My flight was booked! My dream of hiking the Inca Trail and walking through the sun gate to Machu Picchu was finally becoming a reality. But then, the reality hit me. I have never done an overnight hike before! What do I pack? How do I get into shape? Is it safe? Do I go alone or with a group? As excited as I was, I realized I had a lot of planning ahead of me, but every moment of preparation (and sometimes extreme anxiety) was all worth it. Here are a few tips and tricks that helped me not only survive the Inca Trail, but have the trip of a lifetime!
1. Find an Incredible Tour Group
Before booking my trip, I was not sure how I felt about going with a tour group. I was worried that traveling with a group of strangers would take away from the trip. However, after plenty of research, I decided to go with G Adventures.
Our trip leader was not only full of helpful and interesting information, but became a friend who gave local tips and made me feel comfortable and safe. I became close friends with my small tour group of 10 people and still keep in touch with them. Picking a quality tour group such as G Adventures not only helped take the stress out of travelling logistics, but is truly what made my trip an enjoyable experience. And for all the foodies out there, our Inca Trail chefs were incredible.
2. Get Fit
On the Inca Trail, we had people of all ages, sizes, and fitness levels. However, I highly recommend preparing your body a little and familiarizing yourself with how your body reacts to high altitude. But don’t worry; you don’t need an extreme amount of training. To prepare, I went on one to two hikes a week and did plenty of dog walking. My hikes on average ranged from 3 to 7 miles.
However, as fit as you are, everybody reacts differently to altitude. Try finding a hike in your area that has somewhat of a higher altitude. I only had the opportunity to do one higher altitude hike. It was not as high as the Inca Trail, but it still gave me an idea of how my body feels in high altitude. But don’t stress out too much! Your tour leader has helped many people hike the Inca Trail and will be there to help you if you start to feel sick or simply need a little extra motivation.
3. Technology Tools
I am a firm believer in digital detoxing when traveling, but when hiking in the wilderness, it is comforting to know that I have helpful resources at my fingertips if I ever need it. When hiking or traveling, there are always a few resources and apps I like to have on my phone or iTouch to stay safe.
As a traveler, we are more vulnerable to security threats or identity theft on public computers and Wi-Fi. I choose to use a VPN when traveling, such as ExpressVPN, for Wi-Fi security in hotels, to avoid computer viruses, and to gain access to content that is geo-blocked. For my Inca Trail trek, I downloaded the MotionX GPS app. The app supports GPS navigation without the need for cell service. Thankfully our guides kept us on track, but it was comforting knowing that if anything happened, I could use my phone as a backup for navigation help.
4. Make a Visit to Your Doctor
When traveling anywhere, it is important to check in with your doctor. Different regions of the world may require various vaccinations or medication. Before visiting your doctor, it is also helpful to do a little bit of your own research as to what medications or vaccinations are needed for travel. Your doctor may be familiar with vaccinations needed for Peru, but you are the only person who knows what your trip will consist of. Be sure to mention to your doctor if you are going to the Peruvian Amazon or high altitude.
For the Inca Trail, I recommend packing the following medications:
-Altitude sickness medication (Acetazolamide)
-Bug spray (not technically a medication, but important to bring as well)
-Ibuprofen (always good to have)
This list is most likely what your doctor will recommend as well, but be sure to do your own research as well. You may need malaria pills or certain vaccinations depending on where else your trip is going or personal previous medical history.
5. Pack Light
The hardest part of my trip (aside from trekking up the stairs of the Inca Trail) was packing! There are several limitations on how much you pack on the Inca Trail in order to maintain that porters are being treated fairly and respectfully. Each porter is limited to carrying 20kg. This includes all blankets, clothes, and the porter’s personal belongings. Talk to your tour guide before leaving on your trip to find out up-to-date information on how much you are able to pack and information on sleeping bags and pads.
Aside from packing light, there are of course certain items you will want to pack, depending on the time of year your trek is. I used Her Packing List, along with the information provided by my tour guide, to help me in packing everything I need.
6. Have the Time of Your Life
Last, but not least, be ready to have incredible experiences and memories that will last a life time. When I first booked my trip to Peru and the Inca Trail, I had certain expectations and ideas of what the trip would be like. I was looking forward to seeing Machu Picchu, but what I found was that the most memorable and exciting parts of my trip were not necessarily seeing the big tourist spots such Machu Picchu, but the journey getting there and the unexpected surprises that came along the way. Peru and its people exceeded all expectations and opened my mind in ways I did not know were possible.