10 essential tips for hiking the Inca Trail, Peru
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu has always been on my to-do list. Not because I’m a huge fan of hiking or pressuring myself psychically, but because I wanted to walk in the footsteps of the Incas, enjoy the view – and obviously: to see if I could.
We hiked the Inca Trail from the 13th – 16th January with Wayki Trek. While the high season is from June to August, you can also hike in the low season, except from February where they restore the trails. Just be prepared that the weather might not cooperate. We booked three months in advance, but the recommendation is six months in the high season.
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1. Prevent altitude sickness
While a lucky few wont feel a thing, most people experience the altitude one way or the other. Maybe you find it hard to breathe, your heart is beating harder, or you get sick with headaches and nausea. Personally, I felt like I was hangover and car sick at the same time.
You should allow yourself to acclimatise in Cusco for at least 2 days before hiking the Inca Trail. Aside from that, here are some basic tips:
- Sleep a lot
- Bring some medicine. I brought Diamox and it took the edge off.
- Drink coca tea or chew coca leaves. They help you adjust to the altitude.
Read next: 10 ways to overcome altitude sickness
2. Prepare yourself – It’s genuinely difficult
I’m no athlete, but I consider myself in decent shape… and seriously I’ve never been so psychically challenged in my life. It’s not only challenging to walk uphill, but the thin air makes it harder to breathe. I had to stop every five steps to catch my breath and eventually just accept the fact that I felt like an 80-year-old with asthma.
3. Bring your own daypack
Remember to pack camera, water, gloves , rainwear and extra clothes as you won’t see the porters and your extra bag until night. And bring snacks.
Read next: How to find the best daypack
4. Dress in layers
I wore base layers and loved it. It was easy to roll up the sleeves and breathe in these clothes. Highly recommended for trekking and other physical adventures.
5. Tips for hiking
- Walk in zig zag when going up the steps. Head for the small stones!
- Take small steps. Deep breaths.
- In rain, take it easy down the steps. They’re steep, and you can hurt yourself badly.
6. Rent hiking poles
Your knees will thank you.
7. Stay positive
As our guide said again and again. It will be hard, so you’ll need a positive attitude.
8. Tips are expected (get total price here)
Be aware that the guide, cook and porters expect to be paid a tip each. The porters expect to get tipped 75 soles in addition to the price you already paid.
- Wayki trek: $565 – 4 days trek with everything included + train back to Cusco
- Pers. porter: $65 For 8 kg. (Sleeping matress and bag takes up 3kg)
- Tips: $55
- In total. Porters, cook and guide are tipped separately
- Walking sticks: $15 – Rent two walking sticks. One is not enough
- In total, I paid $700 for my 4 day Inca trail trek.
9. Packing list for the Inca Trail
See my complete packing list for Peru here.
You’ll experience lots of different weather when hiking the Inca Trail so bring an outfit for every one. You should also be aware that there’s no place to charge your camera batteries on the trail. If you don’t want to risk reaching Machu Picchu with an empty battery, bring extras. I took around 1,000 photos + videos with my Canon and I almost used up two batteries.
10. Choose the right company
Go with a well known tour company. Hiking the Inca Trail is a once in a lifetime experience, so you’d want it to be special. The most popular companies are Wayki Trek, Llama Path, Enigma and SAS Travel.
I went with Wayki Trek and really liked them.
They were professional, and our guide Jose was very attentive and fun. Plus, the food was the best we had in Peru and Bolivia together. I was quite surprised the chef was able to make such great meals. He certainly knew was he was doing!
The only note I have was about day two. We got breakfast at 6am, walked uphill all day and didn’t get anything to eat before 3pm when we reached base camp.
Their explanation was that we’d get sick by eating in the altitude since we were walking up all day. But personally, I’d rather feel nauseate than hungry and disoriented when walking up a mountain in 30 degrees. All the other groups got dinner halfway up.
