Hiking to Machu Picchu is on a lot of bucket lists. Whether you’re doing the 2-day, 4-day or 7-day trek, it’s still an overnight adventure in the Andes Mountains. And if you’re like me and this is your very first backpacking trek ever, then you probably have a few questions. Most will likely be answered by your tour company or from a few quick searches online. But even then, you’re limited by the questions you think to ask.
Here are a few questions I wish I’d asked, or had at least clarified a bit more before heading out on the trail.
Q: Do I really need a porter?
A: Get a half porter. They will carry your sleeping bag, sleeping mat and about 12lbs of things you don’t want to worry about carrying. This includes anything you won’t immediately need on the trail, like clothes or camp shoes. Anything you want quick access to on the trail (snacks, rain jacket, camera, etc.) should be carried with you. Don’t be a hero. Sure, you could carry all of your own gear, but this is a hard trek and the altitude is no joke. If you’re paying a bunch of money, you should enjoy the experience! Trust me, it’s worth it.
Q: Where do I put all the stuff I don’t want to bring with me?
A: Store them at your hostel or hotel. Anything you don’t want to have on the trail (clothes you know you won’t wear, extra shoes, souvenirs, etc.) can be stored at whichever hostel or hotel in Cusco you’ll be staying at on the night you get in from the trek. Just stop by ahead of time with a bag of what you want to leave with them. They deal with this all the time and will usually have a special storage room specifically for this, often free of charge!
Q: What size backpack should I hike with?
A: A daypack. Generally speaking, you don’t need anything more than a simple daypack for the few things you’ll have on the trail. I would say anything between 10-25L would be plenty. If I could go back, instead of bringing my 65L backpacking pack with me on the trek (oh god why), I would have stored that at my hostel and just taken my Osprey Daylite Backpack (13L). The truth is, you just don’t need to have that much on you while you’re hiking. And anything you give to the porters will be waiting for you when you arrive at camp. That being said, the average bag size I saw on the trail was around 30-35L, and that was perfect for most people.
Q: Do I really need to rent trekking poles?
A: Get at least one trekking pole. It’s just like hiking with a walking stick. You only really need one, but two is good if you’re comfortable (and coordinated) enough to use them. Plus, they’re usually available for rent through the tour company for pretty cheap. My trekking pole was immensely helpful, both for the climb up the mountain and back down again. In fact, I’m so convinced of their usefulness that I think I’m going to buy some for my general hiking as well.
Q: Should I bring a poncho or a raincoat?
A: Bring BOTH! AND rain pants. AND a backpack cover. When it rains in Peru, it REALLY rains. This is particularly relevant if you’re going during the rainy season. I had the raincoat/rain pants/backpack rain cover combo, but found myself wishing I’d had a poncho too. Having to eat lunch in a cold, wet raincoat stuffed under a small tent with a bunch of other cold, wet trekkers wasn’t fun, but it was too cold to take the raincoat off. The extra protection would have been awesome. Plus, it’s not heavy. Why not bring both?
Q: What is the bathrooms situation?
A: Two words: Squat Potty. If you aren’t comfortable finding some nice nature to do your business in, there are a number of bathrooms on the Inca Trail. Make sure that you have a few nuevo sol coins with you to pay to use them; though once in you’re in the national park they’re usually free. The downside is that they are squat potties, which are basically a hole in the ground that you squat over. Make sure to bring wet wipes and tissues for toilet paper, and a few plastic bags since you have to pack out what you take in. Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. Here’s a more comprehensive look at the bathroom situation while on the trail.
Q: Will I want any kind of entertainment with me?
A: Nope. You’ll be way too tired to read and you can’t listen to music while you hike for safety reasons. This is the perfect moment to simply disconnect and be with nature. Embrace it! The only real downtime is the train ride back from Machu Picchu and they sell beer on the train, so you’re covered.
Do you have any other questions about what it’s like to hike the Inca Trail?
What questions are causing you the most stress?
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