Exactly a month ago I was at the airport in Lima, Peru, on my way back to the United States after an incredible trip. Time has flown! Unfortunately after being back for about 3 days, I already lost my vacation high. But, fortunately, every time someone asks me about my trip, I get to relive the adventure and memories. Climbing Machu Picchu isn't for everyone, but if it is something that you aspire to do, I hope I can help ease some of the nerves and anxiety I encountered before I went. In Part 1, I shared how to get started with planning your trip. I covered travel companions, recommended a travel company, flights and accommodations. In Part 2, I'll cover how to prepare for your trip as well as what to pack.
I'm not going to sugarcoat this--the trail is tough BUT it's not impossible. Before I left on the trip, my friends would talk about future plans and my response was always along the lines of, "If I come back alive from Peru." It was mostly a joke, but there was some seriousness behind it. I was terrified of the hike and not being able to complete it. My biggest fear wasn't that it would be tough and that I wouldn't be able to do it--I knew I could summon up the mental toughness, especially since I had another motivation to complete the hike--my biggest fear was that my tour guides would tell me to turn around because there was no way I would make it. Unlikely, but completely possible. Fortunately, it didn't happen to me...and it will not happen to you.
Going straight from the couch to Peru isn't a good idea, but if you're not in the best shape of your life, you'll still be ok. I definitely wasn't. Before you say, "Oh Sejal, you've run half-marathons! You've done Crossfit!", I'm going to stop you right there. Yes, I have completed a few half-marathons, but I haven't run since June 2011. I did do Crossfit for a while, but I stopped almost a year ago. In fact, over the past year, the most exercise I've done is yoga and long walks. When we booked this trip, I knew I had 4 months to get in shape and I was motivated to get in the best shape of my life--but before I knew it, the trip was around the corner and I had barely done any exercise. The little things that I did do helped.
- Practice hikes Honestly, this is more for your hiking shoes than for you. You'll need hiking boots for Peru: after living in the Pacific Northwest for almost 5 years, I finally bought a pair of hiking boots! I went to REI, twice, tried on a bunch of boots, went on a practice hike, returned a pair, and then found this pair of Lowas. It's REALLY important to try on a bunch of different shoes until you find a pair that you like and are comfortable. Sure they were on the pricey side, but hiking for 4 days would really suck if my shoes weren't a good fit. (Plus, it incentivized me to buy a REI membership.) Once you have your boots, find some practice hikes to go on. Our entire group was spread all over the US--LA, Portland, Maryland--but we all found hikes close to our houses that we could go on. These hikes paled in comparison to the intensity, altitude and duration of the Inca Trail, but they gave us an opportunity to break in our shoes. I went on 4-5 hikes/forest walks over the course of 3 months as preparation for the trip. Even when the it was raining cats and dogs. If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have known that my alleged waterproof jacket wasn't actually waterproof.
- Long walks On the advice of the naturopathic doctor I started to go to, I would go on 30-45 minute walks everyday, just to stretch my legs and get some moderate physical activity in. I spend most of my day at my desk, on a computer, so I needed to find a way to incorporate exercise into my day. I would usually use these walks as an excuse to run errands or just explore the neighborhood or catch up on phone calls (yes, I was that girl). In hindsight, the regular long walks was good prep to transition me from a mostly sedentary lifestyle to what would be a few action-packed days.
- Yoga I started regularly attend yoga classes when I was in Arizona and I loved it. And not just any yoga, hot yoga. I need to sweat otherwise I don't feel like I've worked out. Now yoga isn't for everyone but it was perfect for me. It was challenging yet I could modify the class to fit me for that day. I also liked how it gave me a chance to clear my mind and truly just focus on the movement and my practice. I know I sound very hippie saying all of that, but it's true! I think people could sense it as well--I was less irritable when I was able to attend yoga classes. In terms of preparation for the trip, this helped build my stamina. If you can make it through a 90 minute heated yoga class, your mental and physical strengths are being sharpened which was crucial for my trip.
While these three things definitely helped me with preparing for my trip, ultimately is was taking my time, mental strength and my support system (both those who were there to cheer me on and those who were encouraging me from afar), that helped me make it through. If I can do it, you can do it--trust me.
Packing for Your Trip
Considering how much I travel, you'd think I'm an expert packer. You. Thought. Wrong. So when I started to take inventory of what I had and what I might need for the trek, I turned to the web to help me out. G Adventures, Postcards and Coasters, Gadling and Travel Fashion Girl all had posts that I bookmarked and referenced when pulling together my packing list. In the end, I packed a suitcase, a duffle bag and a backpack. The suitcase would stay at the hotel while I was on the trail and I checked it in. The duffle bag and backpack are what I took as my carry on items--they held everything that I would need to complete the trail. If my check in bag got lost, I still wanted to be in good shape to be able to go on the trail, for everything else, there's <insert credit card of choice>, right? (Extra tip for you: I would sleep with my clothes for the next day in my sleeping bag so they wouldn't be freezing when I'd have to change into them.) Here's what I took with me on the trail:
- Backpack (This is the bag that I would carry with me at all times while on the trail. You want to keep the bare minimum in this bag because you'll be carrying this!):
- Camelbak or other water delivery system -- I loved not having to pull out a waterbottle to drink and having a conveniently accessible tube attached to my bag. I had a Camelbak from the times I'd go snowboarding so I just took the waterbag and put it in my backpack.
- Camera -- I actually used my iPhone on the trail more than my DSLR. My iPhone fit in the waist strap of my backpack making it easier to access vs stopping to pull out my DSLR. After day 1, I still kept my DSLR in my backpack and used it, but leave the extra lenses and battery in your overnight bag, unless you know you'll need it.