This is the only less positive thing I have to say about Wayki, though. Apart from that, they were wonderful and they even put up a private toilet for us at the base camp. Overall, they were all very nice, considerate and hardworking people. I will highly recommend them, but make sure to ask them about meals on day two – or at least bring your own food or snacks.
Is hiking the Inca Trail on your bucket list?
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- The ultimate Inca Trail packing list
- Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
- Machu Picchu: Lost City of The Incas
- A quick travel guide to Peru
- 8 things to do in Cusco, Peru (besides hiking the Inca Trail)
Great tips. I would love to hike the Inca Trail someday, and thanks for making me aware of some of the preparations needed both before and during.
You’re welcome, Ted! Hiking the Inca trail is definitely a challenge, but it’s also a lifetime experience. I hope you get to try it.
That 3rd picture is amazing Miriam! I hiked the trail in August this year. I struggled a bit too (and I consider myself to be reasonably fit as well), so let’s just blame the altitude 😛 x
Haha, let’s do that! I hope you had fun hiking.
I found this very helpful. I am leaving on JAnuary 4th and should be beginning the trail on the 7th. I am really nervous about it but I am ion fairly good shape but really doing more cycling and sitar climbing the last 30 days. I am worried about the altitude sickness too. Any more tips or advice. Should I get a knee brace, etc?
Hi Rachel, I’m not gonna lie to you – it is hard. Prepare yourself mentally that it will be difficult, especially on day 2 (Dead Woman’s pass) – if you do that, I’m sure you’ll be fine. One of my issues with the Inca trail was that people hadn’t told me how genuinely hard it was so I was not prepared at all. Although I wasn’t in super shape (not at all actually), I still managed to complete the trek. Remember that you always have the option to go back or rent a mule to carry you if it gets too hard! Use that as comfort / a plan B. As for altitude… If you stay in Cusco for 3 days before the trek, drink lots of water and bring knee braces and good hiking boots, you won’t be sick or injuired on the trail. Also, remember to rent hiking poles (2) and buy a rain poncho! I’m sure you’ll love the trail so there’s no need to worry. Look forward to the view which is absolutely gorgeous – snowcapped mountains, funny llamas, flowers and inca ruins…. You’ll have the hike of your life!
Thank you so much for these advices! Im going to do the inca trail with my friend in november. We r very excited, but i must admit that im a bit scared. Im defenitly going to rent hiking poles!
I was a bit nervous myself, but it’s such an incredible experience. It’s hard for sure, but with hiking poles, the right tour company and a positive attitude you’ll be just fine! If you get a chance, let me know how your trip went. Would love to hear about it.
Hi Miriam, your blog is very useful. I’ve booked with Wayki for the trail starting 8th january.
You suggest to bring plenty of snacks. I take it that you should stock up in Cuzco, for all 4 days? And how about water? You can’t buy thuis along THE way, can you?
Thanks for your reply!
I’m glad to hear that!
On the trail and when you’re at the camp, you’ll have free access to all the water you want – the porters carry this. But you have to bring water (min. 2 liters per day) in your day back, and you can buy this + snacks in Cusco and the town you stop in to buy supplies before the trip (ask your guide, he’ll know). It’s not possible to buy water, snacks or rain poncho when you’re on the trail. And please do remember to bring a rain poncho, because it will likely rain. I bought mine on the way to the trail for 3 soles.
Have a great trip, and remember to rent those hiking poles! You’ll thank me later 🙂
I haven’t been yet, but I guess the top thing to do is to prepare physically as well as possible.
For sure! That, and to adjust your expectations, because you can’t count on the weather!
