Hiking the Inca Trail: Preparation

Marcy with llama and Peruvian woman, Cuzco, Peru

{Update: See Hiking the Inca Trail, Day 1: Peruvian Flatlands | Day 2: Nobody Messes with Dead Woman’s Pass} | Day 3: The Long and Winding Road | Day 4: Race to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu}

I just returned from an amazing trip to Peru with my family. We hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and visited Lake Titicaca.

Physical Preparation

To prepare for the hike, I increased my exercise for a couple of months with extra cardio exercise (cardio tennis classes and some dreaded jogging), some inclined treadmill walking, and some good old push-ups).

The section of the trail I would hike was 26 miles long (42 km) from KM 82 to Machu Picchu and considered a moderate hike. There are no hard technical sections, but the high altitude adds a layer of difficulty and unpredictability.

Altitude Adjustment

We planned our trip so that we would arrive at the high altitude city of Cuzco four days before we would begin the Inca Trail hike to allow us to acclimate to the high altitude as much as possible.

Templo de la Campania de Jesus, Cuzco, Peru

Altitude sickness is caused by the lower level of oxygen in high elevations and can result in headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, malaise (general crappy feeling), and shortness of breath; more seriously, it can result in pulmonary edema or cerebral edema.

I live only a few hundred feet above sea level, and the city of Cuzco is located at 11,200 ft. (3,400 m). Our hike would begin at 8,500 ft. (2,600 m) and go up and down in elevation throughout four days, reaching our highest point at Dead Woman’s Pass (I wasn’t crazy about that name) at 13,800 ft. (4,215 m) on Day 2. We would finish at Machu Picchu at 7,972 ft. (2,430 m) on Day 4.

When I first ventured out of my Cuzco hotel, I felt the effects of the high altitude right away. I had slept for several hours after getting in from the airport on an overnight flight and went out with my family for a late lunch and to explore a little.

Steep street in Cuzco Peru

The streets of Cuzco are hilly, and I was out of breath repeatedly while just walking down the street. I had a headache and felt nauseated, symptoms of mild altitude sickness. I found it difficult to think clearly in the little interactions between me and my family. We were all exhausted. Drinking plenty of water and getting rest are supposed to help people to acclimate to the altitude.

I went to bed at 6:30 p.m. and slept until 8:30 the next morning.

The next day I felt better, but still got out of breath easily, and the next day, I felt better still. Cuzco is a beautiful city, and we visited its cathedral and some museums.

Sightseeing bus in Cuzco Peru

Peruvian woman in San Pedro market, Cuzco

View of Cuzco from Christ statue

On our fourth day in Cuzco, we visited two different archeological sites in the Sacred Valley with our G Adventures group, where we did short hikes up to the sites. Many of us got out of breath–myself included–but I was noticeably better adjusted to the altitude than when I’d arrived.

Pisac archeolical site Peru


We had an organizational meeting the night before hiking the Inca Trail, and we rented trekking poles (a lifesaver! I had never hiked with them before, and they really helped), good sleeping bags, and sleeping pads.

We stored our main luggage in our Cuzco hotel and packed a duffel bag weighing up to about 13 lbs. (6 kg) that would be carried by porters. After the sleeping bag and sleeping pad were packed into the duffel, we had room for about 6 lbs. (2.5 kg) of extra warm clothing or other supplies. On the trail, I carried a day pack with water, camera, clothing, poncho, hat, and anything else that would not fit into the weight restrictions of the duffel bag.

The weight restrictions for the duffel bags were put in place to protect the porters, who in years past were expected to carry extremely heavy packs. Still, it was amazing seeing them carrying their huge loads of up to 55 lbs. (25 kg) at a rapid pace. In addition to our duffel bags, the porters carried everything needed for setting up camp on the trail–tents, food, cooking equipment, table and chairs, and so forth.

All packed up and ready to go, I went to bed feeling nervous, but eager to start the hike the next day.

