Peru is a beautiful country with various hiking trails, friendly people, a laid-back vibe, and a fantastic selection of food choices. It is also a safe country and easy to travel solo, with friends, family, or groups.
One of my best experiences was hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with G Adventures. The journey was four days, and I’ll admit, some days were challenging due to elevation and steep stairs. However, training before the trip helped.
Below are some tips to prepare for those planning to hike the trail. The post includes pre-training, accommodation in Ollantaytambo, dealing with altitude, what to pack, and snacks to bring.
Training before hiking the Inca Trail is best, even if you’re an avid hiker. Whether going to the gym or practicing hiking up hills, everything counts. Once or twice a week, I went to a place with at least four steep hills. I also took fitness classes like Cross Fit at the gym for endurance and did squats and leg extensions regularly.
Walking with a backpack with at least 3 liters of water, snacks, and layers that you may take off during the day is also good practice to get used to the weight. Yoga will also help with breathing when ascending 1,000 meters on the second day.
If you can’t access a gym or hills, take the stairs, walk where possible, and do squats at home.
What to pack
Temperatures in the mountain are cold in July, with one night reaching -4 Celsius (24 degrees). Pack a jacket, a hat, gloves, and a scarf. After hiking for a few hours, the weather will change, and temperatures can reach 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees). Don’t forget sunscreen and a sun hat.
Pack layers and make sure to have good hiking socks and boots. While the trail was four days, I only packed two pairs of hiking pants and two long sleeve shirts. I also had a thin hoodie and a lightweight puffy jacket to keep warm at night and early morning. Packing a pair of sweats or yoga pants for the evenings is wise. Packing a small polyester and nylon towel is good, so it dries faster.
A few other tips
The porters will carry a duffel bag that the company will give you, which can only weigh 6 kilograms, so try to pack toiletry-size items and sandals to wear after hiking. Hikers only need to carry their day bag.
Pack a power bank and cord for electronic devices. I also brought a travel-size bottle of a liquid laundry wash. Bring a head torch for the night.
It’s best to bring a water bottle that can hold at least 3 liters. I go through a lot of water when I hike, so I packed two bottles that could carry 4 liters of water.
I get hungry when I hike, so I packed some protein bars and Pocari Sweat powder. My company gave us a snack bag on the first day of the hike, which included nuts, fruit, and biscuits. This bag will be for four days. We went shopping the day before our hike began, so I also bought nuts.
On the first day, at least seven stops will be where locals sell drinks and snacks like candy bars and biscuits, just in case.
Altitude will be an issue, especially on day two when ascending 1,000 meters to 4,215 meters. I recommend bringing altitude sickness pills, but the local pharmacies sell coca tablets.
My group had coca tea in the morning and coca leaves to chew on during the hike. The guides also have an oil to inhale that helps open up the chest. I arrived in Cusco three days before my tour began so I could adjust to the altitude.
Some toilets cost 1 – 2 Sols at these stops on the trail, so ensure you have plenty of coins. There will be a toilet or even a portable toilet when stopping for lunch. The camp sites will also have one or two toilets.
At two of the sites we slept, there was a shower but no hot water. Luckily, our porters brought us hot water in a bowl in the evening and the morning. I also suggest bringing some wet wipes.
I brought a carry-on size suitcase to Peru. With G Adventures, we left our luggage in the storage room at the hotel in Cusco. We only took our essentials in our duffel and day bags. I’m unsure if other agencies do this, but check with them when booking the trip, to pack accordingly.
Accommodation in Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo has tons of hotels, but I recommend Inka Paradise. We stayed here the night before we started the Inca Trail, so it was included in the tour price. But, I would stay here again because it is a five-minute walk to the main square, they have a lovely and tranquil garden, and the beds are comfortable – the perfect balance of a medium and soft mattress.
Visiting only Machu Picchu
For those not wanting to hike the Inca Trail and want to visit only Machu Picchu, there is a train that leaves from Ollantaytambo and takes just over two hours to reach. The train arrives at Aguas Calientes, and travelers must take a 15-minute bus ride to Machu Picchu. For more information, go to IPeru.
There are a few more things to remember before hiking the Inca Trail. Some mornings will be early, with a wake-up call at 3:30 am. Always listen to your guides. Before booking a tour, make sure to read the entire itinerary. It has details, including the distance and hours of daily hiking, so there shouldn’t be any surprises.
The company I booked with rents sleeping bags, mattresses, and poles, which I recommend purchasing. Pack a small travel-size pillow. I forgot one, so I used my thick scarf as a pillow – it wasn’t terrible, but I will remember this for my next long hike!
A few more things
The Inca Trail passes sell out quickly, so book your trip as soon as possible. I booked my trip six months in advance. The company secures the passes.
I had a chance to explore Lima and Cusco before and after the trip. To read more about what to do in Lima, check out my post here. For information about Cusco, check out the best things to do in Cusco.
Hiking the Inca Trail was one of the best trips I’ve taken. The views are a mix of mountains, ancient ruins, and the start of the jungle. It was worth the challenges along the way. I had excellent guides, a wonderful hiking group, outstanding chefs, and incredible porters.