I just did Machu Picchu three weeks ago with a few friends. Our group had a wide variety of abilities and my basic takeaway is that if you are a regular hiker/backpacker and have some sense for how altitude will affect you (it’s not the same for everyone!), it will be no problem for you and you don’t need a porter. If you don’t normally do stuff like this, absolutely get a porter (especially for Day 2) and it will be tough. The timing with lunch on Day 2 is a little tricky, but I also wouldn’t want a full meal in my stomach before ascending Dead Woman’s Pass (and they are right – you digest food slower at high altitude). Our tour operator, Llama Path, provided us with a package of snacks at the beginning of each day and had more snacks for us at the top of the pass, so it wasn’t too bad waiting til a little later for lunch. I highly recommend Llama Path – you will pay a little more for them but they have a strong focus on sustainability, treat their porters very well, excellent guides, and they are one of the original operators on the trail. I’d avoid G Adventures – they are a national conglomerate and their appeared to be treated very poorly in comparison to others we saw on the trail.
Thanks for the tips, Lisa. I was happy with my company too, so it’s good to hear that there are several great tour companies. It’s so important to pick the right one when you’re on a trip like this.
Is it safe to travel alone?
To Peru? Yes, personally I would travel to Peru alone. On the Inca Trail you’ll be with a whole group and therefore never alone. It’s perfectly safe.
I love to read your travel blogs and thanks for al the above tips to do the Inca trail.
Thanks, Liliana! I’m glad found my tips useful. Have fun on the trail 🙂
Your advice is spot on about the Inca Trail as I did it myself back in July 2011. I was completely exhausted by the time we were 500 meters below Dead Woman’s Pass. What should have taken about 10 – 15 minutes to climb ended up being closer towards 45 minutes – 1 hour because I didn’t eat enough breakfast that morning and was completely out of energy every step I took to climb up those remaining steps. So, make sure to fill up on snacks periodically throughout the day if lunch will not be provided to you by your tour leader.
Exactly! And snacks are super important, even if the tour company provides lunch on day 2.
Miriam, your blog is awesome and has given me a real idea of what it will be like- very hard. We are hiking the inca trail in december. It, no doubt be one of those trips that you really enjoy afterwards. I love the little videos also
Aw, thank you Allison! I’m sure your trip will be great. Remember the hiking poles – they were a lifesaver!
Thanks for all the tips. I’m hiking the trail in November with my sister. I think I need to spend less time reading blogs, and more time training!
Yeah, the trail isn’t for sissies 😉
You’ll be proud of yourself afterwards, but it’s important to be in good shape and be prepared. Exercise and bring two hiking poles, then you’ll be all right! Have fun.
My wife and I are hiking the Inca Trail in July of 2017. Did you tip the porters each day or at the end? Also, what GoPro did you use?
We tipped the porters at the end of the trip. Be prepared that it’s done like a ceremony where you hand over 3 separate tips to the guide, the chef and the porters. At least that’s how it was done in my group, but I’ve heard similar stories from other travelers.
I used a GoPro HERO3.
Have a great trip!
My sister and I are going to do the same hike and after reading your post I’m feeling better as i am preparing everyday. just a few questions. What is the total in cash in tips i should exspect to pay? I have my own poles or should i rent them? When the time comes to use the bathroom is it just in nature and what about paper waste on the trails? We are so looking forward to the challenge and thank you for your tips.
I’m glad to hear that, DJ!
In total, I paid US $55 in tips and this amount included porters, guide and chef. If you have your own poles, I see no reason to rent, but if you don’t, the renting poles are very good. Every day when you start hiking, the porters run ahead and set up camp. When you arrive, there’s a sleeping tent ready for you, a dining tent and also a toilet tent. It’s just a hole, but there is a tent around it for privacy. I don’t remember if there was toilet paper – I’m pretty sure there was – but better bring a pack just to be safe.
Have a GREAT trip! I’m sure you’ll have a good time.
I´ve been on inca trail 4d/3n, SEp 14 th and it was absolutely amazing ; your tips help me a lot to did it with sucsess , thank you Miriam
I’m so glad to hear that. Thanks for commenting!
this site is such an inspiration for me and my husband. We have recently planned a trip to Peru in March for our first inca trail with Alpaca Expeditions Tours
I’m so glad to hear that, Colette! Make sure to rent hiking poles, they’re a life saver 🙂
Have fun on the trail!
