The Inca Trail – can you do it?

I’m sure that, as a traveler, you want to go to Peru one day. It’s a place that everyone wants to go to! When planning our trip to Peru, we knew the Inca Trail would have to be a part of it. Actually, we planned on going to Peru as we wanted to do the Inca Trail. We read about this iconic trail many times and until today, it’s still one of the most memorable treks we’ve ever done. It’s already been 6 years since we did it and yet it will always stay in our memories.

The Inca Trail is probably South America’s most famous multi day trek and therefore the number of people allowed on it is limited. Each day there are 500 people allowed on the trail. It sounds like a lot, but about 300-something of those are porters and guides. Only the other 200-ish are the actual tourists that are trekking. Even though it’s highly recommended to go with an organized tour, you can do it yourself as well but … with a licensed guide. In all honesty, we didn’t feel like making all arrangements ourselves so we decided to sign up for an organized tour. The best decision we’ve made! We booked our trip months in advance because it can sell out pretty quickly. Check online for availability.

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The most important question you will have to ask yourself is  “can I do it?” My answer is always: yes you can! At least, with the right preparation and the right mentality you can! It will be a challenge and it will cause you pain but when you see the sun rise over Machu Picchu in the morning of the last day, you know that all the effort has well been worth it.

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The most important thing is that you have to be well prepared. This will increase the chance of having to quit. Believe me, you don’t want to be the person having to go down again with a porter because you can’t do it. Here are some tips that can make the trek a lot more pleasant for you:

– Get used to the altitude
Everyone will tell you this and  it’s with reason: don’t fly from Lima to Cuzco with the plan to start the trek within a day or two. Why? This city is 3.400 meters above sea level and this will cause your body to think “what is going on here”? There’s less oxygen in the air and you will feel that every step you take will leave you with a pounding heart. Not to mention everything you do will cause you to be short of breath. Take time to adjust to being on high altitude and make sure you rest a lot. Drink plenty of water and make sure you get used to drinking coca tea. You will learn to appreciate it, eventually.

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– Make sure you have the right hiking boots
Boots can make or break your trek. If you are going in rainy season (January – March) make sure they are waterproof. Other than that, they should be well worn and sturdy. They will need to carry you and your pack for 4 days and make a lot (I repeat A LOT) of steps.

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– Decide if you want to hire a porter
When going with an organized tour, all food and tents will be carried by a porter. The rest is up to you to carry. This means clothes, water, sleeping bag, camera, first aid kit, snacks etc. It will be plenty, probably up to 10-15 kilos. Maybe less if you pack well. With most companies you can hire an additional porter who will also carry your personal items. This will leave you with just a small daypack. We decided not to do this, however when going up to 4.200 meters, having done at least one thousand steps up and being exhausted and extremely short of breath, I couldn’t help but wishing I would have gotten one.

– Go with a reliable company
We arranged our trip with a company I knew through work and therefore trusted them to be reliable. We were lucky and in a group of just 4 people plus our guide and porters. However we’ve seen groups 4 times that size on the trail. The maximum number of people in one group is 16 which would not have been our pick. It seemed like they were always in a hurry. Remember the group will have to wait for the slowest one at certain places. Having to wait for 15 people was not our idea of the way to do it, looking back on it.


– Bring snacks but not too many
Back in the days we went to Peru, we were quite dependant on guidebooks and were told by various sources that no snacks would be available on the track. Other than the 3 meals a day the cook would prepare for us, we’d need to bring our own food. So I decided to buy plenty of snacks because we didn’t want to be stuck without. Believe me, you don’t want to meet me when I’m hungry. So just to make sure that I wouldn’t get hungry, we bought lots of chocolate and cookies. First mistake, because there will be vendors on the trail. At least, when we were there, but I am quite sure it won’t change anytime soon. Sure, it will be quite expensive but still, when every pound counts carrying a few chocolate bars more will not make you very happy. Our second mistake was thinking we might get hungry. Because the cooks take care of you so well and stuff you with food, you don’t really need anything else during the day. By the time we had hiked a couple of hours (and maybe took an additional bite or two) lunch would be ready. By the time we reached camp, dinner would be ready. We didn’t even have time to think about food in between. We carried WAY too much food.

– Walk – walk – walk
Even though the 4-day Inca Trail is just 43 kilometers long (doesn’t sound like a lot, esp. when you are from a flat country where such a distance is done in one day – 4 days in a row) but it takes you a long time. Make sure you practice walking long days a lot, if possible with a pack. Our country is flat and therefore we couldn’t practice for climbing and descending but at least we walked a lot with our packs so we were used to carrying those on our backs and shoulders. By the time we were on the trail, our packs had become our best friends.

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So, are you ready to make the decision and sign up for the trek of a lifetime? Stay tuned because soon we’ll release a trip itinerary with our personal experiences and pictures.

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might like these, too:
Tramping New Zealand: the Routeburn Track
More South America: Torres del Paine National Park
Natural Wonders of the World: the best waterfalls! 


    • anto

      Ah Els, you can do it. Remember our walk up to the place where watching Valle de la Luna? That’s a bit like it, no breath and lots of steps … 🙂

  • Solveig

    Okay, I guess I couldn’t do that, but I’m now wondering.. Is Machu Picchu only reachable through this Inca Trail? I was surprised that only 500 can walk this trail everyday..

    • anto

      No, you can still access Machu Picchu from the road (or by train). So if you are ever going there, don’t worry, you won’t have to walk for 4 days 🙂 I am sure you would love it!

  • Maaike

    Thanks for posting about this! Selmer and I are thinking about going to Peru and I would really love to do the Inca Trail, but there’s so much information available, I don’t know where to start! 🙂

    • anto

      I’m sure you can do it! We didn’t really have much information before we started but Lonely Planet was quite useful. And now you have us – the best source of information you can imagine haha 🙂 just kidding but please feel free to let me know if there’s anything you want to know. You will love Peru!

  • Suzanne Fluhr

    We visited Machu Picchu on our honeymoon in 1982 before it was quite so popular. We didn’t even need a reservation to climb Huayna Picchu. However, we didn’t hike the Inca Trail to get there. Our multi – day guided hike was on the Milford Track on the South Island of New Zealand. A lot of your advice would apply to that experience as well.

  • Allie

    Hi! I loved your detailed outline of the Inca Trail Hike. I booked a trip to do it in December going solo on a tour. I am 31, in fairly good shape, definitely have weight to loose and am using this as the kick in the butt I need to get in better shape.

    In speaking to people who have hiked the trail before, my fear was that I wouldn’t be able to complete it, but everyone told me I could, and so I pulled the trigger and booked the trip. I was wondering where I can find your published training prep?! Would love to hear what you think is best to focus on. My group’s porters will be carrying our packs, so I will only have my own small day pack to carry. I live in NYC and am quite used to walking tons, and walking stairs, but not thousands of them!!

    Your post both scared me but also thrilled me!!

    Thank You!

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