Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a pretty massive undertaking. Due to limited permits allowed on the trail, you have to pay a hefty fee and plan so far in advance. Once you’ve booked your trek, you now have six months (or more) to work out the details like your flight and accommodations, dining and activities, and of course, what to pack.
You’ll probably join a Facebook group, either through your tour provider or otherwise, and try to seek advice from other past or future hikers and maybe try to find someone else making the journey the same days as you. Or maybe you’ll search the internet and come across thousands of travel blogs, just like this one, with travelers who hiked the trail and want to share all their info with you.
And what are you left with? Information overload and a bag that would weigh 20 kilos (13 more than what’s allowed in your duffel at best). It’s so easy to overthink the Inca Trail. And while much of this is good advice, all together, it makes the trail sound so much more complicated than it needs to be.
I’ve tried to simplify my tips as much as possible and share with you the five things that were most essential for us that we think will help you, too. And of course, if you have any questions or recommendations to share, drop us a line in the comments.
5 Things To Know Before You Go
- Pack your bag, then bring half. For clothing, prioritize a variety of layers (not quantity) and keeping them dry. Keep your daypack as light as possible with only the essentials.
- Acclimate as much as possible. The only way to prepare for altitude is exposing yourself to altitude. You need at least three full days in Cusco prior to departure. Drink as much water as possible and rest up.
- Be wary of fancy gear. You don’t need an expensive daypack, hydration system or special hiking pants. Spend your money on a nice jacket and shoes and that’s it.
- Know where the train station is. The trains leave Aguas Calientes on time from the station (not from the platform at street level), so be sure you get there early. Take the Vistadome if you can; it’s a great time.
- Treat yourself to a nice hotel. After four days hiking and wearing the same clothes, nothing can replace a clean hot shower and a comfy bed to come home to.
- We had altitude sickness meds (Diamox) handy, but did not take them. We drank lots of water, and while we didn’t feel amazing, we were fortunately okay without the meds. Many people in our group who did take the Diamox had a variety of annoying side effects like headache (also a symptom of altitude sickness, so kind of defeats the purpose), numb extremities and frequent urination.
- If you’re looking for tips on packing, you can find what I packed here (errs on the side of minimalist due to our current nomad situation). You can also find a recap of the journey here or a fun piece on the thoughts everyone has while hiking the Inca Trail here.
- For reference, we stayed at Kokopelli Hostel in Cusco for three nights before the hike and then JW Marriott for three nights after the hike.
- We did not use hiking poles. We felt using the poles required us to balance four points (two feet, two poles) instead of just two. We’re also fairly young, fairly fit and fairly well balanced. There were four people and our guide who did not use poles, but everyone else did and said they really relied on them. That’s something you’ll want to evaluate personally.
- Yes, we missed our train in Aguas Calientes because we were at the wrong station and were distracted because Kenny was playing cards with a four-year-old Peruvian girl (it was actually very sweet, and while it cost of $250 to replace the train ticket, it turned out to be quite the enjoyable train ride which is why we recommend the Vistadome train if you can take it).