In our latest competition, we asked you to pick your three favourites from a choice of 30 incredible adventures. Overwhelmingly, you voted for the epic trek up to the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu as the top pick. It’s not surprising either, considering the myriad of sensational sights that await you along the way, all capped off with the awesome remains of the Incan palatial estate.
Despite all that, it’s not exclusively all fun and games. If you want to do it properly, you should take the five day trek from Cusco known as the ‘Classic Inca Trail’ and, not surprisingly, this takes some work. Perhaps a bit of a battle with the elements and a slight struggle with the sleep pattern too, but it’s all worth it for the lush landscapes of jungle, alpine greenery, historic architecture and the clearest shimmering stars in a night sky you’re likely to see anywhere. So, to help you plan your trip and make it all a little easier, here are the most popular things travellers wish they’d known before visiting the great Machu Picchu.
Things to know before Visiting Machu Picchu:
1. Rainy season
Rainy season starts in December and goes on in to March. This surprises most travellers as the Peruvian summer pretty much covers this period and most expect dry, sunning conditions throughout. If you plan to take on the trek at this time, ensure you have good quality waterproofs, including a decent poncho that can be fastened around your head and isn’t so flimsy that it flaps in the wind.
2. The sun
If you do decide to go during rainy season, remember it is still summer, so each time the sun breaks through those clouds, you’re going to encounter some pretty strong rays. It’s very easy to forget this when it’s wet, so remind yourself to slap on the sun block and keep reapplying throughout the day. Also, remember at that altitude the sun is much stronger so lotion is a must have, no matter when you go.
3. Cold nights
Wrapped up in your waterproofs, hiking for eight hour stretches at a time and closer to the sun than you’re most likely to have been before, the day will no doubt be a little on the warm side. However, this all changes when the sun starts to set. At that altitude, things get a little chilly. Make you sure have packed enough layers in your bag so you can add and remove at your leisure and keep yourself warm at night.
4. Acclimatise yourself to the altitude
It’s not just the weather the altitude effects, but also your head. If you just throw yourself straight in, you could find yourself becoming pretty disoriented, suffering headaches or even vomiting, especially when pushing yourself to hike for such prolonged periods. Try staying a few nights in Cusco before you head off, just taking it easy and getting used to the atmosphere.
5. Early mornings
To allow enough time to complete each section of the trek (basically from village to village), each morning starts at the crack of dawn. Be prepared for early nights (probably around 10pm) and waking with the sun (5am wake up calls). It’s probably a good idea to get yourself into a similar rhythm while you’re acclimatising in Cusco, especially if you’ve been partying up until now.
6. Fitness levels
At the risk of sounding clichéd, this isn’t a walk in the park. You’ll be hiking slopes for eight hour stretches for five days straight and that takes, I’m sure you can guess, a certain level of fitness. Sure, you don’t have to have the stamina of a marine, but it’s also not recommended that you roll straight off the couch and onto the trail either. Maybe try and get into a routine of jogging a little bit before, or try a few easier hikes before you go. Anything to ensure it’s not a complete shock to the system.
7. Food and water
Exerting all that energy means you need to keep energised throughout, and your tour operators and guides will do a good job of ensuring you’re fed. However, a lot of people find it difficult to eat entire meals on the trail, especially at the beginning. For that little extra energy boost, make sure you carry some sugary snacks in your pack, whether that’s chocolate, sweets or a couple of bags of trail mix. You’ll have opportunities to buy snacks from locals on the way, up until Dead Women’s Pass, so remember to take a little cash with you.
Same goes with water. You can buy bottled water up until the same point, after which it’ll be purified/boiled water. If you’d rather not take that option, make sure you pack enough, or better yet, pack energy drinks like Gatorade or Lucozade.
While staying in Cusco, be aware of your valuables. Many travellers have reported being pickpocketed or having items swiped from their bags. Try keeping most valuable items like passports in a locker and only carry enough cash as you’d need for the day. That will help limit losses if you do end up as the unfortunate victim of theft.
9. Climb Wayna Picchu first before explore Machu Picchu
For those not in the know, Wayna Picchu is the mountain behind Machu Picchu. It stands taller, so provides incredible views of the ruins from above, so long as the weather is good. You might not fancy another trek so soon after all that trekking it took to finally reach your goal, but it’s much less crowded in the morning than it is later on and gives you plenty of time to make the trek there and back, which is around two hours each way.
10. Get an Inca Massage
Once all is done and you’ve conquered the trail and seen the sights, treat yourself to an Inca massage to get the blood flowing back into those muscles. Go on, you deserve it, and they are glorious so you won’t regret it.
Whatever happens, completing the trail will fill you with an unbeatable sense of achievement. It will feel like you’ve crossed continents and trekked through countless different worlds, thanks to the scenery, before coming face to face with ancient history. Our tips won’t make or break the trip, but hopefully they will make this incredible adventure even more awesome than it would have been anyway.
Have you got any more tips for hiking the Inca Trail or visiting Machu Picchu? Share them in the comments…
Thanks to Kasia Trapszo, Kenneth Moore, ethan lindsey, Ian Armstrong, H2O Alchemist, bulreiro, jpwilby, Kristine, Thomas Laufert and Kaldoon for the most excellent images! Please note they were all published under creative commons license at time of publishing.