Five things you need to know before you trek Machu Picchu, Peru
The Inca Trail, traversing the High Andes of Peru to reach Machu Picchu, is one of the world’s most enviable treks and draws travellers from all four corners of the globe to the far-flung mountains of South America. Thanks to its increasing popularity, it’s not the sort of excursion that you can simply turn up and book the night before, this once-a-lifetime experience needs a little more planning and forethought to ensure that it goes ahead smoothly. We’ve compiled a handy check-list of things you need to know before you embark on your Inca Adventure.
1. Plan your trip well in advance
Only 500 trek permits are granted each day to the classic Inca Trail, covering both tourists and guiding staff. As they are issued on a first-come, first-served basis permits get snapped up very quickly. As soon as you’ve settled on your trek dates pick a tour company (independent hiking of the trail is prohibited) and book your trip to reserve those all-important permits. Five months in prior should do it, especially if you are considering travelling in high season, between June and August. Check the rainy season before you travel, November through to April are the wetter months and the classic Inca Trail closes in February for annual maintenance and conservation.
2. Pick your route
The traditional four-day Inca Trail through the Sacred Valley is not the only path available to reach the magnificent ancient settlement. The Salkantay Trek follows a less travelled route through the Andes passing the Salkantay and Humantay mountain peaks, some of Peru’s highest, through valleys and stopping at steaming hot springs before reaching Machu Picchu. Whichever you choose, make sure that your route includes a trek up Wayna Picchu, the taller mountain that stands behind Machu Picchu and offers spectacular views overlooking the ruins from above. If hiking doesn’t take your fancy or your fitness isn’t up to it, an overnight train from Ollantaytambo, a short distance from Cuzco, will make the journey for you.
3. Pack properly
You’ll need your passport to enter the Inca Trail, ensure it is somewhere easily accessible and ready to be stamped on your first day of trekking. It goes without saying that decent hiking boots are also essential; make sure they are already broken in and comfortable before you embark on what is proven to be a relatively tough trek. Good waterproofs and high strength sun block will combat the unpredictable weather conditions, and plastic bags will keep your belongings and clothes dry. It may be hot during the day but at that altitude the nights are a very different story, many warm layers and a thick sleeping bag will be necessary for your evenings in the tent. Finally, toilet paper and antibacterial hand gel need no explanation, you’ll be grateful for insect-repellent and don’t forget a swimsuit to enjoy the hot springs of Aguas Calientes.
4. Acclimatise yourself to the altitude
When you arrive in Cuzco it’s not just the jetlag that your body has to adjust to, the altitude will also be a shock to the system. Plan to spend 3 or 4 days in Cuzco to acclimatise to the elevation – the city stands at 3,400 metres above sea level and there’s no telling who will be susceptible to altitude sickness as a result of the thinner air and lower oxygen levels. You’ll want to start the trek at full physical health and any symptoms of heightened altitude, like nausea and headaches, usually pass within a couple of days. There’s plenty to explore around Cuzco, the city itself is renowned for its archaeological remains, colonial Spanish architecture and rich Andean cultural heritage.
5. Prepare your fitness levels
If you’ll pardon the pun, Machu Picchu isn’t a walk in the park. It’s not an ascent of Mount Everest either, mind, but it certainly requires a better than average level of fitness. You’ll be undertaking moderate trekking across high altitude terrain for up to eight hours a day reaching heights of 4,200 meters setting off in the early hours of the morning. A few hikes at home or a running-based training regime before you set off for Peru will ensure that your body is better prepared. To keep energy levels sustained, pick up some sweets or trail mix in Cuzco to accompany your journey and some bottled water, though guides will purify water for you on the hike.