There was one question on my mind before I began the 7-day tour from Cusco: Exactly how hard is the Inca Trail going to be?
With no idea what to expect and little experience in such long treks, I’ll admit I was nervous.
Would I collapse on the ground half-way, and have to crawl the remainder of the trail? Would I need to order the $7000 USD helicopter to collect me when I decided I couldn’t make it any further? Would I decide I was too weak to go on, and just wait at the campsite for days before some knight in shining armour came to carry me the rest of the way?
Well, luckily none of these things happened (except maybe the collapsing part). After 4 days of intense hiking, I proudly set my eyes on the postcard view of Machu Picchu.
If you’re also wondering whether you’ll survive the Inca Trail, here’s a video summary of my experience, and below you’ll find some tips for attempting the hike!
So, how hard is the Inca trail?
As I mentioned in the video, the hardest part was the mental challenge. During the climb to Dead Woman’s Pass on Day 2, you constantly question whether you’ll make it. But once you pass that point, it’s all (metaphorically) downhill, as that is the point where it becomes easier to go forward than back.
The steep climbs up and down combined with the high altitude can make even the most experienced of hikers feel inadequate. There were two people in our group who had previously hiked Kilimanjaro, and they both admitted that the 4-day Inca Trail was harder.
During the trek, our guide told us stories of other people he’d had on the trip before, who’d had hissy fits, complained the entire way, or even been so slow that they’d arrived at camp in the middle of the night. Hearing these stories made us feel a lot better about our efforts.
So to answer the question, is the Inca Trail hard? Yes. Yes it is.
But if it wasn’t hard, there’d be no point in doing it. On Day 3 when you’re surrounded by a bunch of scenery that could be straight from a desktop wallpaper, and on Day 4 when you all make it to the Sun Gate and are finally rewarded with your first view of Machu Picchu, a fantastic sense of achievement washes over you.
The Inca Trail, while far from easy, makes the visit to Machu Picchu unbelievably special.
Tips for the Inca Trail trek:
Book well in advance
There are only 500 permits per day available for the Inca Trail, of which only 200-ish are for hikers. We booked our Inca Trail trek through G Adventures around 6 months prior to the trip. There were a number of people that we met in Latin America who had not been able to do the Inca Trail because they enquired too late.
Travel in the dry season
We went in late June and were lucky enough to have perfect weather the entire way, but apparently it’s quite common to get rain. Our guide told us that he’d been on treks where it was wet the entire 4 days, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. May to September are the best months to travel.
Prep for the altitude
Even the most experienced hikers can be affected by the altitude. At 4200 metres above sea level at the trail’s highest point (Dead Woman’s Pass), it’s much more difficult to breathe in enough oxygen. Mental preparation for this is a good idea as it can be quite confronting, and physical preparation (cardio exercise to assist lung function) will come in handy, too.
Pack like a pro
There are certain items that you’re bound to need, including insect repellant, bandaids, and a very warm coat. A flashlight and toilet paper would also come in handy, and bring some shoes that are easy to slip on for wearing around the campsites.