The Peruvian government has introduced legislation that limits the number of people who can walk the Inca Trail per day, which means that you have to book at least three months in advance and even earlier if you’re travelling during peak season. For my April 2013 trek, I booked in January with Peru Treks for $565 and this included three meals, guides and a sleeping bag. Water outside of meal times was not provided, nor was a porter.
- Walking sticks-Don’t bother buying expensive, fancy metal ones from Cusco, wait for your first drop-off location on the Inca Trail at Ollyantaytambo where you can buy two walking sticks for around 6 soles (£1.63) I recommend buying two sticks. Mine are pictured above in the photo (I grew somewhat attached!)
- 3 litres of water- Not all tours include water in their price (except during meal times) and I brought enough to sustain me outside of meal times. You can obviously buy water along the way but it is crazy expensive. The higher the altitude, the more expensive things get.
- Thermals and a hat- It gets REALLY cold up on the mountain at night.
- Sun cream
- Sun glasses
- A day pack- A lot of people I saw walking the Inca Trail had 6kg day packs, as well as luggage that they paid for the porters to carry too. Don’t make life difficult for yourself! I rented a backpack from a shop in Cusco for a fiver and only carried about 3kg. Even then it was bloody difficult to walk with.
- A porter- For additional cost you can hire a porter. If you don’t hire one then you may need to for day 2 which is Up Hill Day. Some companies include porters in the cost though.
The first day was fairly flat and easygoing, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t buckle under the weight of my backpack! Our guides were fantastic and had worked in the mountains for many years; they were both of Quechua descent (the native people of the land) and so knew the history well. Along the way they pointed out numerous different ruins and their history and place in Inca lore.
Before we arrived for meals, the porters would set up a big teepee and collapsible tables and chairs, the teepee was good as it protected us from the wind. Hot drinks like hot chocolate, cocoa tea and coffee were always provided, which was good, as it was nearly always cold! Meal times were great and the food was incredible! Nearly every one was a 3 courser which sometimes got a bit much, as I’m not really a foodie, but we were served waffles, crackers, chicken, vegetable soups, garlic bread(?!), Peruvian chicken dishes, cerviche and more.
In the morning we were awoken at 6am with a hot drink of either cocoa leaves tea, hot chocolate, coffee or water. Our guide brought these straight to our tent, which was a nice way to wake up. You have to empty your tents and they are then dismantled by the porters, who carry them ahead of you. Our guides stressed the importance of chewing cocoa leaves often to acclimate better to the altitude, but I didn’t have any problems with this throughout the trek.
The second day is renowned for being the hardest and has around 5 hours of uphill walking. On the way lots of porters will pass you carrying over 15kg on their back. New legislation has come into play on ethical treatment for porters that ensures they don’t carry over 20kg and I’d go with a company that guarantees that. I didn’t hire a porter for the trek but hired one just for the second day and it made the uphill walking more bearable.
Today is the day you walk up the famous Dead Woman’s Pass which is a relentless uphill slog. This is the highest point of the Inca Trail and afterwards is a sheer drop and then another uphill climb until you reach the campsite. Towards the end I started taking my time more and got to see the sunset and take lots of photos with stunning backdrops, like the photos above and below! The campsite we stayed at was lovely and was overlooking ruins and the uphill path of Day 3. We glanced with terror at what awaited us tomorrow!
The last real day of the Inca Trail had the most incredible views. Whilst Day 2 is all about ascending, Day 3 is all about the descent, which I preferred, but steady on those with weak knees. More ruins are available along the way and you get to trek through cloud forest too. Our guide, Percy, conducted a special Quechua ceremony, which was lovely. Throughout the journey he kept reminding us how sacred the walk was and exactly whose footsteps we were following in.
On the way to Wiñay Wayna (“forever young” in Quechua), normally the final campsite of most groups, you have to walk down a huge set of steps and your legs feel like jelly towards the end. Since this last bit was downhill, I was really in my forte and sped all the way to the campsite. The porters greeted me with a round of applause!
For dinner as per usual. we got an abundance of great food, but we also got CAKE! How they got a cake intact, up the Inca Trail I’ll never know.
There’s not really much walking on this day. From the campsite there’s a bit of competition and all tour groups try and wake up earlier than the others at around 5am. Expect to queue until the passage opens at around 7am. From here, its a one-hour hike to the Sun Gate, where you’ll get your first glimpse of Machu Pichu (which I discovered is NOT the name of the mountain). People tend to walk this bit really fast, the energy is incredible, but its so fast-paced that I couldn’t even take my jumper off and pause to drink, incase I lost my group in the mob. Once at Machu Pichu (its still a fair way down) you are given tickets and a tour by your operator. You will be taken to different temples and told the history of the Incas and how Machu Pichu remained undiscovered by the conquistadores. You’re then allowed free time to wander and are given a free bus ticket to Aguas Calientes, a neighbouring town, where we had our celebratory lunch, at a restaurant specified by the company. Make sure you bring enough snacks for today, as you are only served breakfast at around 5am and you will most likely not be finished at the ruins till 1pm. We skipped the thermal baths at Aguas Calientes, as they didn’t look that nice at all but went for a cheap massage just after the trail!
Other treks: Just a note that there ARE cheaper treks out there, which have scenery on par with, or even better than the commercial Inca Trail, such as Salkantay and Lares. These don’t have to be booked far in advance, but I wanted the classic Inca Trail experience and though Salkantay was around half the price, the trek was also a lot longer and round-about. A lot of people complain about how the classic Trail is so crowded and touristy but it really wasn’t; I was shocked at how peaceful and quiet it was in some parts.
- The Inca Trail costs $565 with Peru Treks and the prices are roughly standardised across all tour operators (April 2013, includes a sleeping bag in the price)
- Don’t feel obliged to lug around heavy walking boots and a sleeping bag from your home country. Most companies will let you rent a good quality sleeping bag and I managed the hike in trainers. In my opinion, walking boots are just a bit of a gimmick unless you have specific foot problems/weaknesses.
- Bring snacks from supermarkets, I brought nuts, dark chocolate and biscuits to keep me going, as there’s no food available between meals
- For the best weather, come during the South American summer (October-April) but note that the Trail is closed in February
- There are no toilets on the Inca Trail! Only at the campsites
We also got a sweet certificate from our company, which I loved!
Disclaimer: As much as I wish I was sponsored for the Inca Trail, I was not! All opinions are my own and I only recommend Peru Treks as I had an enjoyable time with them.