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Tips for Hiking the Inca Trail

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is an experience unlike any other. With three routes to choose from, the trek takes you through the Andes Mountains to the gates of the famous ruins. This journey can be found on many travelers’ bucket lists, and while almost anyone can accomplish it, a lot of important preparation must be done. The expedition will test your physical and mental limits like never before, but the experience and the breathtaking views make it so worth it. Keep reading to learn our tips for hiking the Inca Trail!


Find the Perfect Tour Group

Regulations require that all hikers are accompanied by a professional guide, meaning you’ll have to book your trip with a travel company. The trail is open every month, with the exception of February (when it’s closed for maintenance). The most popular months are June-August, with the other dry season months of April-May and September-October being a perfect choice for those looking for smaller crowds. You’ll have the best experience with a company that keeps the number of group members at a manageable number; Acanela’s groups never exceed 16 people. Only 500 hikers are allowed on the Inca Trail per day, so make sure you book your trip in advance. 

Create a Fitness Plan

The Inca Trail is no joke, and even fitness buffs should take special care to train for the trek. If you’re planning on joining the most popular option—a 4-day hike—you’ll be walking around 7 miles each day. Keep in mind it’ll be different conditions than what you’re probably used to since it’s a steep climb in a very high altitude. You know your own body best—if you have a daily workout routine, then just ramp up your current plan. However, if you’re someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time in the gym and this hike sounds daunting, then start a training regime well in advance. Aerobic exercises are a great way to strengthen your upper body and legs, while long-distance running, walking, and cycling with improve your cardio tolerance. It’s also recommended to do a couple practice hikes in your town. Be sure to wear your backpack filled with everything you plan to bring to get a true feel.


Prepare for the Mental Hardships

Preparing your mind is just as important as preparing your body. The hike is rigorous, and it’ll push you to limits you’ve likely never reached. Prepare by sitting down and thinking over the mental challenges you may face. Endurance is what will carry you to the finish line. Realize that some parts of the trail will be a breeze, while others will leave you completely breathless and questioning your stamina. On the Inca Trail, it’s mind over matter, so understanding the difficulties you’ll face beforehand and feeling ready to conquer them will make all the difference.

Pack Lightly  

Packing is usually what travelers dread the most, but having a clear idea of what you should bring will make the process much less stressful. You don’t want to pack too much because the trail has a weight limit and you don’t want to put extra stress on your body. Since the climate often fluctuates from day to night, pack plenty of lightweight layers. Bring a hat and gloves for the sometimes freezing night temperatures; you can buy some made of alpaca wool in Cusco. The most important item is broken-in, waterproof walking boots. Sandals are handy to have for the campsites at the end of each day to let your feet breathe. Other useful things to pack are bug spray, sun protection, a headlamp, lots of socks, and plastic bags for wet clothes.

Spend Some Time in Cusco

The only way to truly prepare for the high altitude of the Inca Trail is to acclimate your body by spending a few extra days in Cusco beforehand, and the more time the better. If feasible, start at a low altitude city and slowly work your way up. At the very least, it’s recommended to spend at least two nights in Cusco before your journey. You can even hike around the area to practice and explore beloved gems, such as Colca Canyon.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race  

Even with months of preparation, setting out on the Inca Trail will be a shock to your system. Take your time, and don’t overexert yourself. It’s completely normal for the altitude to affect your stamina, so don’t get frustrated if you feel like your body is giving up on you. It’s also important to really let the views sink in, appreciate the region’s history and culture, and bond with your travel buddies.


Fuel Your Body

One of the best ways to prevent altitude sickness is to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel like it. Salt tablets are a good way to keep your body hydrated and replace what you’re sweating out. The high altitude also slows digestion, leading to a lack of appetite. However, it’s essential that you eat. Pack snacks so you always have something to munch on. You might not think you’re hungry, but your body craves the energy food will give you, so make sure you eat. If you’re concerned about altitude sickness, you can look into medications to help.

Don’t Forget to Take it all in

After days of pushing past your limits, you’ve finally arrived at the gates of Machu Picchu! At the entrance, you can get your passport stamped as a memento of this accomplishment. Congratulate yourself for completing the challenging Inca Trail, and spend your remaining time taking in the breathtaking views and reflecting on your unforgettable journey.