I started this post immediately after I wrote about our 4-day trek, and then my life got in the way and I didn’t finish it. Since returning, I have talked to several people who are planning to visit Peru themselves. Whether your permit is already booked or you’re still thinking about it, hopefully you will find this post helpful!
Tips For Planning to Hike the Inca Trail
Plan and book early.
- Trail permits are released in January and you need to plan ahead. We purchased ours in March for a mid-September hike. I would try to go in spring if I were to do it again – April or May. My best friend went in late April and had fabulous weather.
- Most trail companies offer a similar group service. We knew several people who had gone with Llama Path. Alpaca Expeditions is a rival company started by a former LP guide and they are pretty similar, except they bring a toilet for you. It sounds like a nice alternative but I do feel for the guy that has to carry it. Private tours have a lot of perks, like choosing your schedule, but they also cost more. I will share our full itinerary in my next post.
- If you end up getting a new passport after you book, it can be a giant pain in the butt. You will need to send a copy of your new passport to the tour company, and they may still ask you for the old one when you get there. It’s all a little sketchy and in the emails Llama Path made it sound like it was no big deal but when we got to their office in Cusco it was suddenly a big deal. Needless to say, it worked out but not before they threatened us with having to buy an entirely new trail permit after already paying a change fee. Save yourself the trouble and get your new passport now.
- Get vaccinated, especially for diseases like cholera and hepatitis A, which are transmitted through dirty water. After the bathroom experience, you’ll understand.Prepare for rain.
- It rains so much in the cloud forest you’re almost guaranteed to get wet at some point, and nothing really dries once wet. Be sure to bring a waterproof coat, pants and poncho. You’ll never regret an extra poncho either.
- Bring warm clothes. I packed too many t-shirts when I really needed an extra long-sleeve shirt or warm sweater. If you go in Southern Hemisphere fall (April-June), you may find the weather warmer during the day but colder at night.
- Rent a sleeping bag. If the thought of climbing into a sleeping bag that has been used by countless strangers weirds you out, I get it. You can get a silk liner though which adds warmth and places a layer between the bag and you. It would’ve been worth it to save carrying a sleeping bag in our luggage for the other 12 days of our trip.
- You don’t need to take snacks. Seriously. My best friend told me she took too many and I did also. Aside from a few Cliff bars for other parts of the trip, I didn’t need them on the trail.
- More packing tips below.
- Practice your squats and prepare yourself for the bathroom experience. You will be glad you did. They really are that bad and there is no option but squatting.
- You need to be in reasonable shape to hike the Inca Trail, because as has been said many times, you can’t train for the high altitude. You will get winded and it will be tiring, so the better prepared you are the more you can enjoy it. I also echo other travellers recommendations to do a big hike (10-15km). It’s a great test for your equipment, stamina and your mental resolve.
What I would do different next time
- Look for a tour company that leaves camp later in the morning. On the last morning, if we had slept in and hiked to Machu Picchu after 8, we would have avoided the rain, the mad rush and got more sleep. Apparently the ruins are also less busy in the afternoon since everyone tries to get there to see the sun rise then heads home mid-afternoon.
- If you want lots of time to see the ruins and to climb Wayna Pichhu, plan to stay the night in Aguas Calientes and then take the train back to Olyantaytambo the next day. Because we climbed Wayna Picchu, we didn’t even have two hours in the ruins before we had to leave to catch the bus to town. The line was so long, if we had stayed longer we easily could’ve missed our train home. Luckily we came across my friends in the line or else we would’ve been hiking another hour to town.
- Don’t spend the extra money for the Vistadome train. After our hike we were so tired and had been in the mountains for four days, the view from the train paled in comparison and we were too exhausted to enjoy it anyway. There was a weird fashion show that was entertaining, but not worth the $50 USD premium.
- Only send the laundry out that you really need washed. I sent everything out when I really only needed a few shirts and pants washed, and when it was almost lost I thought I would have to wear jeans and a llama sweater for the rest of our trip.
