Hiking the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It also was one of the most challenging. Would I make the trek again? Absolutely. Would I change a few things before making the trek again? Absolutely. While I would consider myself a pretty outdoorsy person, this hike took adventure to a whole new level.
For starters, this was the longest I’d ever gone without taking a shower. Four days, people! This was the first overnight hike I’d ever embarked on, and also the first one where everything I brought, I carried on my back. But hey, I wanted the entire inca-trail experience, and that is exactly what I got. A once-in-a-lifetime memory I will never forget, and one I will eternally be grateful to have experienced.
When I look back on those four days spent on the Inca Trail, I can’t help but smile. Not only from reminiscing back on the experience, but also thinking back to the things I wish I’d know before making the hike. Just typing that makes me giggle a little looking back on my naiveness. But as they say, hindsight is always 20/20. So, if you’re planning to make the trek to Machu Picchu soon, I’m pleading for you not to make the same mistakes I did.
1. Consult with a doctor before your trip — I don’t think I will ever take an international trip again before consulting with a doctor about travel medicine. The only meds Derek and I had in our backpack during the hike were ibuprofen pills and pepto-bismol tablets. BIG MISTAKE. Turns out we both got food poisoning and got sick the first night of the 4-day hike. I’m telling you, I am counting the stars I was able to complete the hike. I have never been as sick as I was that first night. Of course, I cannot even begin to pinpoint where we caught food poisoning, all I know is that is was miserable, with a capital M!
If we had only had medicine for this type of situation to occur, we would have been able to beat the sickness so much faster. After this brutal experience, you can bet I will never make this mistake again!
2. Bring the proper sun protection — While we did remember to bring sunscreen, we should have brought one with a higher SPF protection. It’s easy to forget about how powerful the sun’s rays can be, that is until they’re severely beating on your shoulders. Also, remember to reapply! Unfortunately, I got sunburned on my shoulders the first day, which made wearing my backpack a bit painful at times. Luckily, I had a bandana to tie around my neck, which definitely helped to block the sun.
In addition to sunscreen, be sure to bring a hat and sunglasses. These will certainly come in handy and you’ll be glad you have them.
3. Buy a water bladder for your backpack — Thank the heavens Derek and I remembered to buy one of these before the hike. Since there are no water stations on the trail, the only times to refill your bottles are when you stop for your meals. Therefore, these water bladders are real game-changers. You wouldn’t believe how fast you could down two liters of water either, but believe me — it’s a lot faster than you’d think. Luckily, you can buy these for super cheap, so it’s definitely a no-brainer.
4. Pack layers — Since you’re hiking to a peak of 13,000 feet above sea level, talk about some MAJOR weather fluctuations. You’ll go from hot to cold in seconds — well, not seconds but you know what I mean — and you’ll experience various temperatures. This is where layers will become your best friend. By the time we reached the peak of our hike, we even had to bring out our gloves and hats. The intensity is no joke!
5. Don’t forget a rain cover for your backpack — For the first three days, we had great weather. Not a single rain drop fell from the sky. Our last day was a much different story. We had several more miles until we finally made it to Machu Picchu, and that’s when the clouds decided it was time to have a good cry. It poured and we became instantly drenched.
A lot of backpacks these days come with rain covers. If not, you can buy them separately. I forgot to bring one, so I was forced to somehow try and cover my pack with a big ole white trash bag. Luckily, it did the job. Rain covers are a must because not only do they keep your stuff dry, but as soon as your pack gets wet, everything in it becomes wet and much heavier. Not fun at all.
6. Invest in the right equipment, for you — While there are countless types of backpacks out there, be sure to choose the right one for you. Investing in a good quality pack is super important — for your back, as well as your stability. Personally, I love how this backpack fits. I’d recommend getting properly fitted (I went to REI) and go from there to ultimately decide. While deciding on a backpack can be a bit overwhelming, here’s a great article on choosing the best pack.
Just as with your backpack, choosing the right hiking boots is extremely important. And while these boots can be a bit pricey, the investment is worth it. My biggest fear was turning my ankle on the hike — can you even imagine!? With proper hiking boots, your feet will have the support they need for stability. Not to mention the comfort since they’ll be hiking miles upon miles each day. I ended up going with these boots, and I was very satisfied.
Another tip — Wear your boots in before your hike. Not only will this prevent any blisters to come, but you’ll be able to see if you can the right size. REI has a full refund on any of their boots, so if you did get the wrong size at first, you can simply return them, no questions asked.
7. Book an overnight flight — Not only are overnight flights most of the time cheaper, but it will also save you a night of accommodations, which is a total win-win!
8. Take crisp dollar bills — While this sounds extremely random, it’s totally necessary. If you’re going to be using american money, make sure the bills are crisp. If they have rips in them, the bills most likely will not be accepted. This is because the banks won’t accept the ripped money. Let me tell you, this is not any fun when you’re in a market and you’ve found the most beautiful colorful scarf, and all you have is a slightly torn bill. There is no persuasion you can do at this point. You then must put the scarf back and continue on you scarf-less way. No, not fun at all!
9. Don’t forget your camera — Don’t just rely on your iphone. Please. I made this mistake and a couple of hundred of photos somehow got deleted. I don’t even want to relive the sickening feeling that came over me when I realized the majority of my photos had suddenly vanished. Believe me, the sight wasn’t pretty. Luckily, Derek took plenty of pictures with our “real” camera, but still!
10. Give yourself a few days to adjust to the elevation — Because Cusco is at such a higher level of elevation, you need to allow yourself plenty of time to become acclimated. While most hotels have oxygen tanks to use, the trail of course will not. Therefore, allow yourself a few before beginning the actual hike. We arrived in Cusco on Saturday and didn’t start the hike until early Tuesday morning. Those three days were much-needed, as it took some time to become adjusted. Sipping on cocoa tea did help, as well as making sure to stay extra hydrated. Use this time to explore the beautiful city of Cusco!
If you’re contemplating making the hike to Machu Picchu, DO IT. I would recommend this trip to absolutely anyone. Not only was Cusco a charming city to explore, the people were so kind and friendly. And the food was out-of-this-world delicious. Jack’s Cafe, anyone!? This was our first taste of South America, and it definitely won’t be our last.
To read more about our hike to Machu Picchu, and our time in Peru, click here. And if you’re interested in watching the mini film Derek created of the overall trip, click on the mini films page..