The Inca Trail

By Issy Goode - 19:06

If you read my blog regularly you will have already seen the four post series of The Inca Trail that I published last year, and whilst I loved chronicling my adventure in a day by day break down and sharing all of my photos with you, I thought it would be helpful to those of you who are actually considering doing the trail to have more than just my memories, but also some honest truths about what the trail is like.

So, here are some questions, and my answers, that I think will help those who are considering booking The Inca Trail as their next adventure - if you have any more questions that I don't cover off here, please feel free to comment below, drop me an email (missisgoode@gmail.com) or send me a tweet!

What company did I travel with?
We only spent a short time researching for our trip as it was more on a whim than anything I've done in my life, but we found Exodus and liked the look of the combined Amazon and Inca Trail trip, so we went for it. The reviews seemed brilliant and very positive and the trip just spoke for itself. They're a little on the pricey side but for the service we got, we were both very happy. Also, all of the guides they used, including our main guide Bobby, were absolutely fantastic and I won't ever forget them.

Having not had much travelling experience, this was perfect for us. 

To check out their holidays including The Inca Trail & Amazon Rainforest trip we did, click here. 

How much did it cost? 
As we didn't really do our research I'll be honest and say we spent a lot more money than other people. We'd never done a holiday like this before and were willing to spend more money to let someone else do the booking and planning for us. Including flights, The Amazon Rainforest, The Inca Trail and Lake Titicaca it cost us around £3,000 each - all of our accommodation, private travel (bar one coach we had to take up to Machu Picchu) and the majority of our meals were included in the cost of this. For piece of mind, I felt it was worth it.

If you want to just do the Inca Trail you can get it a lot cheaper, and if you want to book through Exodus I'd recommend booking your flights separately as almost everyone else on our trip did this, and it proved to be considerably cheaper than ours. They also had direct flights, whilst we went through Brazil and another woman went through Barcelona.

What was the weather like?
We went in July which is in the middle of the dry season for Peru, the driest being between June-August. The weather in Peru can hugely change the experience you have in the country based on what our guide, Bobby, told us. For many it pours and doesn't stop, making camping and hiking quite an arduous task. For us, we were very fortunate not to have one day of rain during our whole trip, bar a small shower for 10 minutes in The Amazon. I would always much prefer to go in the dry season. 

The temperatures during the day were around 18-20 at a guess, it wasn't so hot it made hiking uncomfortable, but a nice temperature to be walking in most of the time considering we passed through shaded forest areas and over high peaks. The sun shined beautifully over the mountains and hills around us and there was only one day where the sun felt uncomfortably hot. The temperatures at night were quite cold, but I'll get onto that a bit later. 
How much time did we spend hiking per day? How many miles?
The milage of the trip actually surprised me when I read the trip notes because you're only walking between 4.5-6 miles per day, which really seems like nothing. But don't be fooled, going up hill is what consumes your time during this trip. An uphill mile is nothing like a flat mile so we were walking around 6 hours a day with day two to Dead Woman's Pass taking us 8 hours. 

Apparently though, the mileage can vary dependent on which company you travel with. Some do the trail in only 3 days, so this will obviously make the time walking a lot longer than we experienced. Just make sure you do your reading! 

Was it difficult?
Yes is the simple answer. Parts of it were harder than I thought and other elements weren't nearly as testing, but it really depends on how fit you are in the first place. It's as difficult as you make it in some sense. It's not a race and you can walk at a really leisurely pace like I did for much of the hike, but even when I picked up the pace a bit I still managed it ok. Day two was the most challenging for me personally as there were just so many steps and the altitude was definitely tough on the ol' lungs. 

What training did I do and did it help?
I've been honest about this before and admitted that once we moved house our training went out the window. We went from keen gym-goers to paying for it for two months and not going once. We did put a day in climbing the Watkins Path up to Snowdon and spent a weekend camping in the Lake District where we did two 13km walks one after the other. They were fun to do and challenging, and they really made me realise I probably wasn't as fit as I intended to be ahead of hiking The Inca Trail. 

