Before heading on the journey to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I did a lot of researching. I had so many questions. Some of my questions were answered from posts I found but a lot were not. That’s why I decided to put together a comprehensive F.A.Q about the Inca Trail. Everything necessary to hike the Inca Trail is here and if it’s not, be sure to ask in the comments and I’ll add the answer!
Do I need to wear hiking boots?
I would say the answer to the question depends on two questions.
The first is, do you already own hiking boots and if not, do you have time to break them in? Four days of hiking in brand new hiking boots is definitely a bad idea. The blisters and pain you might endure will likely outweigh the benefits of the additional traction or ankle support.
The second question is, what season are you hiking in? The Inca Trail is not a technically difficult hiking trail. There are not steep hill inclines, loose rock, etc. that necessitate hiking boots. However, there is a lot of stone pathways and many, many stone stairways. When it rains, these get very slippery. Therefore, during the rainy season or shoulder season where rain is a 50/50 chance, I would recommend hiking boots. But I do think in the dry season you could get away with running shoes.
Do I need trekking poles?
I would say about 90% of the people on the trail had trekking poles. Tom decided to go without and never felt he needed them.
The poles definitely reduce the impact on your knees when going down steep stairs, they help keep yourself stable when the rocks become slippery in the rain and can even be used to use your arms during stair climbs.
The trail can be done without them but they are nice to have and can be easily tucked away if you decide not to use them. So my advice would be yes, rent the poles.
Where can I rent gear and what will it cost?
There are many places in Cusco that rent and sell hiking supplies. We rented sleeping bags and my trekking poles.
The average prices we found for sleeping bags was 10 soles/day. However, if you do some shopping around you can get a deal. We ended up renting both of our sleeping bags for 50 soles and we had an extra day in Aguas Calientes.
For my trekking poles we paid 30 soles although there was a miscommunication and he thought we wanted two pairs. Since it was so cheap, we just paid the 30 soles anyways, but you could get a pair for 15 soles.
Side note: Because we knew we were renting sleeping bags that in all likelihood have never been washed, we purchased a sleeping bag liner and took it with us. Highly recommend doing the same!
What will the tents/sleeping be like?
The tents were a good size. Plenty of room for two people and all of your gear inside. We had foam mats provided by our tour company to sleep on. They are not very thick, so don’t expect to get the best nights sleep. I would lay my sweater underneath my back or hips to give a little more cushion.
Pillows are not provided and I highly recommend bringing a travel pillow. We brought inflatable ones so they were easy to pack away.
How hard is the trail?
Every single person will probably answer this question differently. Tom and I didn’t find the trail that challenging. But, we are long distance runners who hike regularly. It is a four-day hike with a lot of stairs at high elevation. It’s definitely a challenge that needs to be respected.
That being said, it’s doable for most people. Some people are faster than others, but it’s manageable if you are in reasonable physical condition.
How should I train/prepare?
As I mentioned, the challenge should be respected. I don’t think it requires an intense physical training program but some preparation will definitely make the journey easier and more enjoyable.
The best way you could prepare would be to hike but if you don’t have the luxury of mountains in your area, I would recommend hitting up the stair master… a lot. If you’re not a runner or used to long distances, I recommend taking some long walks. And lastly, practice doing hard workouts a few days in a row to get your body used to working when it’s tired.
Will the group hike together? What if I’m slow?
In every group, there will be slower and faster people. Our guide would lead the pack when he wanted to keep us together. At other times, he would allow the group to split up and just let us know where to stop and wait.
It’s okay to go at your own pace, there is plenty of time given to get to your destination in a day.
My packing list. I felt like I packed exactly right:
-4 shirts (t-shirt or tank top)
-2 pairs of pants or shorts (keep in mind mosquitos on day 4 to Machu Picchu are terrible, highly recommend pants on this day)
-1-2 long sleeves for layering
-Sweater (I would change into this for the evening once we arrived at camp, though I could have gotten away without packing this)
-Flip flops (very nice to change into after a day in hiking boots)
-6 pairs of socks (suggest bringing more than 4 in rainy season in case they get wet)
-Toque (beanie)/gloves (evenings and mornings can be chilly)
-4 pairs underwear
-2 sports bras
-Rain poncho (pack a poncho, not just a rain jacket because it can be used to cover your day pack)
-Deodorant (your travel partners will thank you)
-Baby wipes (your only shower for four days)
-Hand sanitizer (hot water and soap is provided to wash up before each meal and in the mornings but it’s nice to be able to sanitize after bathroom stops during the day)
-Hat (I forgot this and had the sunburn to prove it)
-Book/cards (Good idea to have something to do during your downtime in the evenings)
-Snacks (Some snacks were provided daily and you are fed well, but you will definitely want to pack some of your own snacks from home. We brought trail mix, Clif bars, chocolate, Oreos and gummy candies)
-Sleeping bag liner (if renting)
What about going to the bathroom?
