10 top tips for conquering the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Phoebe Greenacre reveals the things you need to know before tackling South America's iconic Incan trek

6 mins

Reaching Machu Picchu on foot has to be, hands down, the most satisfying travel experience I have accomplished. Four days hiking through the Peruvian forests with no toilets, showers or electricity and wait for it.... no WIFI. It's no easy feat! 

Having said that, it's one of the most life changing experiences you will ever encounter. Thinking about doing the Inca Trail? Here are my top 10 tips you should think about before you depart.

1. Book in advance

It seems like a simple tip but many travellers turn up to Peru each year assuming they can hike the trail whenever they want. Wrong. There are only a limited amount of national park entrances each year to protect the trail from being ruined by tourists. So when you have a date in mind, BOOK IT IN! Don’t hesitate as you don’t want to miss out on the hike and have to catch the train instead (boring). Permits to trek have all sold out for 2015!

2. Choose a good company to hike with

It’s worth reading all the reviews online and searching around for the a company that has a great reputation, treats their employees well and offers smaller group sizes. If you’re on a budget and looking to cut costs on your trip, this is not the place to do it. 

A good place for picking a tour company is to check whether or not the employees are given insurance and walking shoes as part of their package as some porters are treated very badly. After spending more than enough time reading the good, the bad and the ugly reviews on line, I went with SAS Travel Peru.

Our guide was so informative and friendly, the food on the trip was seriously amazing and the porters did a wonderful job of setting up our camps each day and looking after us. You can expect a lavish arrangement of traditional Peruvian food on the journey including quinoa everything! Quinoa porridge, quinoa pancakes, quinoa baked treats - you name it. It’s a hippy hipsters dream. 

Breakfast, lunch, supper and dinner are prepared for you each day. You only really need to bring a few light snacks for you to chomp on between meals. Mixed trail nuts and muesli bars did the trick.

Phoebe and her sister (Phoebe Greenacre)

3. Pick the right travel buddy

Picking a travel buddy is super important for the this hike. Without going into too much detail I’d make sure your travel companion can get four big ticks in the following check boxes:

Low Maintenance

Trust me, you don’t want to travel with some one that is high maintenance. There are no showers for the whole trip, no proper toilets and you sleep in a tent in the freezing cold. Princesses need not apply.

Good banter

There is a lot of time walking & talking time (obviously) when you are on the trip and to pass the time you will want a good person to chat with. My big sister was my travel companion who I couldn’t fault at all. We could talk for hours on end about life, goals, dreams and aspirations and she didn’t get sick of me pestering her with “can you take another photo please.” She also didn’t get sick of me saying…. “If I could update my status on Facebook right now…. my status would be…” social media addict right there.

Similar fitness level

Being the same fitness level is important if you want to stay together. Some couples on the trip were at opposite ends of fitness and so one would spend hours dragging their feet while their partner caught up. If you want to challenge yourself and keep up a steady pace, picking someone with that same enthusiasm will be key.

Doesn’t mind sharing body heat

Yep, it needed to happen. Even after I put every layer that I had with me on, I still couldn’t keep warm in the evenings. My sister and I made a double sized sleeping bag and snuggled up to each other so we didn’t freeze. If travelling solo, I’d make sure you ask before snuggling up to your tent buddy.

4. Amp up your exercise

Especially strength training & cardio. People would say I’m a pretty active person exercising nearly everyday. This would usually include HIIT, running, yoga, weights. I found the 8 hours a day hiking OK in the cardio department but woke up on the second day stiff as a fallen log in a forest. 

You know that feeling when you wake up after doing the biggest weight session of your life? Times that by a 100 and then add another 8 hours of step ups to add to your worries. My tip for not feeling it the next day would be to throw in some downward facing dogs and yoga stretches every time you come to a rest point. Even though you might get some strange looks from your tour mates, you will thank me for it later.

5. Acclimatise before you hike

The highest point of the Inca Trail is a whooping 4200m above sea level. Yep, that's 4.2km higher than where most of the population live. So you don’t suffer from altitude sickness (headaches, nose bleeds, dizziness), I would suggest staying in Cusco for at least two days before you hike. 

Cusco is an epic little town filled with lots of things to do and explore. It has great nightlife, a tonne of ruins nearby to explore and markets filled to the brim with those cool handmade alpaca sweaters and beanies. I’d suggest picking up a few warmer items for the trip from the local shops.

Machu Picchu (Phoebe Greenacre)

6. Invest in good hiking boots

These are probably the most important item for the trip (other than wet wipes). You'll be wearing them 8 hours a day, 4 days in a row – you don’t want to cut costs here. You can pick up a pair in Cusco before you leave but I’d suggest to break them in a few days before the hike in order to avoid blisters. 

They are not going to be the most fashionable things you’ll ever buy travelling but they will be well worth the investment. I’m not much of a hiking boot wearer normally, so I donated mine along with some other clothes items to a local orphanage.

7. Pack light

You’re only allowed 9kgs in your bag that a porter carries for you so remember to pack light! This includes your sleeping bag and sleeping mat, so it doesn’t leave a lot of room. 

Other than the 9kg, you can bring a back pack that you carry during the day. Don’t overload this either otherwise you’ll be sorry for it later. A small backpack would be efficient as you only need your camera, snacks, water bottle and wet weather gear.

8. Packing essentials

Depending on what time of year you choose to go, you will probably need to pack for all seasons. I went in March and during the hike I experienced steaming hot days, afternoon showers and freezing temperatures at night. Repeat after me…. layers, layers, layers! You will need singlets, jumpers and wet weather jackets so be smart with what you choose. You will also master a nice rhythm of “putting on wet weather gear…….taking off wet weather gear……striping off completely” after the first day.


Looking down on Machu Picchu (Phoebe Greenacre)

9. Invest in a good camera

Unless you plan to do this trip a few times in your lifetime you really want to capture beautiful high resolution pictures of your trip. If you’ve been thinking of upgrading to a DSLR camera, now is the time. Also capturing some cool shots and angles with a Go Pro would be worth the investment. 

Don’t forget to save some of your battery power for the last day as you enter the Sun Gate at sunrise. Seeing the marvellous ruins of Machu Picchu is a moment you don’t want to miss out on! I purchased a spare battery before I left and saved it for the last day.

10. Indulge yourself after the trip

Head to down to the town of Ollantaytambo for some well deserved R&R. My sister and I practically collapsed at the sight of “hot springs, massage and hot showers.” We indulged there for a few hours to unwind from the trip before catching the train back to Cusco. If you have any energy left, you can also pick a few handmade knick-knacks from the markets around the train station.


Find out more about Phoebe Greenacre's adventures on her website Wood and Luxe. You can also follow here on Facebook or on Twitter and Instagram, @woodandluxe.

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