- Sunscreen -- it gets hot. Reapply often. I was 4 different colors when I got back from Machu Picchu, including a weird pattern across my chest from where the bag buckle was fastened. And I got a sunburn, for the 3rd time in my life. Brown people burn, y'all!
- Chapstick -- Same idea as sunscreen but for your lips. Make sure it has SPF.
- Mosquito repellent -- your guides will tell you when you'll need this. In most places, it was too cold for them, but on the last two days, they will feast on you.
- A rain jacket -- I stopped 4 times in a 20 minute stretch to take off a layer, put on my rain jacket, take off my jacket, put on a long sleeve. The weather can change that quickly and you want to make sure that you're comfortable.
- A hat and gloves -- Again, your guide will let you know when you'll be hiking through a cloud forest. On those days, you'll want a hat (like a beanie or a toque) and gloves.
- Snacks -- Keep this minimal, to a granola bar or two. They give you a bag of snacks in the morning and at lunch for you to nosh on, but it never hurts to have something of your own if you don't like the snack they give you or if you need more energy. Gum can also be nice to chew on, same with the cocoa candies or cocoa leaves if you'd prefer.
- Sunglasses -- it gets bright quickly!
- A hat -- Again, the sun is beating down on you.
- Bandana -- Helps shades you. Doubles as a handkerchief to put over your nose and mouth if you use the bathrooms.
- Hand sanitizer -- The bathrooms are kind of gross. You won't want to use them without some hand sanitizer.
- Toilet paper or wet wipes -- The bathrooms don't have them, you need to bring your own.
- Money -- On day 1 and day 2, you'll come across some local vendors where you can buy a snack (or some libations to celebrate a tough day), so you may want some small bills for that. You'll also need to pay to use bathrooms on day 1 and day 2.
- Walking sticks -- You're not carrying these in your bag, you'll be using them.
- Kleenex -- My nose was running quite a bit from the temperature changes.
- Extra contacts/glasses -- Just in case.
- Headlamp -- You'll need this on day 2 and day 4, just in case you make it to camp after dark on day 2 and because you start your day so early on day 4.
- Overnight bag (This is what the porters would carry for us, in addition to the tents, food, sleeping bags, etc. We hired extra porters for our group to be on the safe side. You will not have access to these things during the day, only at campsites. I packed my clothes in those space bag type of bags to save space and so I could 'plan' my outfits.) FYI, on the first day, I left Cusco wearing the clothes I was going to hike in on day 1: a pair of trekking pants, a tshirt, and a long sleeve. Here's what I packed in addition to that:
- 3 pairs of clean underwear -- I changed my undies every night before going to bed so I had a fresh pair to hike in.
- 3 sports bras -- Some people are okay with the same one everyday, I'm glad I took three pairs. Since you don't shower, this was as close to "clean" as I felt.
- 4 pairs of socks -- A fresh pair for each day + an extra just in case.
- Base layer pants and long-sleeved shirt -- I wore these as my first layer of pajamas. It can get really cold so these were really helpful in keeping me warm.
- Fleece lined pants -- These were my pajama pants every night, on top of my baselayer tights.
- Merino wool sweater -- This was what I slept in every night, on top of my baselayer shirt.
- Fleece jacket -- I wore this around the campsite to keep warm. I slept in it at night when it was cold as well.
- 3 tops (combo of tank tops and tshirts) -- I had one for each of the days on the trail.
- 2 long sleeves -- I wore this on top of the tshirt/tank top.
- 1 pair of pants -- I wore the same pair of pants I had on day 1 on day 2 and 3 as well. I put on a fresh pair for day 4 because I wanted a clean pair for Machu Picchu. (I had pants like these.)
- Baby wipes -- You won't be showering so this is the closest you'll get to getting clean.
- Contacts, glasses and contact solution
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Face cream, deodorant and mini-lotion bottle
- Playing cards (never used them)
- Cold medicine
- Sandals or comfy shoes -- You'll want to get out of your hiking boots when you get to camp. Trust me.
- Extra batteries for my headlamp and DSLR.
- Extra lens for my DSLR along
- Extra memory card for my camera
- Extra hairties and bobby pins
- Extra snacks to replenish my pack everyday
- Money to tip the porters and guide
- Earplugs -- For my tentmate. I snore when I'm really tired.
- Portable phone charger -- To charge my phone (I never took it off of airplane mode but I was taking photos on it.)
- Extra plastic bag -- For your dirty clothes. Trust me, they smell.
- Altitude adjust meds -- All of us who were coming in from the US were taking these, the Brits were not. It's a personal choice on if you want to take these or not.
- A first aid kit -- For any booboos!
- Icy Hot or Tiger Balm -- For your aches.
- I wish I had brought (A friend told me that no matter how 'prepared' I felt, once I was on the trail, I would definitely think of something that I wish I had with me. He was right.):
- A warmer jacket -- I had a fleece that I took to sleep in but didn't think about taking a warmer jacket to wear during the day on the cold day. The kind of jacket you take will depend on what time of year you go on the trail. A fall jacket, like a Northface, would have been good for me to have.
- Ibuprofen -- How I forgot this, I don't know. (I had gone to Vegas right before this trip so I think I left it in my other toiletry bag) Fortunately, other folks in my group had plenty to share.
- Travel pillow -- I was okay without one because I just bunched up some clothes and used it as a pillow but it would have been nice to have.
Overall, I felt like I was adequately prepared (or overprepared), but I'd rather that than not have enough! I think those are all of the tips I have to get you ready for your future trip to Machu Picchu! You're going to have an INCREDIBLE time. All of these people told me the same thing, and while I believed it, I didn't fully get it until I experienced it for myself. I am so excited for you--be sure to bring lots of stories and photos back with you to share!