Inca Trail tips for First Timers
You’ve decided that Peru and its famous Inca Trail is at the top of your travel wish list, but how do you make it happen? Is it within reach for an inexperienced hiker and what should you know before you go? MatadorU student Leora Novick shares valuable tips to read before planning this popular trek to Machu Picchu.
I arrived at the Sun Gate at the end of a grueling four-day hike and took my first look at Machu Picchu. As the stone walls pierced the early morning fog, and the entire Inca city unfolded before me, the tiredness melted away.When I reached that peak on an early morning in January, I joined my hiking group in a series of hugs, high-fives and ear-splitting grins, but then pulled away for a moment of silent reflection. It had not been an easy journey, and there had been a moment when I’d seriously considered turning back. I’m not an athletic person by anyone’s standards, but I felt I should still be able to experience the Inca Trail.While it was the hardest, most physically challenging thing I’ve ever completed, the Inca Trail is a very realistic goal, even for inexperienced hikers. Here’s how to do it.Hire a porter
Not only was I able to change my personal trail experience, but by hiring a porter I was supporting a local family. Each trekker on the Inca Trail is obliged by law to sign up with a guided tour. While this includes a set number of porters who carry all campsite gear and food, you have the additional option to hire someone to help carry your personal belongings. These porters depend on this fee to help support their families.While each tour group varies greatly, there are specific companies that pride themselves on their ethical treatment of porters, providing them with clean uniforms and ensuring they receive a fair wage. Booking your Inca Trail tour with such companies can cost a bit more, but think about who that money is going to help.Select your gear
This meant I was pretty much crawling down a mountain, but I found a rhythm after a while and eventually felt pretty confident. If your balance isn’t great, I’d advise the sticks. Otherwise, ask yourself if this is really worth the extra weight. When you’re hiking for eight hours, every pound counts.
Cusco lives off the tourism industry of Machu Picchu. Its streets are lined with shops offering hiking gear for rental at very fair prices. If you’re not sure you want to commit to an expensive pair of hiking boots or a North Face sleeping bag, save yourself the money (and having to lug those boots around on the rest of your trip) and go the rental route. The shops are eager for your business, especially during the off-season, so don’t be afraid to bargain. I paid 10 soles a day for my insulated sleeping bag, which totaled just $15 for the entire trip.
Your body is burning calories at a much faster rate than normal and needs to be constantly nourished. Plus, the provided meal choices are super delicious, with options like honey-covered pancakes, vegetable soups and chicken with rice.
On day two, as I was still a few hours away from the top of the pass, the skies opened and I was drenched before I could reach my poncho. Each step grew heavier, and with such thin mountain air I could barely breathe. I grabbed a packet of cookies from my pocket and quickly ate two. Instantly, I felt a little better. My dizziness grew fainter, and I was able to keep walking towards the campsite.
Plan your costs
Plastic poncho: $2
Porter fee: 80 soles per day
Sleeping bag: $15 rental
Walking sticks: 10 soles
Snacks: 20 soles