by Erin Elaine
1. It’s hard!
This can’t be emphasized enough. You are walking for 8 hours a day for 3 days in a row. Most of that walking is either gaining or losing altitude, which is tiring. You will see more stairs than you can count. The heat may affect you. The altitude may affect you. The weight of your pack may affect you, depending on how much is carried by the porters. (I didn’t hire any extra porter at all. I carried everything I brought with me.)
I trained for this by hiking in the Cascade Mountains, once a week for 10 weeks, choosing increasingly steep hikes, and carrying an increasingly heavy pack. I should have trained more.
A friend told me her mother did the Inca Trail without any hiking experience, and it was “easy”. That tells me one of three things is true. A – She had a porter carry absolutely everything and only had a waterbottle in her hand on the trail. B – She did the “Short Inca Trail” which is a one-day, 6-mile hike. or C – She’s lying about it being easy.
Be prepared to be sore (I actually didn’t get sore but I saw people who were). Be prepared to be tired (that was me constantly). But if you push through, you’ll make it!
2. The toilets really aren’t that bad.
Previous blog entries I read before I hit the trail made me fear the rarity of, and condition of, the trail toilets. I actually found them to be much better than I was expecting. As a hiker, I’m used to trailhead outhouses that smell so strongly, every bug in the county uses them as a hangout spot. On the Inca Trail, there are flushing squat toilets! Like a luxury in comparison. Squatting seems to freak out a lot of Americans, but it’s a far more natural and efficient way to do it. Not to get too graphic, but your body will empty itself far more quickly that way. Then you just flush it away with what I assume is non-potable water piped in from one of the nearby streams. If you brought soap, there are faucets. These types of bathrooms are placed at intervals so there was always one available at the lunch break spot, and at our nightly camping area, as well as a couple others along the trail. I saw some companies carrying plastic toilets along the trail, and a little tent vestibule to go with it. Maybe these are for first-world-problems people who prefer not to squat?? Personally, I’d rather have the option to flush rather than sit down, and walls that won’t show my silhouette, but to each their own.
3. Bring Diamox.
Even if you’ve been at high altitude before, people can have different reactions each time. Fitness, youth, or general health DO NOT correlate with a resistance to altitude sickness. My guide told me stories of people who had paid several hundred dollars for this trip, only to have to turn around and go back due to altitude sickness. Don’t let it be you! It’s a simple little pill you take every 12 hours and it works extremely well.
Some people bring it with but don’t take it unless they need it. I started taking it 24 hours before arriving in Cusco, just in case. I didn’t experience even an inkling of altitude sickness. The highest altitude you will reach is 13,779 feet, which is far higher than most people ever go in their lifetime. To compare, that’s only about 720 feet lower than the summit of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the Lower 48. Diamox doesn’t prevent shortness of breath. Expect to be gasping for breath with every step during the sections of super high altitude. Stopping to rest won’t help. Just keep gasping, and keep walking, and you’ll make it.
4. Carrying your own stuff is possible if you train.
Just look at me! I did it, even though lots of people tried to convince me I shouldn’t. I felt so accomplished (and yes, exhausted) arriving to Machu Picchu on day 4.
5. There are some bugs, but they’re not bad.
There were some on the first day, but after that you’re at such a high altitude that the bugs can’t really survive due to low temperatures at night.
6. Yes, the nights are cold.
Make sure your sleeping bag will keep you warm at sub-freezing temperatures. The provided tents also do a very good job of keeping out the cold. These ain’t no ultralights made of mesh and tissue paper!
7. Bring your appetite.
There is so much food and it’s all so tasty! You’re burning thousands of calories walking up and down mountains, so your body really needs the sustenance. The food is all hot and freshly prepared, no dehydrated meals. Yum!
8. It will all be SO WORTH IT!
I am a hiker, so I enjoyed the journey as much as the destination. If you don’t truly enjoy hiking, it probably isn’t for you. If you just want to see Machu Picchu, take the train or bus. But if you like hiking and want to see magnificent views along the way, as well as learn about the natural environment and Inca culture, and then get rewarded at the end by a spectacular destination, do the Inca Trail. It’s hard, but you’ll be glad you did it.