Among the things to do in Peru, this is by far the most amazing, exhilarating experience. But it is one people have to think about carefully and for which they need to do some planning ahead – for concise information on how to organise everything click here. The official inca trail permit is issued by the government of Peru each January, and it always sells out very fast. Only 180 visitors per day are admitted. I knew this was an experience I wanted to live, so I made sure to plan ahead, I did my research and made my reservations well in advance. I did my hike in April and I had it booked by the end of December. In April, everything was sold out until October, leaving last minute travellers to alternative routes such as the very challenging 5 to 7 days Salcantay Trek, or the 3 days Jungle Trek.
Once I picked a date, I had to stick to it. Permits are not refundable. So, I had to think well before deciding. What I can say is that, no matter the season, at some point it gets wet, cold, it rains and fatigue hits the hikers. April and May are the lushest months in terms of nature – flowers (especially orchids); September to November are less crowded and December to March the wettest months, and the trail may be very slippery (but, as I have said, it does rain in any season).
Arrive fit: spend a few days in Cusco to adjust to the altitude before the start, and stay healthy and exercise. I did not regret it, van hire bristol airport, as there are many things to do in Cusco.
Carry snacks: I got so hungry along the way. Snacks were provided but all the exercise and the walking, as well as the cold temperatures made me starve, so before leaving I bought energetic cereal bars, chocolates, nuts etc.
Pack light and wear appropriate gear: I recommend hiring a porter, especially for the second day of the hike which is all uphill and goes up to 4200 meters above sea level. Porters costs normally around $25 per day, per person and carry no more than 7 kg per person (bags are actually weighted on the first day). Pack as little as possible in terms of clothes. Tshirts, socks, warm sweaters, a hat a scarf and even gloves will be useful. Carry a good rain coat, wear hiking pants and by all means hiking boots. It is slippery on the trail and it is always recommended to wear good shoes that give good support to the feet and ankles. Carry an extra (empty) small backpack: whatever the porters carry, stays with the porters all day till reaching the base camp. I did need an extra bag to carry anything I may need for the day – camera, water, medicines, documents, snacks etc.
Consider that it really is impossible to wash for the duration of the hike. Toilets (or better, latrines) are a disgrace, sinks only have freezing cold water that made me reluctant to even wash my face, and even showers (available from day 2) are only cold: not really an option when it is cold outside and in the tents. I carried wet wipes instead to keep my hygiene to a decent level.
Carry prescription medicines and any other medicine you may need along the trail. There is no easy way out once on the trail. It is possible walk back after day 1; from day 2, the closest emergency centre would be in Aguas Calientes, and if one does get sick porters will have to carry him or her along the trail and down to the village (this actually happened to somebody in my group). Not pleasant for somebody sick, and not pleasant for the porters. Remember that helicopters can’t access and there is no landing for them anywhere along the trail!
Carry some cash: it is needed to buy things such as water along the way (up till day 2), and most importantly it is necessary in the end as it is a custom to leave a tip to the porters, cooks and guides.
What to expect:
Day one is relatively easy. Depending on the company that organises the Inca Trail, people will start walking between 8 am and 11 am, stop for lunch and then walk till they reach their camp where they will stop for the night.
On day two, guides will wake people up at around 5:30 am and they will leave soon after breakfast. Many consider this to be the hardest day, as it mostly is uphill and it reaches 4200 meters above sea level. On this day I experienced the typical inca trail weather: it was cold, rainy, and once we passed the highest point and start going downhill, even slippery. This is also the coldest night, as the base camp is at 3600 meters above sea level.