What really helped me was cycling to work. When we moved house in April around 3.5 months before we left for Peru I started cycling as it was the best and most cost effective means for me to get to work. I had to do a 5km cycle there and back everyday and this improved my fitness by a vast amount. I may not have put the work in when it comes to hiking, but I got my cardio in nonetheless.

Most of our group had barely done any training but they stuck at it and managed the hike. We were all a little breathless at times and some people were slower than others, but it's doable. From the experiences everyone had of the trip though, I'd say it's better to put the time in to train just so you can enjoy it more without it being a bit of a physical battle. 

Was it difficult to cope with the altitude? 
I took a private prescription of acetazolamide to Peru with me (this cost me about £5 and I got this via a telephone consultation with my doctor) and started taking this the day before we arrived in Cusco, as the city itself is 3,400m above sea level. You head to Cusco for a day or two in order to acclimatise, and a couple of our group were feeling light headed, nauseous or had some diarrhoea whilst we were there, but it passed once we were on The Inca Trail, fortunately for everyone! The altitude didn't have much of an affect on me in any of those departments and I can only assume the acetazolmide helped, but I did find breathing very difficult on the way up Dead Woman's Pass. I became breathless so much quicker than usual and had to stop more often. A deep breath didn't fill my lungs as I needed it too, and it was a bit uncomfortable at times, but stopping for a rest is the key no matter what anyone else around you is doing.

My advice is simply don't push yourself too hard, or even close to your limit, because your limits 3,000m+ above sea level are vastly different to what you're used to. Take your time, chew on coca leaves as recommended by the locals (but remember to spit them out, because we didn't know this when we grabbed a handful at the airport and our guide told us off) and enjoy it. The chances are there's going to be someone in the group slower than you, so if you steam off ahead, you're likely going to have to wait along the route for a long time until everyone else arrives, or risk losing sight of your group. Which, from stores I've read, happens. 
The highest point on the hike, 4,215m above sea level - and my lungs could tell! 
What was the most difficult part?
For me it was actually the cold and the affect this had on my sleep. I really feel the cold when I'm in the UK, you'll even catch me wearing jumpers in summer it's sometimes that ridiculous, so when it came to sleeping at altitudes of 3,600m above sea level where it dropped to near 0 degrees, I really struggled. On day one I barely slept because I was so cold, so every other day I wore the entire contents of my kit bag to bed in order to stay warm. However, I couldn't do much about covering my face without stopping myself from being able to breath, so that got pretty chilly.

This also made getting out of bed in the mornings much more difficult, as the mornings seemed even colder and we were always up at around 5am. 

What were the facilities like?
Ah the facilities. One thing I will say is that I'm glad to see the back of them. On day one and two of the Inca Trail you pass through small communities that live along the trail to this day and many have normal toilets that you can use for the cost of 1 Sol (about 23p) but you can't put the paper down the toilet like you do in England. In fact, you can't do this in any toilet in Peru as they block very easily. 

When not passing through these villages, and on the other days of the hike, you have squat toilets which are basically toilet seats on top of a hole in the floor that you have to squat over. Watch out when pulling the chain though as they also sometimes flood the bathroom. But yes, there is actual bathrooms, albeit with toilet seats on the floor, at most of the lunch camps and also some of the camps Exodus uses on the route. 

In terms of in camp, we had a toilet tent, which was actually two buckets in a tall tent that you could easily stand up in. Why two buckets you ask? If you don't know the answer to that than you might not be ready for this trip, but for your benefit, one was for urine and one was for poo. So if you needed both, yep that's right, you needed to hit pause and move from one bucket to the other. If that wasn't a little bit gross enough, you also have to pour a white powder over your poop which apparently kills the bacteria.

The waste was then disposed of by a lovely man who was assigned to assemble, disassemble and carry the toilet tent. All we could do was apologise and give him a massive tip...and just hope that no one gets ill.

