Walk like an Inca: how to survive the Inca Trail

I’m not an adventurist. Never have been, never will be. I prefer to sit on the beach than tackle the ocean waves. I like riding bikes but only on a footpath and somewhere within civilisation. Camping? Forget it. Fishing tests my patience and I get seasick anyway.

In spite of all that, I am always up for a challenge and if I really have to (ie: forced or co-erced) so it came as a big surprise (to me mostly) when I signed up to do the Inca Trail.

I’ve never hiked before in my entire life so to sporadically decide to do the Inca Trail was a pure moment of madness – but one I have no regrets over. (It was part of an Amnesty International fundraising challenge in case you’re wondering why)

Like London, the Inca Trail had never been on my to do list, mainly because I never had any interest in South American history or culture. What a silly little girl I was.

Um, wow. I fell in love with Peru from the moment I landed. The chaos, the friendly people, the food (dulce du leche filled churros!) and the general joie de vivre had me hook, line and sinker. I knew South America, especially Peru, was beautiful – I wasn’t totally ignorant, I’d seen pictures of course.

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The Inca Trail was amazeballs – yep, I totes wrote that. Words cannot explain the beauty of the trail and also how it challenges you physically and personally. You will become best friends with the group members you trek with, and find it very hard to part from your guides and porters who look after you each day.

The team
Family portrait with our porters who set up our tents, cooked our meals and managed the rocket tent!

For those who, like me, aren’t the outdoorsy type here’s my survival guide to the Inca Trail:

Invest in good boots

You’ll see this everywhere but really, don’t skimp on the boots. You’ll also need to go into a store and try them on because I am normally a 37 but ended up purchasing a pair of boots in 39 (size). They were SO comfortable I could have slept in them if I wanted to. There were people doing the trail in sneakers and barefeet (crazy) but your feet are one of the most important parts of your body – they carry you everywhere after all. So look after them as you don’t want to injure yourself and miss out on the rest of the trail and other adventures.

Get physical

IMG_2387You’ll hear people raving about how they never trained for the Inca Trail, were never affected by the altitude and made it to the end fit as a fiddle – they’re the exception, not the rule. I consider myself a fit person and in the lead up to this trek I ran at least 5km almost everyday, with a few fitness classes in between. Even with all that exercise I still found the trek quite hard (oh those steps!) and while I never suffered any altitude sickness I was still out of breath for some parts. My advice is exercise and work on your stamina, leg and core strength because believe me you’ll need it, especially if you want to enjoy Machu Picchu at the end! (Photo caption: Laura (left) and I with Nina Silic, professional IFBB bikini girl and one of the trainers in our excruciating boot camp class.)

Quality clothes maketh the survivor

I’ll be the first to admit adventure clothing is not sexy or glamorous. It was the first thing I learnt while preparing for this trip. Pants come in a limited range of neutrals, waterproof coats are bulky and non-flattering and thermal wear… well, let’s not go there. However, you need all these ugly clothes as they’re comfy and designed for extreme conditions. It also doesn’t come cheap so you need to be prepared to splurge. I bought a pair of North Face pants that zip off at the knees which I wore the entire four days and are so comfy I’ve bought them with me on my travels.

Bring a nice outfit for Machu Picchu

???????????????????????????????This is advice from a friend of mine who had done Machu Picchu a couple of years before and one I am so glad I followed! If you think about it, you will take a gazillion shots at Machu Picchu which you will show to all your family and friends and you don’t want to look like you’ve been slumming it for the past three nights (which you have been). I packed some leggings, a leopard-print blouse and red lipstick (hehe) especially for Machu Picchu and I have no regrets now when looking back at the photos!

Wipe wipe baby

With no showers on the trek you’ll need to stock up on baby wipes to get yourself clean every morning and night. Don’t be afraid to bring a lot – you won’t look weird and people will be grateful they can rely on your supplies when their own runs out. They can also be used to clean clothes (I used mine to clean the stains at the bottom of my pants) and also wipe your bottom clean when toilet paper isn’t enough. Skip the scented stuff though as you’ll get sick of smelling like eucalyptus after a day.

Slow the pace

???????????????????????????????Most Inca Trail treks are done in four days, with the group arriving at the Sun Gate on the morning of fourth day followed by a tour of Machu Picchu, which can be very tiring. This is great if you’re on a tight deadline. The trek I participated in was with Amazonas Explorer and it was done in five days, with the fourth day ending at the Sun Gate and the entire fifth day dedicated to Machu Picchu. This meant  being able to soak in every step of the Trail – we were never rushed through and had the opportunity to take as many photos as we wanted and ask questions of things we saw along the way. It also means you conserve your energy and enhances your enjoyment of the Trail.

Bring a great travel buddy

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I think the only reason I survived was my travel buddy, Laura. She kept me positive, optimistic and laughing the entire time. We joked together, supported each other and stayed together when one of us was struggling. I have fond memories of singing INXS early in the morning to get us motivated and falling into a giggling heap in our tents at the end of each day!

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If you’ve never contemplated doing the Inca Trail – do it. If it’s been on your bucketlist for a while, do it sooner. With so many people doing the Trail and visiting Machu Picchu it will deteriorate quickly over time so make sure you get there before it’s closed off to the public.

I did the Trail at the end of August and it was a perfect time of year – it did rain heavily during the night and during one of the mornings but the rest of time it was sunshine and temperate weather. It was very busy but it didn’t affect our experience at all – in fact it made it better as we got to meet many other people doing the trek and learn their stories. We met one guy who was doing the Trail barefoot to raise money for his chosen charity which was an amazing act.

If you have any other tips and stories to share, write them in the comments box!

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