Hiking the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is on every hiker’s bucket list, but should you do it? It is indeed challenging, but it has been completed by thousands of people. Chances are good that you can do it too, provided you are reasonably fit and you don’t have any health issues that preclude you. Depending on your level of fitness, it will be challenging for some people and quite moderate for others.
The 30-mile hike, which runs through the Andes Mountains, is a high altitude trek, topping at around 13,829 feet (4215 m) above sea level. Along the trail, the terrain itself is challenging and the altitude makes breathing more difficult and the physical effort more strenuous. In order to make hiking at elevation more comfortable and less exhausting, it is important to train both physically and mentally before your trip to Peru.
1. Start your training at least 3 months ahead of time. If you live in an area where there are mountains and hiking trails, choose hikes based on elevation gain and distance. Start out with a few easier hikes and work your way up. Make the toughest one somewhere near the middle of your training.
If you don’t live in an area where there is hiking, hit the stairs or the gym. Build on your cardio as well as your strength, focusing on the legs and core. To balance out your conditioning work, add in some arm, back, and shoulder exercises. The Inca Trail can be like the most brutal stair master you can imagine. According to Mountain Travel Sobek, “The level of fitness needed for a trekking adventure requires regular aerobic exercise for at least one hour 4-5 times a week.” The earlier you begin your exercise regimen, the more time your heart and lungs will have to get stronger and more efficient.
If you’d like some specific information in regards to training, check out Body Results Hiking, Trekking and Backpacking Training and Conditioning. There’s lots of good information there.
2. Arrive in Cusco a few days before you start the trek to give yourself time to acclimate. Cusco is already at 11,000 feet. Take a city walking tour and maybe a trip to Pisac and the Sacred Valley. Take a guided tour of the ruins there so you can walk around for a couple of hours to help you get ready for the real hike.
3. To help with altitude sickness, drink the coca tea (caution: this could cause you to test positive if drug tested) or visit the local farmacia and get a box of Acetek or get a prescription for diamox from your doctor before you travel.
4. Stay hydrated! This is important in helping with altitude sickness and obviously during the hike. Two liters of water is probably enough to carry because there are many opportunities to refill, but you should also carry a container of Gatorade or some sort of electrolytes beverage.
5. Hike at a slow and steady pace and take breaks when necessary. It’s not a race to get to Machu Picchu.
So what do you say? Are you ready to check this off your bucket list? Inca Trail Permits go on sale in January and sell out far in advance (sometimes six months in advance). The sooner you make the decision to trek the Inca Trail and book your trip, the more likely you’ll be able to secure a pass.