TOP 5 TIPS TO PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE INKA TRAIL
For those who haven’t heard of altitude sickness – it is a horrid pathological effect of high altitude, also known as acute mountain sickness. It is caused by low oxygen levels at altitudes of over 2,400m. For those who know what I am talking about – I hope you haven’t had to experience it yourselves. Cusco is situated at 3,300m above sea level so I was warned about the possibility of altitude sickness upon arrival into Cusco. I was also warned about the importance of acclimatising to these altitudes by giving the body time and slowly ascending into these areas. With this in mind, I arrived in Cusco 3 days before starting the trek but was still unlucky enough to be hit with altitude sickness almost immediately. I had fever like symptoms – sore throat, swollen glands, body aches, fever, headache and lack of energy. I spent days in bed and still didn’t recover before starting the trek. Other symptoms include indigestion because your body finds it more difficult to digest food at these levels.
TIP 1: Possibly stay a couple of days in Lima (1550m) and Cusco (3300m) before the trek (which goes up to 4200m) and allow the body to slowly get used to the air pressure.
TIP 2: Take altitude tablets such as Diamox or Acetazolamide 2 days before ascending to 2700m (otherwise it is useless). These pills are available for very cheap in Cusco (no more than US$2!)
2. HIKING GEAR
As I have been backpacking for awhile, I didn’t have any of the relevant hiking gear required to undertake the Inca Trail. So I bought the following:
- Hiking shoes (AUD$120)
- Sweat resistant long sleeve top (25 soles)
- Trekking socks (15 soles)
Then I hired:
- Trekking poles (a must for the descent) – US$25 through SAS Travel
- Extra warm sleeping bag (night 2 gets insanely cold) – US$20 through SAS Travel
- Fleece jacket (extra warmth) – AUD$4
- Trekking Pants that zip off at the knee – AUD$7
TIP: One of the cheaper places to hire camping equipment and hiking gear is called ‘Rosly’ – located on Calle Procuradores 394, Cusco.
3. GET IN SHAPE
I read everywhere that “anyone can do it”, “no physical fitness required” – and while I do agree with this – it is 10 times more manageable if you are somewhat fit – can walk for 10kms or so. I had been walking quite a bit during my travels so my legs had slightly more muscle than usual which helped me a lot – especially when walking down stairs (for 5 hours!) It also helped me recover quicker after the trek. So get walking!!!
4. POSITIVE ATTITUDE
Negative people are toxic. It can bring the entire group down. I was so lucky to like every single person in my tour group. But I had heard stories and witnessed a few unlucky groups that housed the ‘complainer’ or the fighting couple. Interestingly they are also the ones who had the most difficult trek. Not surprising. Keep a positive attitude and I guarantee it will help you get through!
5. BOOK IN ADVANCE
Only 500 people are allowed to start the trek each day (this includes all porters and guides too!) as a conservation measure. This means only reputable agencies have permits (and you cant do it independently) so they get snatched up quickly.This also applies to tickets up Huyanupicchu which are limited to 400 daily. I booked in January for an April trek and managed to get a spot on the 4th company I emailed! I recommend at least 6 months in advance to get a good, reputable company. I booked with SAS Travel who couldn’t be faulted! Fantastic food, great guides, perfect campsites, well organised and fairly priced!
Ask anyone who has undertaken this trek in the past – they will probably say the same thing… It is extremely difficult yet insanely enjoyable.