Choosing to hike the Inca Trail in Peru is not a decision that should be made without foresight and thinking ahead.
It is up to you to ensure that you are fully prepared for what the hike will involve and know what items you need to bring.
Here is some advice from those of us who have gone before…
If arriving from sea level, plan to spend at least 2 – 4 days in Cusco prior to commencing the hike. This should allow plenty of time for acclimatisation and will give you an opportunity to visit the city of Cusco and the nearby Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Pucapucara and Tambomachay.
You will also have the time to spend a day or two exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas, visiting the tradition market town of Pisac and the fascinating Inca fortress at Ollantaytambo. Quite apart from the acclimatisation aspect you can easily spend a week in the beautiful city of Cusco.
The Classic 4-day Inca Trail can be hiked year round excluding February as the trail is then closed for maintenance. However, the months of April till October are probably more comfortable since the weather is drier. June, July and August fall in the high season when the trail can become fully booked so be sure to make a reservation in advance. The months of January and March are in the wet season so hiking the trail can be a little miserable unless you have a good rain jacket and a waterproof tent.
Ok, so none of us know exactly how we will react to the high altitude and there are some precautions one can take which definitely help. On reaching heights above 3000m, shortness of breath and a pounding heart are a normal response to the lack of oxygen in the air. However, for some these symptoms can deteriorate into a condition known as Soroche or acute mountain sickness.
This is when you can start to experience headaches, loss of appetite, extreme tiredness, sleeplessness and often nausea. These symptoms usually develop within the first day or two at altitude. To prevent Soroche, try to take things easy as soon as you arrive. Once settled in your hotel room have a lie down for a while and drink plenty of fluids. Don’t plan any strenuous treks until you’ve acclimatised for a few days.
Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and heavy food. Drinking mate de coca (an infusion of coca leaves – and perfectly legal in Peru) may help. If symptoms become more severe and prolonged it is best to quickly seek medical attention and make arrangements to descend to a lower altitude. On recovery one can re-ascend slowly or in stages. The drug Diamox is often used to speed the acclimatisation process and counter the symptoms of Soroche and it pays to take this with you in your first aid kit.
The key to packing for a trip to Peru is to pack for a variety of conditions while keeping the weight to a minimum. This is easier said than done when you have to deal with both the intense heat of the equatorial sun and the cold mountain nights spent camping on the Inca Trail.
The best way to deal with these extremes is to dress using several layers rather than one thick jumper. If you forget something, don’t despair since most things can be bought in the majority of Peruvian cities frequently visited by tourists. This includes excellent and cheap alpaca jumpers. Feeling cool on the first day of the trail, I did exactly this and donned a special alpaca jumper which is incredibly light and warm.I loved it.
Optional extras include:
Armed with this info, you should be well informed on what to expect on your travel through Peru and what items to bring for hiking the Inca Trail. On a positive note, our experience was one of only loss of appetite which could be attributed to minor altitude sickness, and no stomach upsets or any other kind of upsets.
Fingers crossed your trip goes the same way… Good Luck
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