I spend endless hours scrolling through travel pictures to cure my wanderlust, but it isn’t often a destination strikes my interest as much as Machu Picchu did. There is something about an ancient civilisation set in the Andes Mountain range that seemed so impossible, I had to tackle it.
Admittedly, I didn’t even consider the option to catch the train to Machu Picchu and signed up for the Inca Trek without a second thought. In hindsight I do believe to train is a very accommodating option especially for time strapped travellers. However, after doing the trek, there isn’t any other way I would want to experience Machu Picchu. Spending four days taking in the breath-taking views and appreciating the culture of the Incas made the final destination so much more awe-inspiring.
I booked my trip with G Adventures for December six months in advance. Plenty of time to get fit, right? Nope. I found myself on a plane just four days after completing my final exams for the semester, stressed out from last minute shopping and probably only hiked a medium level bush-walking trail twice. And you know what, I still made it to the top. As well as a 72 year old woman in my group (my idol). Although it wasn’t the best method of preparation, anything is possible if you make it happen. After my experience I have some tips that helped me through and the lessons I learnt.
1. Do book the Trek through a tour company. I chose G Adventures and am forever thankful I did. There are many different tour groups that you pass on the trail and by far G Adventures was the most organised, efficient and informative in my opinion. You are allowed to give a porter 6kg of luggage to carry throughout the day which was adequate for a sleeping bag, sleeping mat and a few changes of clothes. The porters travelled ahead to set up the camp sites, prepare meals and pack up the tents in the morning. The meals provided by G Adventures were delicious and the tour guide was friendly and encouraging.
2. Be prepared for Altitude Sickness. The tour included two days before the trek which were spent in Cusco and Sacred Valley to help acclimatise. During the first day, I was ok but had this odd was-I-hungry-or-not type of feeling. By evening, I couldn’t eat a meal and spend my night with my head hanging over a toilet bowl. I had seen a Travel Doctor back home (do this!) who had given me some Diamox. It wasn’t until the next day when my tour guide said I should take some that I did. It made the world of difference. The nauseous feeling was gone and I was back on my feet. I highly recommend getting a prescription even only as a precaution. I did still struggle at the highest altitude, but it was achievable. No one else in my tour group experienced altitude sickness as I did, although there were a few complaints of light-headedness and tingling feelings in their fingers and toes. Coca Tea was provided at all meals (yes, it is made from the Coca plant; no, you can’t bring it home) which is a local natural remedy which I recommend trying along with the Coca candy.
3. Don’t let your fitness level deter you. Like I said before, I was not in peak fitness. The tour guides are extremely professional and maintain an attainable pace. They are aware of individual’s limits and schedule timely breaks to help you catch your breath along the way. It also helps with the porters taking some of the heavier equipment so all you are left to carry are the items you need for the day e.g. camera, water, snacks etc.
4. Bring snacks. There are little stall along the trek for the first half with snacks and refreshments available. The prices do climb with the altitude though. G Adventures provided us with a snack pack for the day, but I would advise bringing some extra of your own for the day. The breakfast provided is generally quite light and they like to accomplish the majority of the walking for the day before lunch. A few small snacks definitely provide a needed energy boost at times.
5. Wet wipes for days. Seriously, stock up. There are showers at the majority of the campsites, but to be honest the facilities aren’t great when you are 4000m above sea level. The water is freezing and not a great feeling when the temperature at the campsite is already dropping. The tour group provided us with a small bowl of hot water to clean our face and feet which was heavenly. I cleaned the rest of myself with wet wipes. Yes, I was pretty gross looking by the end of the four days. But it really didn’t matter.
6. Just buy hiking boots. You can drive yourself crazy trying to decide if it is worth it or not. About ¾ of my group had hiking boots the other ¼ had sneakers. Although those wearing sneakers managed, we were lucky to not experience any rain. If it does rain, you would be in a world of pain without the grip, ankle support and water protection of hiking boots. Oh, definitely get waterproof hiking boots where possible. Nothing is worse than putting on wet shoes in the morning as the atmosphere is dense in humidity and nothing dries. Keep this in mind where buying clothing too as lightweight materials are best.
Lastly, enjoy the experience. Take as many photos as possible along the trip because they are moments that can easily be missed. And get to know your fellow travellers! I sincerely recommend the trek as there is no better feeling than reaching the Sun Gate on the final morning. You watch the sun rise over the mystical Machu Picchu and guess what – you made it!