{Next: Hiking the Inca Trail, Day 1: Peruvian Flatlands}

Cuzco Peru plaza at night

{See also: Hiking the Inca Trail, Day 1: Peruvian Flatlands | Day 2: Nobody Messes with Dead Woman’s Pass | Day 3: The Long and Winding Road | Day 4: Race to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu

About Marcy

I blog about trying to get out of my comfort zone, completing 101 things in 1001 days (and beyond), and writing my memoirs. My book: Timid No More.
This entry was posted in Fitness, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Hiking the Inca Trail: Preparation

  1. Daniel Nest says:

    Sounds like quite a bit of serious prep, but, judging by the amazing pictures, it was all well worth it!

  2. Erica M says:

    Most of my hike would have been spent apologizing to the porters and over-tipping them. I also feel bad when the bellman has to bring a toothbrush from the front desk to my room, so this just may be my traveler’s guilt talking.

    This sounds like a wonderful trip, Marcy. Welcome back!

    • Marcy says:

      I know what you mean–I always felt guilty when I used to have a cleaning woman and was home being lazy while she was working. We did tip the porters well, and there was a nice ceremony where we got to express our appreciation. They worked incredibly hard and were so friendly and supportive. With our guides, porters, and chefs, there was a crew of 22 people supporting the 11 of us in our hiking group. They worked a lot harder than we did, that’s for sure!

  3. Oh, so jealous of this trip! I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go there and hike among the ruins. Can’t wait to read the follow-up posts!

  4. How exciting for you and your family. I have never really thought what Peru looks like until reading your words and looking at your photos. It looks remarkable! I can’t wait to read about the rest of your journey…. (I am behind on writing about my travels. I figure when the kids go back to school I’ll take care of that one blog post at a time!)

    • Marcy says:

      Peru is a very beautiful country. I love the mountains. Back to school is back to work time for me, so I am getting everything done that I can now. 🙂

  5. Abby says:

    Omigosh, what an amazing adventure! I would love to go there someday, in the meantime, I’ll watch for the sequel. I know altitude sickness can be no fun – nauseating and even depressing to some who have visited here. You were smart to attempt to acclimate before the hike, I hope it was enough!

  6. Linda Lange says:

    Sounds like a fascinating trip. Can’t wait to read more.

  7. Amazing pictures! So exciting! Can’t wait to read (and see) more! Welcome home!! 😀

  8. Sammy says:

    Marcy it sounds amazing – what lucky boys you have!

  9. beebeesworld says:

    beautiful and Exotic. I can’t imagine being in such a place! beebeesworld

  10. Wow, very cool adventure! I love your colourful furry friend!

  11. Pingback: Hiking the Inca Trail, Day 2: Nobody Messes with Dead Woman's Pass | (Don't Be) Too Timid and Squeamish

  12. Pingback: Hiking the Inca Trail, Day 1: Peruvian Flatlands | (Don't Be) Too Timid and Squeamish

  13. Pingback: Hiking the Inca Trail, Day 3: The Long and Winding Road | (Don't Be) Too Timid and Squeamish

  14. Pingback: Hiking the Inca Trail, Day 4: Race to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu | (Don't Be) Too Timid and Squeamish

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  16. Ruma Dak says:

    Awesome post! I am doing the trail next April!
    I do moderate exercise and planning to increase it now to prep for it.
    I am particularly scared about the steps! Are they very high ? Are there lots and lots together?
    Will wearing ankle and knee supports help?

    • Marcy says:

      If you’re used to moderate exercise, I think you’ll be fine. The steps aren’t high, and there is not any climbing or scrambling over rocks the way some trails are. Dealing with the altitude was the hardest part for me. If you can get into Cuzco or another high altitude area at least a few days before the hike that will help. The day of Dead Woman’s Pass has a hike uphill for several hours, but the guides build in a lot of breaks and people can go at their own paces. I didn’t wear any ankle or knee supports, but I really liked using hiking poles, and I think they helped prevent more stress on my knees on the sections going down. Have fun! It was a great experience.

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