights include:
Hiking boots that are broken in
Clothing and layers for hot weather, wet weather and cold weather
Head lamp, external charger for your phone/camera, quick-dry towel, clothespins for drying wet clothes on the tent
Toilet paper, baby wipes and hand sanitizer
Cash (local currency) for snacks and toilets along the way, and gratuity for your guide, chefs and porters
Hat, sunscreen, mosquito repellant and sunglasses
Sandals or light-weight tennis shoes you can wear at night (with socks on)
Snacks (both protein + sugar) to keep you fueled between meal stops
Hydration packs (aka bladders, Camelbak’s, etc.) are great and easy ways to stay hydrated during the day
Making the trek to Machu Picchu, on the Inca Trail, is really a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Enjoy checking this one off your bucket list