Tips for Peru in General
- Read reviews and book your Sacred Valley tour guide in advance. There are piles of tour operators and if you just want the run-of-the-mill bus ride around, you can easily book that in Cusco. If you want a tailored experience though you need to do a bit of work up front, in my opinion. We got ripped off on our Sacred Valley Tour, didn’t get the personalized service we heard about nor all the things we wanted to do.
- Try to spend at least 2 days in the Colca Valley. We stayed at the Colca Valley Lodge. It was expensive but it had beautiful hot spring baths, with a little bar and food from the restaurant menu right there. It would have been awesome to spend an extra day relaxing and doing some hikes around the valley.
- Stay on one of the floating Uros Islands in Lake Titicaca. It surprising how many you can find on AirBnB. Eduorado & Gloria’s Waliski Island is one of the furthest from shore and they are a lovely couple. If you haven’t used AirBnB, get a $45 discount off your first stay when you sign up here.
- Expect to be ripped off. The “tourist price” is always more than the local price and with no regulation for taxis, you’re sure to get taken. Especially if you can’t speak Spanish. Don’t stress about it and go with it; a Sol is worth far more to them than us.
- Learn some Spanish. See previous bullet. It’s just far easier and always a better experience when you can converse with people, even marginally.
- LATAM is a fantastic airline option for domestic flights. Their service was excellent every time we flew with them.
What to Pack For Peru and The Inca Trail
I pretty much followed Bread Crumbs Guide Peru Packing List exactly. I purchased a lot of Icebreaker clothing and a few pair of their socks, which I could wear day after day on the trail without smelling and it’s since become my favourite clothes.
If you aren’t an avid hiker, I recommend borrowing gear and visiting an outdoors store with experienced employees for your purchases. You want a backpack that fits right and ideally someone who knows the trail. Of all the outdoors store I visited, I found our local store, Thorncrest Outfitters was by the far most helpful.
Here’s a few of the goodies I got there:
- Mountain Hardware sleeping bag– I’ve used this countless times now for camping and don’t need to take anything else with me. It’s going to be great for backcountry camping in future
- Mountain Hardware sun hat- it looks a little silly, but it folds and doesn’t lose it’s shape too bad and keeps the sun off my neck
- Buff – I love the Buff Canadian collection. I got a “Great Lakes” Buff that was like taking a bit of home with me. Because I had two my friend ended up using this one for the trek and she’s wearing it in most of our pictures.
- Darn Tough hiking socks & these funky Canadian socks. You can’t leave Canada without wearing the maple leaf can you?
- Garneau Drytex 4000 base layer – Similar to these pants, these fleece-like pants were cozy warm for sleeping. I am looking forward to having them for this winter in Ottawa.
Everything I took:
Finally, I still wish I had packed different clothes or left some things at home:
- Skinny jeans would’ve been preferable to boot cut jeans. Again, the less chance your clothing touches anything near the ground or in a bathroom, the better.
- Don’t bother bringing shorts but bring bug spray. The gnats swarm like crazy after a rain and will bite any skin in sight, except you likely won’t see them or realize it until you’re covered with welts.
- Sunscreen and wear it.
- Warm mitts. I had gloves but they weren’t waterproof so my hands were very cold when they got wet and then I didn’t have mitts for the rest of the hike.
- A warm sweater or an extra long-sleeve shirt for evenings would’ve been nice. I missed my Icebreaker grey long-sleeve. It’s comfortable, warm and looks sharp for the days we were hanging out in the cities.
- I took crocs for camp but I didn’t need them and they weren’t great in the bathrooms. (Which we stopped using anyway)
- Plastic bags – you can never have too many. Same with wet wipes and Immodium.
- If you need athletic tape, medication, etc. bring extra. We had to go to six pharmacies before we found tape in Cusco.
- Save carrying it and rent a sleeping bag and Thermarest sleeping pad. The foam supplied by Llama Path was okay but I wonder if I would’ve slept better if I had a little more cushion.
- Finally, no matter how light you think you packed, you can always pack lighter so take something else out when you’re done!
Have you been to Peru? Did you hike the Inca Trail or Salkantay? What would you recommend or what made your trip awesome?