On Day 1 there are plenty of bathroom stops along the way. A few of these stops cost 1 sole, so be sure to bring some change. After that point, there are bathrooms at the lunch and evening stops. At other points, you are free to head into the bushes.
The toilets at most stops are Thai style squat toilets and most do not have toilet paper or soap so come prepared. Some of them are not very clean either and you may prefer to go outside. I didn’t check to see about other companies, but with Valencia travel, we also had our own porta pottty in a tent set up at our lunch and evening stops (with toilet paper).
On Day 3 there are showers available. However, they are cold water only and believe me, they are not clean. I stuck to my baby wipes, what’s one more day right?
Do I have to carry my own gear?
You will have a team of porters who carry your tents, sleeping mats and all of the cooking supplies. You are expected to carry your own sleeping bag and personal items, unless, you decide to hire a porter to do this for you.
The cost for the porter with our company was $70USD (7kg only) for all four days. Tom and I hired one porter. In our 7kg we were able to fit both of our sleeping bags and most of my clothes. You will be given a duffel bag to put your items into. A good tip is to put your stuff into plastic bags inside the duffle bag in case it rains during the day while the porter is carrying your belongings.
Even if you hire a porter, you will need to carry a day-pack. You do not have access to the things the porter is carrying during the day. In my day-pack I carried water, snacks, extra clothing layers, and miscellaneous items (toilet paper, hand sanitizer, camera, book, etc).
You can also hire a porter along the way if you realize you aren’t able to carry your items. However, the porters are weighed at the beginning of the trip. They are only supposed to carry a maximum of 25kg each (which is already a huge amount of weight). If they know ahead of time that they are carrying personal items, more porters will be brought along. So for the safety of the porters, I urge you to pay up front and for the cost because the couple in our group ended up paying more for 3 days of carrying than we did for four.
If you are not experienced with hiking, HIRE THE PORTER. Trust me, carrying the weight of your pack will make the trek 100 times harder.
What about altitude sickness?
At the altitude of Machu Picchu, about 50% of people will get altitude sickness. Neither Tom or I experienced any sickness but I do believe traveling slower by bus vs flying into Cusco may have contributed to that.
Diamox is a prescription medication that can be taken prior to reaching elevation to help acclimatize quicker as well.
My biggest recommendation would be to spend a few days in Cusco before heading on the Inca Trail. Your body will acclimatize and I’d much rather be sick in a hotel room in Cusco than sick on the Inca Trail and possibly have to go back.
How is the food? Is it safe?
The food was absolutely incredible. I gave a recount of the food we received in my Inca Trail recap. It surpassed every expectation I had and was probably the most delicious food I ate in the whole trip to Peru. Our guide told us at the beginning that we may gain weight on the trail and it might be true!
The food is definitely safe to eat. To be honest, I don’t know how they do it. I didn’t ask questions but assumed that with such a high tourism industry, they need to ensure their food is safe and no one is getting food poisoning on the trail.
The water you drink is boiled every day. So don’t expect ice cold water, but it is safe to drink.
What if I have dietary restrictions?
Be sure to let your tour company know ahead of time of dietary restrictions but they can be accommodated. Our guide talked about many people he has had who were gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.
Even for myself, I really hate cilantro. One day I didn’t eat the soup because it had it in. The guide told the cook and every day after that, he would make my meal separately if he was using cilantro. It was so considerate.
How do I choose a tour company?
There are a number of tour companies that offer the Inca Trail hike. And yes, you must go with a tour company, you cannot complete the Inca Trail on your own and after my experience, believe me, you wouldn’t want to.
From talking to some other people along the trail, it seemed our experiences were very similar. All of the people raved about the food and the service.
The two things that I put Valencia Travel above others are our guide told us he has worked for many companies. Some do not use high-quality tents and especially during rainy season, there are issues with water leaking into the tent. Secondly, the porters of Valencia travel were all outfitted in nice clothing and matching hiking boots. We saw other porters in ratty clothing and hiking in sandals. I felt very happy that we went with a company that obviously treated their employees better.
Who do I tip and how much?
On the last evening, your group will tip the porters, cook and guide. Once you see everything these people do for you, you will want to tip them very well. So be sure you bring enough cash with you.
For the porters and cook, the tip is done as a group. The guideline presented to us by our company was that each porter should receive 60 soles and the cook should receive 120 soles. Depending on the number of people in your group will determine how many porters you have. The guide is generally given 50 soles per traveler.