Before you’ve even started the hike, organising your Machu Picchu trek is confusing as hell. Your head is probably spinning with questions like – what are alternative treks? Who should I book through? What do I take? After doing the hike myself and having a few ‘ah-ha moments’ here’s all the things I was told/wish I’d been told, before hiking Machu Picchu. Thinking about it? Read this before you book.
1. You don’t have to do the inca trail
Yep, controversial I know, but you need permits for the Inca Trail, which in high season book out about 6 months in advance. This totally reduces your ability to be flexible with your travel. I met so many people throughout my trip in Latin America rushing through countries in order to make their pre-booked tour. Also, due to it’s touristic nature the Inca Trail is so much more expensive than the alternative treks. Some travel agencies are charging over $1,000USD per person. Which is ridiculous. I took the Salkantay Trek and it only set me back $270USD. If you are however set on the Inca Trail you will be able to get the price down by following my next piece of advice.
2. book with a local company
When I was looking into hiking Machu Picchu before I left Australia I was being quoted upwards of $1,000USD by certain global tourism agencies. My travel agent was also strongly encouraging me to book one of these, and putting pressure on me due to the permit situation. Thank god one of my wonderful friends stepped in and gave me the details of one of the local tour agencies – Loki Travel. I was able to easily make a booking through their site and saved myself about $500USD.
3. don’t party before you go
I learnt this lesson the hard way. Cusco is a party town, and staying at Wild Rover Hostel where they pour free shots down your throat on the hour every hour, it was hard not to get carried away. Two nights before we were due to leave we partied a little two hard. Leading me to wake up the next morning with a sore throat and promptly develop a chest infection on day two of the hike. Lucky me.
4. bring emergency antibiotics
A chest infection while walking on an incline for nine hours is not a pleasant experience, and to make matters worse I hadn’t thought to bring my emergency antibiotics. And trust me, there is no where on the hike to just pick some up. Luckily my travel buddy had brought hers along which allowed me to finish off the hike. Had she not, I have no idea what I would have done.
5. even if you think you’ve acclimatised you will still feel the altitude
Having never been in high altitude before, the effect of being at almost 4,000m above sea level came as a real shock. I was shaky, lost my appetite and couldn’t take two steps without needing to stop for a break. And this was just in Cusco. On the Salkantay trek we reached a height of 4,630m and trust me, trying to hike at a decent speed at this height is almost impossible. But don’t worry, everyone will be struggling so just take your time. I’ve learned that small steps at a quicker pace works best for me.
6. walking poles help
Walking poles are not a scam by hire agencies to get you to spend more money. They genuinely help you with inclines by taking some of the weight off your legs. Unfortunately at the time I did the Salkantay Trek I was of the former mindset and didn’t take any with me. Learn from my mistake and spend the $10 to hire a pair.
7. bring a 2nd pair of shoes
There’s a pretty big chance it will rain during your hike so a 2nd pair of shoes is a must for you to change into after a long day of trudging up mountains. Trust me, your feet will thank me.
8. pack light
This is probably a hiking basic, but it’s especially poignant in this case. While you can offload 5kgs to the donkeys or porters, you don’t want to be hiking with more than 4/5kgs on your back for a full day. I’d take a pair of leggings or hiking pants, and a top, underwear and socks for each day along with a warm windproof/rainproof jacket. That is all. Don’t worry, everyone will be smelly and gross. It’s kinda like camping!
9. it will be cold
Yup, apparently the higher altitude you are, the colder it gets. Who would have thunk it? You will be cold on your trek no matter what when hiking Machu Picchu, so make sure you take things like gloves a beanie and a warm windproof/rainproof jacket.
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