The Pilgrimage of the Incas
It’s been over a year since I came back from the Inca Trail and nostalgia engulfs me. My husband and I did the Inca Trail with another couple that we are really close to, and one year since, the four of us are on three different continents.
Ever since we got back from the trip, I have had many people ask me about doing the Inca Trail and how one goes about planning the whole thing. There is a lot of info out there on the internet, but it’s sometimes overwhelming to figure out the sequence of events.
So here is my simplified version of what you need to do to conquer the Inca Trail.
1. Start planning at least 6-7 months ahead of time.
2. Decide which trail you want to do.
My friends and I did the Classic Inca Trail. The views are gorgeous no matter which one you do, but the Classic Inca Trail is the one you need to book well ahead of time, usually 6 months. It’s also the trail that was considered the original trail used by the Incas to get to Machchu Pichhu.
Some of the other trails are listed here:
There is also a trail called the Hydroelectrica trail, which is free and not as time consuming as the Classic Inca Trail.
3. Select the Season/month in which you want to visit.
Remember, Peru is in the southern Hemisphere, so the seasons are reversed. June, July and August are pretty cold. We went in September hoping it would be warmer, but it still was cold. One night it rained and it was freezing cold.
The Classic Inca Trail is closed all through February although Machchu Picchu is open throughout the year. The Peruvian Government has a limit on how many hikers are allowed on the Inca Trail per day (about 200 hikers and total of 500 including porters and guides). So the spots get filled really quickly.
The best time to visit is from May to September which are the driest months (Trust me it’s not very comfortable camping in rain unless you are a seasoned Monsoon Hiker).
This is a good page that tells you the number of permits available by dates – http://www.incatrailperu.com/inca_trail_permits_and_availability.html
4. Wayna Picchu
Do you also want to climb Wayna Picchu? Wayna Picchu is the peak you see right behind the ruins. This was by far one of the craziest climbs I have done and this was after 4 days of hiking through the Andes. The tour company has to book this at the time they are booking your spot for the Inca Trail.
5. Aguas Caliente
The other thing to decide before booking your trail is what train you want to take back from Aguas Caliente. Most tour companies will give you the option to take a later train if you would like to explore Machchu Picchu.
6. Decide on tentative dates.
Once you have decided which month you want to do the trail, figure out the dates you prefer. The tour company picks you up from Cuzco. The Classic Inca Trail lasts four days, plus you need a couple of days to acclimatize. If you are someone who doesn’t do well in high altitudes, throw in another couple of days in Cuzco. You only need to have a rough idea of what dates are good for you.
7. Select a Tour Operator.
This step is the hardest. You have to select a tour operator that guides you through the Inca Trail. The tour operator will buy your entry tickets to the trail. They also provide you a tour guide, a cook and a set of porters. These porters carry your sleeping bag and other things. These guys are amazing! They carry so many things so your hike is comfortable.
There are many companies that provide the services with various prices. All of them do a good job. One thing to remember though when you choose a tour operator is Porter Welfare. There has been a lot of movement on this front lately. And it’s a cause that is close my heart having been there and seen things. To learn more about Porter Welfare and Responsible Tourism, scroll down to the end of the Article.
8. How many Porters do you need?
The tour operators will ask you if you would like to hire an additional porter. You have the choice of a full or a half porter. This basically means how much of your luggage would you want your porter to carry. Porter Welfare determines the max weight allowed to be carried by a single porter. The other thing to remember is, you will need to hire sleeping bags and trekking poles separately. Generally at least half a porter person is required. We hired one and a half porters between the four of us.
9. Book your Inca Trail.
Contact your tour operator and let them know your requirements. They will get back to you with the dates available. They also request a partial payment of the total cost to confirm your spot on the trail.
10. Plan the rest of your trip.
Make sure you plan your trip such that you are gradually acclimatizing yourself to the high altitude during the days before the Trail.
11. Prepare for your trip
I would suggesting exercising in the months leading up to your trip. You will thank me when you are back. I didn’t exercise a lot so I struggled initially. So, if you are one of those people and have a trip coming up, look for my pro tip at the end of the article for surviving the Inca Trail.
What to Pack
1. If you don’t have a backpack that you love, then buy one that supports your back well. Go to a store and try them out before deciding.
2. Pack light. Even the lightest bag will feel like a bag of rocks when you have to carry it for four days.
3. Leggings are great for women. They are really light, you can layer them up if you are cold. You can pull them up to your calves if you are warm. They dry very quickly in case it rains.
4. Some other essentials are Headlamps/Flashlights, Wet Wipes, toilet paper.
5. If you are someone who gets cold very easily, Hand warmers are great to take with.
1. Only a few campsites have showers but most of us didn’t really use it since it was pretty cold.
2. Remember Altitude sickness has nothing to do with how fit you are. Coca leaves helps with Altitude Sickness.
Gingko Biloba and Chlorophyll tablets help with Altitude sickness. You have to start taking them 48 hours before. We started taking it a days before out Peru trip.
3. Carbs will save the day for once. Carry cereal bars with you.
4. Make partial payment only when booking in advance. You don’t want to lose all your money in case you can’t make it.
5. Tipping porters, chef and the guide is a tradition followed by many tour operators. You have to pool in the money with the rest of the group and give them one tip from the group.
So make sure you carry enough of moolah for this on your trek.
6. You will need to hire sleeping bags and trekking poles as well. Most tour companies don’t include this in the package.
You can either hire this through the tour operator or hire it separately.
It usually tends to be cheaper from local camping stores. Many local rental stores have better sleeping bags than the ones provided by the tour operators.
Surviving The Trek Without Exercise
Keep putting that foot forward. Find your pace, however slow or fast that is and keep at it. There may be times when the road is flat and you are tempted to go faster but try to maintain your pace even then, you will lose less energy. Even if you are really tired, keep putting that next foot forward. If you stop and take a break, your muscles start to contract, it’s much more painful to start that climb again. Remember it doesn’t matter if you are the fastest or the first in the group, you can only gain 10-15 minutes.
Porter Welfare and Responsible Tourism
This movement started a few years ago and is getting a lot of traction lately with tourists being more socially aware. But unfortunately, there still are many tour companies that don’t think it’s important. The government has rules for how much weight a porter is allowed to carry so as to make sure they aren’t being exploited. Tour companies that are a part of this PWRT program, follow this strictly and take a lot of effort to ensure their porters aren’t mistreated. Porters working with such companies seemed were happier. They ensure their porters are provided with decent shoes for the Trail. There were many porters from various companies that actually hiked either bare foot or in flip-flops. One of the most shocking things I saw was that, certain companies have their porters carry human waste (from tourists), because they are not allowed to dump it along the Trail. So I urge you, if you did make it this far into the article, to consider the inhumane activities the porters are subjected and choose your tour operator wisely.
The Tour Operator We Chose
In case you are wondering which tour operator my friends and I booked through its called Llama Path. We were very satisfied with the way the porters were treated. We really had a magical experience. (It’s not the only company that treats its porters well. Make sure you research any company you like to find out more.) The food was out of the world and they accommodate all kinds of food restrictions. I am a vegetarian and I had delicious food every day, made especially for me and another vegetarian in the group. Make sure you specify any food restrictions at the time of booking your trip.