It is perhaps one of the most famous hikes in the world. And most, if not all, adventure travelers have this epic trek on their bucket list.
Hiking the Inca Trail through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu is both challenging and life-changing. Yet, there is nothing more awe-inspiring than entering the Sun Gate before sunrise on the fourth day to be greeted by this mystical citadel nestled high in the Andes.
If you aspire to check this one off the list in the new year, here are a few tips as you begin the planning process.
• The best time to visit is May through September. While this is also the peak season for the trail, especially June through August, it is also the dry season. We recommend making your plans during this time as the trail can be challenging enough without adding in the rainy conditions. Note: The trail is closed annually during the month of February for maintenance.
• Make your trail reservations several months in advance. If traveling during the peak season, we recommend securing those reservations six to twelve months prior. There are limits to the number of trekkers allowed on the trail each day and spots book up quickly. Additionally, you can only travel with a licensed agency.
• Spend some time researching your trekking agency of choice and shop around. Choose an agency that has a reputation for treating its porters well and has a vested interest in protecting the trail. If the information is not available on the agency website, make sure to ask any pertinent questions that might apply to your group. We had a great experience with Peru Treks.
• Be physically prepared. Even if you are hiring a porter with your agency of choice, you will still be carrying a small pack with your personal items: water, snacks, camera. The trek is physically demanding and you will be crossing mountain passes approaching 14,000 feet as you walk up and down perpetual ‘staircases’. While breaking in your boots for the trip, wear a weighted pack on hikes leading up to the trip. No exercise at the gym can replicate this workout or the feel of carrying a loaded pack!
• Layer, layer, layer. Carry layers that allow you to scale back easily on the trail. Many hikers make the mistake of starting the trek each morning overdressed and overheat shortly after setting out and have to stop and change. Convertible hiking pants are a great option.
• Regardless of the season, the trail gets quite cold at night. Bring a warm sleeping bag on the trip. A 20-degree bag should be more than adequate. Other items to bring include: headlamp with extra batteries, camp shoes, basic first-aid kit including any personal medications, favorite snacks for the trail, trekking poles with rubber tips and camera with extra batteries and memory cards
• Plan to arrive in Cusco (10,910 feet/3326m) at least three days prior to setting out on the trail. Don’t assume you can arrive and set out the following day. Enjoy a few days exploring the former capitol of the Incan empire and allow yourself the opportunity to acclimate to the altitude.
• Schedule an appointment with your physician and get any required vaccinations. Additionally, inquire about other medications that might be of benefit for intestinal issues, altitude sickness, and a broad range antibiotic.
• Carry local currency in small denominations. Especially on Day 1 and 2, there will be vendors along the trail who will be selling bottled beverages and snacks. Expect to pay a premium price for these desirable items but they can also be a welcome addition to your experience. You will also need local currency at the end of your trek for tipping your guides, cook and porters.
• If you are looking for alternate treks through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu, consider the Salkantay Trek or Lares Route. For more information, visit your trekking agency’s website or the South American Explorers.