9 things I wish someone told me before I hiked the Inca Trail
1. There are mosquitos the size of pterodactyls.
I know, I know, you’re at altitude so in theory there should be less mozzies around to gnaw on your leg. But believe me when I say that they are there and they are big and they will munch and munch until you’re one giant, itchy, frustrating red lump. Pack that bug spray and do not be conservative with its use.
2. That merino wool hoody you won’t need because it’s summer in the southern hem? Take it. Take two.
It’s cold. At night and especially on Day 2 when you collapse at the top of the first mountain pass. Also when it inevitably rains and showers you with lightning and rumbles with thunder. In fact, just take every item of warm kit you own. It’ll also be so hot you’ll sweat three layers of skin off. Four seasons in four hours — not kidding.
3. It’s so much harder than you think.
I naively though that because it seemed like every other traveler I met did the Inca Trail, it must be easy. HA.
Nope. It is wildly played down how tough this trek is, and if you want to enjoy the whole hog, training is needed. Train by doing stairs or walking hills in hiking boots with a heavy backpack. I consider myself to be relatively fit and healthy, apart from the diet of cheese and wine I refuse to give up, and found parts of this lung-explodingly difficult. It’s worth noting that after Day 2 is over, the hiking finally mellows to a meandering, undulating gradient that fully allows you to soak up the Andes.
4. You’re not going to shift any extra pounds on this hike.
The food prepared by the group tours (I went with Valencia Travel Cusco) is unbelievable. How that much amazing food can be prepared on a mountain in a tent I will never know, and it has to be seen and tasted to be believed. We’re talking fresh fish to pork chops to roast potatoes, guac and tamales. There is also Happy Hour, which happens to come just before dinner, which will fill your belly with popcorn and biscuits and peanut butter and caramel and Milo. You will justify it all by telling yourself you need the calories when hiking at altitude.
5. Americans freakin’ love British Cadbury’s chocolate.
I wish I’d taken at least 5 more huge bars of the stuff to share out more generously. Take note, stock up — you will end up with a mountain full of new friends.
6. You’re going to be completely humbled.
So you made it over Dead Woman’s Pass without a hitch? Good for you, the porters made it up and over it with 20kg on their backs and made lunch at the bottom before you even got to the half-way snack stop. Be prepared to bow in awe at these men who carry everything and the kitchen sink at a sprint pace along the trail.
7. Machu Picchu is busier than you could ever imagine.
The site is teaming with people, especially on a Sunday when it’s free for Peruvians to enter. Be prepared to be a little overwhelmed after spending the last four days only engaging with 12 other people.
8. It’s okay for this to be about the journey, not the destination.
I’m a journey kinda gal, but I was expecting this trip to be about the destination — I mean, it’s Machu Picchu. However, the pilgrimage is filled with empty Inca sites that float above the clouds, showers of butterflies and challenges that have the power to change your outlook on life. There are shimmering hummingbirds, deep stories and some of the strongest camaraderie I’ve ever been a part of. There are night skies that will blow your mind and hikes that hurt. It’s definitely okay for your Inca Trail trek to be about just that — the trek.
9. You are tougher than you think
You bloody did it. Four whole days of hard hiking in all weathers the gods could throw at you. You climbed mountains and pushed through your pain barriers. Maybe this was the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and maybe people at home scoffed at you for signing up to a hike like this. But none of that matters, because through the pain and the altitude sickness and the hunger and the unquenchable thirst, you made it. You deserve that Cusquena beer.