Completing the 4 day/3 night Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is probably one of those most sought after bucket list experiences in the world. Without a doubt, it was one of the most memorable journeys during our stint in South America (Sudamerica).
I have yet to meet a traveller who hasn’t got the Inca Trail (Camino Inka) on their places-to-see-and-do-before-I-die list. And having gone through the experience, I now know why it’s on everyone’s list and I can honestly say that I was glad to have added this to my own bucket list.
When we were planning for this trip from our home base in Sydney, we went through a lot of forums, blogs and spoke with friends who’ve previously done the trek. The information we read or were told were pretty much on par with what we were expecting. But there were a couple of things that were not mentioned, and I guess it’s one of those you-had-to-be-there moments. Everyone, every trek and every guide is different.
We went with Apu Andino Travel Peru (watch this space for future blog post) tour operator, having found some great reviews on several forums including TripAdvisor. To this day, I’m still thanking our lucky stars that no one else booked with Apu Andino at the time, therefore we had the guide, porters and cooks to ourselves which made it more of a personal experience. We were able to take our time, ask lots of questions and got to know our group a bit more. If you want to book with them, tell Gerson I sent you. We still keep in touch to this day, and will happily book him as a guide when we return to do the Salkantay Trek one day.
I’ll dedicate a separate post on Apu Andino later on, as well as Inca Trail essentials but for now, here’s a list of things to expect when trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This is not a conventional what-you-need-to-know kind of list, but rather a more personal account of our experience with no sugarcoating.
Headaches. Vomiting. Fatigue. Nausea. Short of Breath.
These are all signs of altitude sickness (el mal de altura). I recently dedicated a post on the acute version of this (click here) more commonly known as AMS or acute mountain sickness. Altitude affects everyone differently – or it may not affect you at all. You can train your body for something like this and we had the option to, but we didn’t. If you have done altitude training, I’d love to hear from you.
Do fitness levels count? Yes and No.
We went to the gym, had personal trainers and ate all the right foods in the months leading up to our trip. In terms of endurance, then Yes, fitness does count. It’s the altitude that you can’t predict and how it may affect you. I remember meeting one of the travellers who booked with SAS Travel Peru – he’s a personal trainer back home, with “very little body fat” (yep, he said that). So as you can imagine, fit as a fiddle. When we caught up with him at Dead Woman’s Pass (Abra Warmihuañusca) – the highest point on the trail – he was so sick from the altitude that all he wanted to do was vomit everything out. We also met this awesome Danish traveller – still friends with to this day – who thought she was suffering from really severe altitude sickness…only to find out later on that she required urgent appendix removal. Now THAT’s a story!
You will discover muscles you never thought you had.
…and hurt in places one should not be hurting! We trained hard, wore all the required gear and yet, we were still in pain – a small price to pay for such a once in a lifetime journey. You not only have to worry about your head splitting from that vicious headache, but your legs, toes, joints, arms, neck and most of all, your knees will be crying after the second day. It was raining when we went early December, so the trail was slippery. Thank goodness for the walking poles. Make sure you bring some ointment such as Tiger Balm, White Flower (my personal fave), Deep Heat or various other sports creams to relieve muscles.
Say Yes to walking poles. Both of them.
Some trekkers did opt for just the one pole – one opted for none at all. These will save your knees from buckling and from you slipping. Even the most trained guides use them…so use them!
Chocolate will be your friend.
I never thought I’d actually say that, but yes, chocolate became part of the diet during those four days – more specifically, Snickers and Picnic Bars. We also had trail mixes, nuts and were provided with highly nutritious foods, but you won’t regret packing a Snickers or two for emergency.
Gatorade will be your other friend.
If you can find Gatorade, Powerade or an equivalent sports drink, pack a couple in your bag. I believe there are powder forms of this now. There are a couple of rest stops during the trek where you can buy these, but be prepared to pay a bit more. These will give you the hydration you need and the electrolytes (potassium, sodium) and carbs you’ve lost. Drink this as often as needed, as well as water.
At some point, you will stop taking pictures.
The first few hours, we kept taking photos of everything and anything. Unless you’re a photographer – and even they have their limits – try to put the camera down and just enjoy the moment from time to time and enjoy your once in a lifetime experience. We must’ve taken less than 100 photos during our four days. But we still remember everything like it was just yesterday – how we felt, what we saw, who we met, what we ate…the curse words we dropped along the way…
We were told a number of ghost stories throughout our trek. There’s one in particular that haunts me to this day and whether it’s true or not, I’m just that darn gullible! At the campsite after Dead Woman’s Pass, one of the campsite areas is haunted. I’ll leave it for you to find out which campsite number is supposedly the spooky one
You don’t need to have a baby to pack baby wipes.
Let’s face it, you will not be showering anytime soon. Baby wipes will be your shower. Your butt wipe. Your hand wipes. Your feet wipes. Your everything wipes. But please dispose of these properly.
The Andes is your oyster.
When you gotta go, you gotta go! But there are also “proper” toilets at the various campsites so don’t worry.
Picturesque Andes, Ancient Ruins…Lasting Memories.
What about this?
And something you definitely will not miss:
Enough said. Just book your trip today!
By the way, here are some of the websites that came in handy during our preliminary research:
- Inca Trail Trips
- Hoof Beats and Footprints
- Inca Trail Reservations
- Inca Trail Peru
- Lonely Planet
Got an Inca Trail story to tell? I would love to hear it below.