The Inca trail is simply awesome! Loved your blog post, keep up the great work, Miriam!
Thanks, Agness, and so great to hear from you! I hope you’re good <3
Your posts on the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu are so great! We are leaving in less than a month to do the 4 day trek with Wayki 🙂 I am curious about your photography/videography on the trail. I had read previous posts that only recommended bringing a 18-55 mm lens because most people are looking to capture landscape shots, but I see you brought a larger lens as well. We have a 18-55 mm and 55-200 mm lens for our Nikon D3300 but are definitely amateur photographers. Do you recommend bringing both?
Also, did you hire an extra porter through Wayki? They provide a porter to carry up to 8 kg but as you mentioned, the sleeping bag and mat account for 3 kg of that. We’re not sure what the rest of our gear will weigh.
I’d bring a small and a large lens if I were you. Sure, you want to capture the landscape and mountains, but you’ll also see flowers and small animals along the way where the small lens comes in handy.
And yes, definitely hire an extra porter. The porters leave camp in the morning with all the stuff and you won’t see them until evening when you reach the next camp. So bring a day pack with water, snacks and your photo gear.
Hi there- I plan to carry a day pack with me, however, are there places to store your luggage?
Hi, most times you can store your luggage with the tour company or the hotel you’re staying at. I recommend you ask them in advance.
Thank you for so many helpful tips. I am thinking about doing the hiking this Xmas. Do I need to book it in US or I can find plenty of companies offering this tour in Lima or in Cusco?
Thanks for reading! I booked online, which I recommend you do, too. You should book the tour well in advance to be sure there’s a spot. Wayki Trek is a good company if you’re looking for one to go with.
Amazing place for trekking. Thanks for the tips you shared!
It’s is one of the best, the scenery is incredible! Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Miriam: Thanks for the tips. We are over 50’s and are thinking about doing this in June. We are both in good shape — but “good shape” in south Louisiana is different than at altitude. We have hiked at altitudes of 5000 feet and all went well. I work out 5 days a week and run between 5-10 miles a week. I was wondering about the pace of the hike. I don’t want to be stuck with a group of “mountain goats” that scurry ahead quickly leaving us awkwardly in the rear and holding up the group. Advice?
I think you’ll be just fine considering your shape. It’s difficult to say how your group will be, but the guide usually makes sure everyone catches up. We were actually at the end every day, mostly because we were taking so many pictures and there were some serious hikers in the group. It didn’t matter though, because each day you hike from one camp to the next. You start together, but people go in their own pace and then you meet up for lunch halfway. At the end of the day, you meet at the next camp. The first day everyone walked together because the guide explained a lot about the surroundings, but it’s a fairly easy hike on day 1 so it’s not difficult to keep up.
Have a great trip! Oh, and don’t forget the hiking poles!
El servicio que me brindaron la agencia de vajes Vamos Machupicchu fue estupendo, muy atentos a todas nuestras dudas e inquietudes se los recomiendo a todos.
Alessandro, me alegro de que hayas tenido un gran viaje a Machu Picchu.
Recomiendo Vamos Machupicchu a cualquiera que viaje a Perú para explorar la región de Machu Picchu/Cusco! Hicieron un trabajo increíble desde el principio. Siempre cumplió o superó nuestras expectativas, y fueron justo a tiempo para recogernos.
Thanks for the recommendation, Percy!
Great Post and Nice Article. All of the Photos are so good .I like it.Thanks for sharing.
So glad to hear that! Thanks for reading.
Loving the blog it’s really helpful. I’m doing the Inca trail in May.
I climbed Kilimanjaro about 10 yrs ago. The porters there took our main packs and we took just small packs. Do we give our packs to the porters in Peru or can we just give them items to take for us?
I’m glad you found it helpful, Colin!
It works the same way as on your trip to Kili. The porters carry your main bag and you get access to it every night at camp. You carry a small day pack yourself with water, snacks, rainwear and camera, etc.
Hope this helps.
Good information to do a trek to Machu Picchu, thanks for sharing.