Image courtesy of G Adventures
The hike to Machu Picchu is a 4-5 day trek that takes you on the Inca Trail through historic Peru and across some of the most scenic and beautiful countryside in the Americas.
It was one of the most spectacular experiences of my life, but not without it’s trials and tribulations.
Here’s everything you need to know about the walk to Machu Picchu.
Deciding to trek Machu Picchu was spontaneous… Planning it wasn’t
If you’re at all like me then you know sometimes wanderlust kicks in and there’s nothing you can do about it. A close friend had been posting pics from their trip through South America and when I saw the image of Machu Picchu I just knew it was time to go.
Due to the popularity of the trail the Peruvian government restricts the number of people that can walk the trail to 500 a day – and that includes tour guides and porters. I wanted to trek in July, which is smack bang in the middle of high season (between June and August), so that meant finding a tour company that was both certified and could accommodate three of us (since the first thing I did was convince two friends to come with).
We started planning in February, and after changing dates a couple of times, got lucky when a tour group had some spots open up. It was a stressful couple of weeks though, and if I had my time again, would have started planning much earlier.
Machu Picchu is closed in February
Interestingly, the traditional route was closed for maintenance when we first started planning. So if you’re thinking of going early in the year, make sure it’s outside the closure window in February.
The Inca Trail is more than a history lesson
The trek to Machu Picchu is full of life. From wildlife and flora to the peoples who call it their home, you’ll experience a diverse array of biospheres, lifestyles and cultures during the walk.
In the Sacred Valley we met the women of a weaving co op who were kind enough to show us part of a process that has been handed down for generations.
Support staff and guides are all locals living and working in the region, and the ingredients for our meals were prepared fresh from locally-sourced ingredients.
In many ways, the trek to Machu Picchu was more than just a historic trail walk, it was an immersion in culture and understanding.
Do what you can to stay healthy
Your permits aren’t transferable, so you want to turn up on time, fit and healthy. Here’s what you can do to ensure that happens.
- Get into hiking before you go:Just about anyone can hike the Inca Trail, but warming up to the task with a few hikes before you go can help immensely. I spent a few weekends in the lead up trekking around the Royal National Park near Sydney. Also, the trek to Machu Picchu has plenty of stone staircases, so take the stairs instead of the elevator to prepare.
- Don’t party too hard in the lead up:Trekking hungover is not a good time, and lack of sleep lowers your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. So although Cusco is a great time, make sure you don’t go too hard in the lead up.
- Schedule some relaxation before and after the walk:On our walk we encountered some trekkers that had raced across the continent to make their scheduled walk. It goes without saying that they struggled with some of the more arduous parts of the journey.
- Bring emergency supplies: Illness, injury and pain are all potential hazards on your journey. Pack some emergency medical supplies to cover the basics so if the worst does happen, you can get back on your feet as quickly as possible.
Be prepared for the altitude
I live in Australia, which is a relatively flat country. There’s not too many places where you can go to prepare for the dizzying altitude you absolutely will experience during your trek. At times we were close to 4000 feet above sea level. Some of the symptoms I saw (and experienced) included:
- Decreased appetite
- Shakes and jitters
- Needing to take more breaks than usual when walking
If you take the Salkantay Trek you’ll be walking at over 6500 feet in altitude, which can put even more strain on your body. Fortunately, most in your travelling group will be affected, so you can just take your time, trust your body and take breaks as you need to.
Pack light, but bring the right gear
It’s a long hike through some pretty arduous environments, there’s no reason to weigh yourself down with excess stuff you don’t need. However, there are some essentials you should pack, even if you’re a minimalist traveller:
- A second pair of shoes: In case your first pair get drenched
- Medical supplies:So you’re always prepared
- Bug spray:You’re trekking through part of the Amazon -there will be bugs
- Torch or headlamp:Headlamp is generally better as you can keep your hands free
- Sleeping bag:It gets cold at night, even during the warmer months
There’s so much more to the Inca Trail than just Machu Picchu
Don’t get me wrong, Machu Picchu is as iconic as it is breathtaking, but one thing I wasn’t expecting was just how many other amazing sites we would see along the way. The Phuyupatamarca, for example, or ‘Town Above the Clouds’, which sits some 3600 meters above sea level, and Pisac in the Sacred Valley.
Our guide showed gave us detailed insight into the history and architecture of these places as well as the Inca people and the Peruvians who live in the region to this day. The sheer depth of the experience that you get over 4 days is so incredible, it can only really be understood by walking the trail yourself.
Like I said earlier, the trail is not without it’s ups and downs, but the reward is well worth any of the struggles. Enjoy it!
Matthew Todd has a strong love of travel and regularly contributes to online travel and lifestyle titles to share first-hand knowledge on small group adventure travel. True to his passion for travel and his experience as a digital marketing specialist, he currently works as an Online Marketing Guru at G Adventures Australia and New Zealand.