What to Expect on the Inca Trail
Trekking to Machu Picchu was high on our individual bucket lists before we even met. I can say without a doubt that our expectations were blown out of the water, but not always for the better.
Your tour company will tell you all about the fitness requirements and what to pack. However, there are some things that not everybody mentions when discussing the majestic adventure on the Inca Trail. Here are the top things you should expect, both well known and lesser known, when travelling on the four day journey on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN TREKKING THE INCA TRAIL IN PERU
On the Inca Trail you will probably use one or all of these three "toilets":
1. Hole-In-The-Ground Squat Toilets
2. Tented Potty
3. Mother Nature's Finest
The Squat Toilets were at almost every rest stop and at every camp site. Expect to PAY for these if you want to use the toilets at any of the break spots on the first day. They are 1 sole per use. They consisted of a regular stall, but instead of a porcelain throne it was a hole in the ground with two spaces for your feet on either side. Note: stand WIDE, not in the foot spots if you can!
Growing up in the camp universe, this wasn't a big deal to me and luckily the women's bathrooms were in slightly better conditions than the men's (according to Sam).
Depending on your tour provider, tented potty's might look something like this photo here.
I might be wrong, but I only remember seeing these once (Day 3).
Your final option to relieve yourself has the best view of any washroom in the land... the great outdoors! If you find yourself in need of a wee on the trail, hang around the back of your group and find a side path or a bush you can hide & do your business behind. Do everybody a favour and please do this far away from the trail, as your fellow hikers have enough nastiness to dodge already (we'll chat more on this later).
Any + All Weather Conditions
If you didn't watch our Trek Vlog (below) let me give you a run down of the weather situation we encountered on the Inca Trail. The first day, which was supposed to be the easiest, was a beautiful warm winter day with only a light rain shower in the afternoon.
The second day, which we were told would be the hardest, we woke up to rain. That rain continued all day until it turned to snow, which turned into the worst snowstorm the guides had seen in 5 years on Dead Woman's Pass.
The third day and forth day were luckily closer to the average Peruvian weather in July. Long story short, expect everything. Bring a sleeping bag that is rated for -7 degrees Celsius. Pack that long underwear and gloves, but also a t shirt.
Layers are key when you wake up cold but get hot while hiking!
At the end of the day it's better to be prepared for the worst than to be stuck in it wishing you had packed that second fleece and a warmer sleeping bag (@me).
Land Mines... I Mean Poop
Man oh man was there ever a lot of feces on the Inca Trail! This was really just a problem on Day 1 and a little on Day 3, where you're dodging rocks and llama poop while also trying not to wipe out on uneven ground. This is because there are small villages along the trail and the people (yes, people live near the trail) bring their livestock back and forth using the trail. Just watch where you step.
And maybe give your hiking boots a rinse when you get back from the trek.
If I were to give short summaries of each day by incline, it would look like this:
DAY 1 - Up, flat, up.
DAY 2 - UP. VERY UP. STEEP UP. Followed by steep down.
DAY 3 - Up, down, then coasting on subtle hills.
DAY 4 - Gradual, then monkey stairs.
The stairs on the Inca Trail are uneven as they were placed hundreds of years ago. They are tricky at times, especially when wet. Your legs will feel like Jello after 8 hours of walking. We tackled these by zig-zagging, finding "halfway" rocks, and taking breaks when needed. The stairs are hard, but it's not a race. You will probably only be in that exact location once in this this lifetime.
You came here to experience the INCA trail, not a cozy train, so expect some hard work and don't just race through it to get it done quickly. Take photos. Take a breather. Enjoy the journey.
We had no experience hiking at altitude and weren't sure how our bodies would react. Since Sam was sick on our Rainbow Mountain hike prior to this trek, we became worried we'd have the same issues on the Inca Trail. Altitude sickness symptoms could be any of the following:
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Dizziness or light-headedness.
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Rapid pulse (heart rate)
- Shortness of breath with exertion.
The irony is a lot of these are symptoms someone might feel when exerting themselves, so it's a bit of a "chicken or the egg" debate. My (Caileigh) primary symptom was dizziness and shortness of breath, but I'm asthmatic so this may have been inevitable for me. Sam had a pretty bag headache and a sour stomach around Day 2/3. We made sure to take Diamox - as prescribed from a travel clinic back in Canada - from the beginning of the trek to ensure we could make the most out of this experience without being too sick.
If you're lucky and it's a clear night - and aren't too zonked after a day of hiking - you might take a moment after dinner to sit outside your tent and watch the stars. The Milky Way is said to run parallel to the Urubamba river, both of which were used by the Incas to navigate through the Sacred Valley.
Depending on the time of year, you might find that the trail can get quite busy. The government of Peru allows a maximum of 500 permits each day on the Inca Trail, which includes porters & guides. If you wanted a totally peaceful, "just me and the great outdoors" vibe, you might consider the less popular Lares Trek or Salkantay Trek. That being said there are still moments where you can find your solitude and peace...
An Unforgettable Adventure
Despite any altitude sickness, the relentless snowstorms and the savage staircases that never seemed to end, we had an unforgettable trek on the Inca Trail and you should expect the same! If you're up for a challenge and are okay with some discomfort you will be rewarded with ancient ruins, some epic stories and a trip to Machu Picchu that feels well earned.
Watch the vlog from our trek!
For those wondering, we trekked with G Adventures and really did love our experience (not an ad, we just straight up loved our trip)!
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Is hiking the Inca Trail on your bucket list? Ask us any questions in the comments!
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