Final note on toilets, remember to take tissue with you as the only toilet I went in on the whole of the hike that had tissue paper available was our toilet tent. Honestly, public toilets on the route just didn't see it as a necessity... 

What equipment/clothes did I take?
I took a 3-4 season sleeping bag which was definitely a good choice. I bought this from McArthurGlen in York at a discounted price because they can be on the expensive side, but if you're a cold person like me then it's better putting your money where your weaknesses lie. Michael and I also brought our own walking poles which proved to be an absolute godsend. We didn't use them on the first day of hiking but everyday after that we realised how much easier they made it. However, the rest of our group hired these directly from Exodus, and I'm sure other companies offer the same thing too. We bought ours for about £8 for a set whilst the cost of renting them equated to about £6 per pole so it really depends if you'll use them again! 

I also took two pairs of hiking trousers, a hiking shirt (all bought from Craghoppers), gym leggings, hiking socks, thin workout tops, jogging bottoms (to sleep in) and a change of clothes for Machu Picchu. A sun hat was also a wise investment. 

Exodus provided everything else for us including our tent, sleeping mats and our kitbags. 

What was the food like? Would they cater for vegetarians?
I've talked about the food a lot in my Inca Trail posts already, but in summary it impressed us all. The breakfasts were often porridge or semolina which was lovely and warm in the morning, lunch would usually be a two course meal of soup followed by carbs (usually rice but sometimes pasta and/or potatoes), fish or chicken and veg. Dinner would be along the same lines with a pudding sometimes thrown in. The were very creative considering how far away we were from shops etc.

We had hot meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner and were given snacks in the morning for the walk consisting usually of some fruit, nuts/raisins and a chocolate bar of some sort. 

I think it would be relatively easy for them to cater for vegetarians, you'd be best making it known to the porters from the offset via your guide if you can't speak Spanish, or even at the time of booking. The soups we had on a daily basis were all vegetable and quinoa soups, and the main meals could have been easily changed to suit your needs and preferences. 

What were the porters like? Are they paid fairly?
The porters were absolute diamonds. None of us spoke Spanish very well so we communicated with them utilising our guide. God knows if they ever took the mick out of us, but they were just brilliant. They worked so hard carrying 25kg of weight on their backs along the same paths we were barely carrying 7kg on, and in less than half the time too. Their energy was inspiring and many of them must have done the hike hundreds of times. They always clapped for us when we arrived to camp and did everything with a smile.

We did ask about how they were treated and if they were paid fairly, which we were assured they were. We noticed that the porters Exodus used were more kitted out than many others, and we were later told that Exodus actually provides some kit for them. They all had good quality solid hiking boots on whilst others climbed in flip flops, which I couldn't possibly imagine. We tipped them at the end of our trip and they really deserved much more than we could have offered as they were just brilliant.

They also really appreciated it at the end of the hike if you shared out any snacks you had left.

How did the hike end? Do you get much time to explore Machu Picchu? 
The final day of the hike was pretty relaxing as it was more downhill than up. It was still challenging but we were all very spurred on by the fact Machu Picchu lay waiting for us. The hike technically finishes at the sun gate, which is a truly beautiful view that not everyone gets if they visit Machu Picchu via bus.
After spending time absorbing the view, we had to walk among the general populous who were all a lot cleaner than any of us. This was a whistle stop tour as we were headed for Aguas Calientes for our overnight stay. The next morning, we queued at sunrise with all the other tourists to have our full tour of Machu Picchu.

Would I recommend it? 
It was an incredible experience and I would absolutely recommend it. If any of the above put you off going, maybe doing the hike isn't for you. 5,000 people descend upon Machu Picchu everyday in the high season and reportedly only 200 of these are hikers, so it's not for everyone and if it was, it would be a lot easier to do.

If I haven't covered anything with this blog post, feel free to drop me an email or a comment below and hopefully I'll be able to help!
MissIsGoode

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