With its ancient ruins and breathtaking views, Machu Picchu is one of the most famous wonders of the world. Although you can actually travel there by train, one of the most beautiful and memorable ways to get there is to hike the Inca Trail. This 27-mile long, high-altitude trail is challenging, but it is more than worth it to witness the scenery along the way.
If you are a frequent trekking enthusiast, you might already know how to plan for a long, demanding trek like the Inca trail in Machu Picchu. However, for first-timers or beginners, the Inca Trail is all about planning well and having the right expectations. In this article, I will give tips on how to plan and book your trip as well as what to pack and how to avoid that dreaded altitude sickness.
Planning Your Trip: When to Book
It’s important to realize that you can’t just show up and hike the trail – no matter how experienced you may be. Instead, you will need to obtain a special permit, which can only be granted when you book with a licensed travel agency. There are also limited amounts of permits that are issued, in fact, at the moment only 500 of these permits are given out each day. And out of these 500 permits, more than half are for the porters and guides. So take that all into consideration and you have to get your hands on one of the 150- 200 permits that are left for tourists.
Because of this, it is a wise idea to book your trip as far in advance as possible. This will help to ensure that you nab one of these hard-to-get permits. It will also give you time to purchase everything that you need, as well as put in some physical training to get your body prepared (more on that later).
If you leave it too late and miss the permits, don’t worry as there are still a range other trails in and around the area. However, none are quite as stunning as the Inca Trail, so you may want to consider postponing your vacation to another date.
What Time of Year Should I Go?
Another thing that you will need to think about is the time of year that you take your trip. The dry season runs from May to September, and this is the best time to visit if you plan on hiking as it’s when conditions are most favorable and rainfall is limited. These treks do happen throughout the year, although they can be postponed on occasion if the weather conditions are partly bad.
How to Pick a Tour Company
The next thing to think about is what tour company your want to go with. You should choose a reputable company who have been running treks in the area for a number of years, so that you know they are experienced. It’s also wise to take a look at reviews from past customers on third-party sites, to check that they are good. If you’re eco-conscious, it’s nice to ask what sustainable practices the tour company has in place to make sure that the land stays protected. If you’re traveling with a large group, give this article a read before you book.
Obviously, you should also pick a company that treats its porters very well. Some people report that other tours don’t look after their porters. Make sure that the travel company you go with are doing the right things by taking care of their porters and the environment too. I
How to Get to Machu Picchu
Getting to Machu Picchu is relatively easy. Many of the guided Inca Trail trek tours depart from the city of Cusco which is served by Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport. This is a major airport which is served by multiple airlines including America, United, and Aeromexico. If you are coming from further afield, you may first need to fly into Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima. From there, there are frequent connecting flights which will get you to Cusco Airport. The airport is located just a 10-minute drive away from the city center, and many taxis are on hand to take you there. Some tours may even include an airport pick-up.
What to Pack for Your Trip
This is such a big question and one that really needs to be taken seriously if you want to have a safe trip. For starters, make sure that almost everything that you take is brand new or fairly new. The last thing you want is to have things falling apart when you are mid-trip. What you pack should depend on what time of year you are visiting. You will want to try and make it as minimal as possible to avoid weighing down your porters too much, but at the same time, you need to make sure that you have all of the essentials.
Make sure that you pack proper hiking footwear that has excellent grip, waterproof, hiking attire, a rucksack, sleeping bag, a water bottle, your passport, and toiletries. Things can get pretty chilly at night, so bring a thick, good quality sleeping bag and thermals too. In the daytime, the sun can be strong, so it’s worth packing a protective sun hat and a small bottle of sunscreen.
Sunglasses are also a good idea too, just make sure that they hug your head nicely. Your tour guide will bring along necessary first aid items, so no need to pack those. For safety purposes, always ensure that you have the right travel insurance booked before you go. Also, read the small print, as some of the most basic types won’t cover an Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu because of the high altitude.
How to Avoid Altitude Sickness
There are several things that you can do in order to limit the chances of getting altitude sickness. First, book several days in Cusco to simply rest and recover from traveling. Many people make the mistake of setting off on the hike early the next morning. This can put a huge strain on your body, plus it doesn’t give you time to acclimatize to the difference in altitude. Coca leaf tea is a natural altitude sickness remedy that the locals swear by. If you know that you already suffer from severe altitude sickness, then you may want to discuss medication options with your doctor before you depart.
Physical Fitness: Train Beforehand
The Inca trail is described as being moderately difficult, yet it does have some rather challenging areas and steep inclines. You will need to make sure that you are in good physical fitness before you leave. Some people like to have an overall health check-up with their doctor. Make sure that you stick to a solid exercise regime in the months leading up to your trip. This can include things like leg workouts, step-based exercises, and hill walks. Take care of your health and your eating habits too. While your training for the Inca Trail, it’s good to set a nutrition-filled diet to so that you are in tip-top shape when you arrive.
So grab your hiking boots and work those leg muscles, as a hike to the ancient sites of Machu Picchu could be just a few clicks away. Book with a reportable agency and pack wisely, and you will be sure to have a magical and memorable getaway. Happy hiking!