Since a licensed guide was a requirement to hike the trail, we needed to select a tour company to guide us on the trail. This was one of the hardest decisions for us, since we found so many tour operations from which to choose. We were looking for a company who met the following requirements:
o Treat their workers fairly
o Have clean equipment that’s in good shape
o Well trained, knowledgeable Guide
o Good Food
o Decent Price
That being said, it was very difficult to decipher which companies actually met those requirements just by surfing the internet. In the end, we went with Llama Path, and we were very happy with everything they provided.
We were lucky to have two of our close friends join us on the trek, and the four of us opted for a Private Tour. It was slightly more expensive, but we got to hike at our own pace and enjoy the serenity of going days without running into other people. While many folks enjoy meeting new friends on Group Tours, we were quite happy with our choice.
The private tour we chose spread the hike into 4 nights / 5 days instead of the 3 night / 4 day schedule of the group tour. This meant that we hiked for about 7-8 hours a day max. We had our own Guide, Chef, and 9 Porters who carried everything except for our day packs. All of our meals were prepared and served in a dining tent, and our sleeping tents were set up for us by the time we arrived at camp each night. It was really a superb “intro to camping”.
We read that late Spring and early Fall were great times to hike the Inca Trail. The days we hiked were around Memorial Day weekend, and we were blessed with fantastic weather on our whole trek. The sun was out every day, and we didn’t get a lick of rain. This made for very comfortable hiking conditions. The main month to steer clear of the Trail is February, when it closes for maintenance.
In the 10 weeks leading up to our trip, we increased our cardio exercise and completed many local day hikes. We made sure to use stairs instead of elevators whenever possible, as the trail is full of ascents and descents. Since we do not live in a high-altitude area, the best we could do to prep was get in great physical shape. We also made sure to break in our new hiking boots so we didn’t end up with blisters on the trail. This was a typical week of exercise (for Shady):
o Sunday: 3 mile walk or run
o Monday: 1 hour strength & cardio training
o Tuesday: 30 min. stair climbing
o Wednesday: 1 hour strength & cardio training
o Thursday: 1 hour Spin class
o Friday: 30 min. stair climbing (or day off)
o Saturday: 4 hour hike on uneven terrain (800 ft. elevation gained)
· What to BRING on the Hike?
Another very important decision was: what the heck do we need to pack for the hike? Our hotel in Cusco let us leave our luggage behind, so we each packed a duffel (loaned to us by Llama Path) with 5 kg (11 lb) of personal belongings to bring on the trek. Here are the most important items we brought (Shady’s List):
o Camelbak Helena with 3 Liter Hydration Pack: This day pack had the perfect amount of room, and it was comfortable to wear. To me, the 3L water pack was ESSENTIAL! Our porters refilled our packs with boiled drinking water at lunch and dinner each day.
o P-Style: I bought this as kind of a joke, but it turned out to be one of the best things I brought on the trek. Laugh all you want, but I was the only lady hiking with a group of men. This nifty little device let me discreetly dispel water in the bushes just like one of the guys. (The amount of water I drank on the trail was double my normal intake, due to the altitude. Restrooms on the trail were few and far between, and the ones we found were quite unappealing.)
o Protein bars: Our guide provided us with daily snacks, but we were happy to have the supplement of protein bars
o Medication: Before the trip, we got prescriptions for altitude sickness pills. Luckily, none of us had any major issues with altitude sickness since we acclimated in Cusco for 3 nights prior to the trek. We also brought Advil, since high altitude can cause headaches.
o Skin Protection: Sun screen, Sun glasses, Sun hat, Chap stick, Bug spray, Band Aids
o Retractable Hiking Sticks: Millzo opted not to use these, but many hikers on the Inca Trail use walking sticks. I rented mine in Cusco for a nominal fee.
o Water proof hiking boots with ankle support
o Clean hiking socks and undergarments for each day
o Layers of comfortable clothing (thermals for night time)
o Rain & Cold Weather Gear: Light jacket with hood, Packable rain ponchos (we were lucky enough not to need them!), Gloves / hat (we did not end up needing these either, due to the nice weather)
o Roll of toilet paper (in a zip lock bag to keep dry)
o Toothbrush/toothpaste/deodorant/baby wipes (this was as clean as we got for days!)
o Plastic bag: to carry out rubbish
o Headlamp (this came in very handy!)
o Passport: We needed our passports at the permit check point, and we also got our passports stamped when we arrived at Machu Picchu!
o CAMERA: This goes without saying for me, as I love to document our travels through photo and video. Remember an extra camera battery or a solar-powered charger (there are no power outlets on the trail)