Tips for surviving Peru’s Inca Trail

Posted by Katie Wilter on 22 March 2012

While chatting to fellow travellers about my recent Inca Trail experience, I feel like a walking advertisement using clichéd words like ‘amazing, incredible, and an experience of a lifetime’. This verbosity, however, simply does not do the Inca Trail any justice. The four days of trekking through Inca ruins, magnificent mountains, exotic vegetation is not only breathtaking but also a spiritual experience shared with like-minded people from across the globe. Here is a taste of what to expect and some advice if you are planning to embark on the four day Inca Trail.

Day 1

After a three-hour bus trip from Cusco to the little village of Ollantaytambo, we met our fellow trekkers over a buffet breakfast and squeezed in some last minute shopping for snacks, water and walking sticks. Our group included a great mix of international characters reminiscent of ‘Amazing Race’ contests. We had an Aussie couple on their honeymoon; a Canadian father and daughter duo; two Canadian guys, Aussie sisters; a teacher from Las Vegas; an engineering student from Denmark; three South African friends and a South African physio from Stellenbosch. With our daypacks filled with provisions, we hopped onto our bus and headed to the starting point at km82. After stamping our passports and validating our permits, we started our Inca Trail adventure. It took a while to get warmed up and regulate our breathing while negotiating inclines but we were lucky to have good weather so savoured the fresh air and striking views. While getting to know our fellow trekkers, the surreal beauty of the landscape truly made me think, ‘This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited’.

Day 2

The most strenuous and challenging day of the Inca Trail leads you up to Dead Women’s Pass at 4200 m above sea level. After a big breakfast, we started climbing the slow, steep incline. The weather wasn’t as kind to us with regular showers but our panchos and jovial banter ensured high spirits.  As I approcahed the highest summit taking in slow deep breaths of air, I discovered a new found respect for people who climb Mount Everest! On arrival at the summit, we couldn’t stop smiling, high-fived each other, took some photos and continued down the steep decline to stay warm. A sense of achievement was celebrated with a delicious late lunch at our campsite and our afternoon nap was well-deserved.

Day 3

‘A day to remember’ is an accurate description with numerous Inca ruins to explore, while trekking through a variety of caves, bridges and varied vegetation. The final stop is a terraced Inca ruin that overlooks the river, snow-capped mountains and is just behind the Machu Picchu mountain slope. Our group sat in silence on the edge of a grass terrace and had a reflective moment taking in the view and processing the previous three days. We headed to our final campsite to share our last night together before completing our journey at Machu Picchu the next day.

It is amazing what the chefs and porters manage to achieve in the middle of the Andes mountains. We arrived at each campsite with our tents assembled and hot tea waiting for us. We ate like royalty with three course meals every day. On the final night, the chefs exceeded all expectations and served us an exceptional last supper but I won’t spoil the surprise.

Day 4

After a 03h45 wake up call, we packed up and headed towards Sun Gate and tot he final destination, Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, there was heavy mist so we were not able to see the aerial view of Machu Picchu from Sun Gate. However, later in the morning visibility cleared and we were able to enjoy and explore one of the seven wonders of the world.

We were lucky to have two great Peruvian guides – Ricky Martin (known for his exceptional salsa dancing) who ensured that any sick or struggling trekkers were not left behind while William led the group. His comprehensive knowledge on the Andean mountain range, its vegetation and the Inca culture offered us a better idea of how the Incas lived.

On the evening of Day 4, we bid farewell to our group and guides after a final celebration in the village of Aguas Calientes where we enjoyed beer, pizza, some salsa dancing and an awards ceremony before heading back to Cusco via train and bus.

I feel privileged to have been part of a great group of people sharing such an exquisite adventure that I would recommend to anyone. Yes, I am being that billboard advertiser again but I can proudly say that ‘I survived and loved the Inca Trail’.

Advice if you are planning to do the Inca Trail

  • Hire a porter to carry your sleeping bag, mattress, clothes and toiletries. These amazing men sprint across the rough, often wet terrain like mountain goats carrying everything but the kitchen sink. I found that carrying lots of water, snacks and rain gear in my daypack was heavy enough when the air is thin at the high altitude and your body is taking strain.
  • Book in advance and avoid the rainy seasons (around January and February) as it tends to lead to some sense of humour failures on slippery steep rocks.
  • You will need to be in Cusco two days prior to departure in order to acclimatize to the high altitude; however, try spend more time there to explore the culturally rich city and surrounding sites.
  • Stock up with lama and alpaca woolen clothing in Cusco before starting the Inca trail as it gets freezing at night. Woolen beanies, jerseys, gloves and socks are readily available at markets and are really inexpensive even on a South African budget.
  • Buy a walking stick to help you tackle those flights of extra steep steps. You can bring one along or you can purchase these enroute to the starting point. Also purchase plastic ponchos and other rain gear as the weather is unpredictable and showers are frequent.
  • Pack lots of wet wipes or a ‘Peruvian bath’, for the end of each day as the facilities aren’t great and if there is water, it is absolutely freezing.
  • Make sure you take medication for stomach bugs and altitude sickness just in case you need it.

For more information on the Inca Trail route and bookings, visit Peru Treks.


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