Machu Picchu: A how to guide
The most convenient route to Machu Picchu includes a train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and a 20 minute bus ride up the mountain. However, I am quite thankful I didn’t take the easy road. On my hike up the Inca Trail, I took in some of the most picturesque terrain in the world, including more than half a dozen historic Incan sites (some larger than Machu Picchu). It’s no wonder this unique part of the Andes has been named one of the top places in the world to visit. Add another check to my ‘bucket list’.
With that said, I hope you are now seriously contemplating taking a walk in the ‘footsteps of the Inca’ via the Inca Trail. Here are some of my first hand tips for a successful hike to Machu Picchu.
Above all else, make sure you pick a quality outfitter. This decision can make or break your trip. Peru Treks came highly recommended and we were impressed by their attention to detail and their commitment to the porters and their overall wellbeing.
Procure the right gear. I am a big believer in “there’s no bad weather just bad preparation!” Below is a list of gear and apparel that we carried on the trail during our trek. Food and tents were carried by porters and they provided the sleeping pad that we had to carry on the trail.
In addition to what we wore on the trail, our packs contained the following:
• Down sleeping bag (20-degree)
• Hiking apparel
• 1-pair of convertible pants
• Underwear (3 pair)
• Synthetic t-shirts (2)
• Socks (3 pair)
• Long-sleeved base layer
• Down jacket
• Wool cap, gloves and neck gaiter
• Trail running shoes
• Rain jacket and pants
• First Aid Kit (for our group)
• Suncreen and insect repellant
• Personal toiletries
• Water bottles (2)
• Iodine tablets (we never used these)
• Pack liner
• Goal Zero solar panel and battery pack
• Delorme inReach
Carry a lightweight down sleeping bag. I recommend a 20-degree model. Don’t forget, June falls during the winter season in Peru. We were the only people in our group of sixteen that remained warm throughout the entire trek. I also recommend carrying your own sleeping pad. While the one provided by the outfitter was more than adequate, I am a big fan of a good night’s sleep.
Select a good pair of lightweight boots for the trail. Don’t wait until you arrive to wear them. Spend the time necessary to break-in the boots adequately before your trip. You’ll be glad you did!
Visit your doctor prior to the trip. 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, a broad range antibiotic .. etc… Visit the CDC site for the latest information on what is recommended for the area.
Make sure that any snacks you take on the trail have been taste-tested prior to departure. There is nothing worse than getting on the trail and finding out that the ‘trail bars’ that you purchased are not very palatable. Prior to our trip, our group carefully tasted and selected an assortment of bars and chews from Honey Stinger, Clif and Kate’s Bars.
Layer, layer, layer! Carry layers that allow you to scale back easily on the trail. Temperatures in the early morning are typically in the low 30s. While it may be seem cold to begin with, the sun is intense and will heat up quickly as you head down the trail. I started each morning wearing shorts (part of my convertible pants), a synthetic t-shirt and arm sleeves. This was an ideal combination. I had my pant legs readily accessible to attach back to my shorts when we got to camp each day.
Be physically prepared! I repeat—Be physically prepared! The Inca Trail is not a walk in the park, but it is well worth the effort. You will cross passes that are over 13,000 feet high and you will walk up and down perpetual ‘staircases’. Just think of a Stairmaster on steroids. 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 pack!
Bring a good camera. This may be a once in a lifetime trip! You are going to want to be able to relive the memories with your friends and family. I took a GoPro camera and a water resistant digital camera. I also recommend carrying extra memory cards and batteries.
Carry local currency in small denominations. There are vendors along the trail (especially Day 1 and 2) that will have bottled beverages and snacks for sale. Expect to pay a premium price for these desirable items. It is a welcome addition to have a Gatorade and a Snickers in place of that energy bar and water when you are en route up the mountain to Dead Woman’s Pass.
Last but not least, Carry a journal or utilize the Notes app on your smartphone. While you might not be a journalist or writer, it is well worth a few minutes of your time to record the highlights of your day.
Each person in my four-man group ended the day by recording a few thoughts and observations from our trek. After being home for a few months, it’s amazing what we already forgot! This was the least expensive piece of gear but also one of the most priceless!