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Thread: Peru - Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

  1. #1
    Widdler
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    I'm off to Peru in September to trek the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. I'm looking for any hints and tips from others who have been there regarding the trail itself, best gear to take, brands etc, dealing with the locals, food & drink, anything that you would do different had you known the first time round. Thanks.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator Jon Doran's Avatar
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    If you do a search for 'Inca' in the features section, you'll find an article on the Inca T. If you do the same search in the news section, there's some stuff about the regulations which effectively mean you have to take an organised trip or hire a guide.

    As far as clothes and equipment go, you won't be far wrong if you think UK three-season kit, though it's colder at night, so a mat and a warm sleeping bag are worth having. Cuzco is one of the few places in Peru where people speak some English, but having some basic Spanish will make your life a lot easier.

    You can hire gear locally, but ot's a bit of a lottery. If you need to use a stove, gas is hard to get, but the hardware shops - 'ferreteria' which sounds like a ferret shop but isn't - sell White Gas/Coleman fuel called 'Benzina Blanca'. There's a big market, so buying food there is no problem. Chilean brands are best for some reason - learn to bargain or you'll pay over the odds, though that's a relative thing.

    When I was there I was totally aclimatised since I'd been climbing in the Andes for about none months before, but if you head straight in, you want to leave around a week spent in or around Cuzco to get acclimatised before you do the trek.

    The highest point - Dead Woman's Pass - is around 4200 metres, but people still get altitude sickness up there.

    There's a good guide to the trail by Richard Danbury, published by Trailblazer, which is pretty accurate and has some useful info.

    In Cuzco, be aware that there is a problem with street theft and there have been strangle muggings in the past, so don't go wandering around dark streets on your own. Generally though the locals are friendly and the place is very developed for tourism by south American standards.

    Lots of bars, pubs (Crossed Keys run by a bloke from Manchester is an institution), good breakfasts (or there were) in a cafe called Trotomundo on the Plaza de Armas (main square).

    If there's anything you particularly want to know, just ask and I'll see if I have the faintest of ideas.

    Jon


  3. #3
    Widdler
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    Thanks for that Jon. I'm going over with a UK company that organises small groups and includes all the flights accomodation, porters etc and they'll be taking care of all the cooking etc while on the trek. I guess it sounds like the really easy option but it is my first trek and with the added altitude I know it's going to be far from easy. I'm doing alot of CV work in the gym to build up my stamina for the trip but I think my biggest concern is the altitude and suffering altitude sickness.

    We are due to set off from Cusco on day 5 which means just 4 days in Cusco to acclimatise, I hope that's going to be enough! I've read and heard that Coca tea is good for acclimatising so I'm planning on drinking alot of that. Is there anything else that would help?

    Can you recommend any good treks in the UK that would help get me in training? I live in London so would be looking for one day or weekend treks in England.

    Thanks

    Mark

  4. #4
    Übermensch joan collins's Avatar
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    Hi Mark, I did this about 8 years ago and then again last year.

    I think you're right to consider altitude sickness your #1 concern, though I should point out very few people appeared to suffer from it on either of my visits. The best thing you can do is acclimatise gradually. As you're on an organised tour, I'm sure they'll have built that into the schedule, and 4 days in Cusco sounds sensible. I'm not convinced about coca tea, but you can buy Diamox (aka acetylzolamide), an anti-altitude sickness drug, very cheaply in Cusco. You take 500mg a day at the first sign of problems.

    I really wouldn't worry too much about fitness. Yes, you will enjoy it more the fitter you are, but it's really not that tough. An unfit overweight 69 year old Aussie with a recently-replaced knee joint did the trail at the same time as me last year. OK, so he took twice as long as me, but he got there each day. Days only involve 4-5 hours of walking on average, which most people should be able to manage. The only time it really helps is on the final day, when you start before dawn. If you're fit enough, you can run the final 3 hour walk in an hour, getting you to Macchu Picchu an hour before it opens, so you can wander round and take photos while it's empty. There's a photo I took at dawn on the last day here and one taken on the trail here.

    Most days you should be able to walk in shorts and T shirt, though for stops and especially in the evening, you need winter kit to handle the temperatures, ie at least two fleeces or a light down jacket, plus hat, scarf and gloves. If you don't have this kit, save money by buying a local fleece, jumper or poncho for around £5 in Cusco instead.

    You need full waterproofing - when it rains, it buckets. The best solution is a plastic disposable poncho (about £3) bought locally. Far more comfortable to walk in than a goretex jacket, and keeps you drier. Take your own waterproof trousers, boots and umbrella.

    You can't take your own walking poles on the trail (banned) but you can buy bamboo ones locally for about £2 - I found these a great help.

    As for food and drink, it's a good idea to take chocolate and biscuits (bought in Cusco) to supplement your meals. You can buy these on the trail, but they are much more expensive. Also take some iodine water purifier, because the water used by your cooks on the trail is polluted, and not often not properly boiled to kill the germs. You can buy bottled water on the trail, but of course this adds to the local waste problem.

    Don't forget toilet paper (buy in Cusco) and a lighter to dispose of it, but use the plumbed toilets along the trail whenever you can to avoid enviromental impact (they are either free or very low charge). And lomotil and ciprofloxacin are useful to have if you get a stomach upset.

    You will get so much more out of your experience if you speak Spanish. If you don't, and have limited time, I would learn the Spanish in preference to going to the gym. I met so many fascinating people in and around Cusco, and I would never have got to know them with English alone.

    Please feel free to email me if you want to know anything else.

  5. #5
    Super Moderator Jon Doran's Avatar
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    Mark, Joan's advice is sound. I'd agree that you don't need to be massively fit as neither the distances or height gain are particularly serious, some general walking or gentle running's not a bad thing, but it's more the altitiude that makes it hard work.

    For acclimatisation, four days should be okay. Classic advice is to drink lots - water not beer - don't hit the alcohol too hard (I've always ignored that bit), there's supposedly some research that shows Vitamin E helps with performance at altitude. I used it last time I was in Peru and trekking in Nepal, but while I acclimatised well both times, I have no idea if it made any difference. Oh and taking it steadily on the Trail itself is a good idea. The fluid thing is important, drink lots of purified water. Lots of the symptoms of altitude sickness, especially the headaches, are the same as dehydration, and quite often people think they're having problems with the altitude when they simply aren't drinking enough.

    Best tip though is simply to look around you and have a great time, which shouldn't be difficult.

  6. #6
    Super Moderator Jon Doran's Avatar
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    Oh, and nice pics 'nomarmite', if I might use your real name. I like the Quitaño gooses...

  7. #7
    Widdler
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    Thanks Joan and Jon. All your advise is really helpfull. I'm quite relieved to hear that I don't have to be an olympic long distance runner to be able to do the trail! Not that I'll sit back though because I really want to enjoy and appreciate every scene along the way and not keep passing out with exhaustion. Not convinced about "running the last three hours" nice idea though, I'll have to let you know when I come back if I managed that or not.

    Joan, I'm going to take on your advice about the Spanish. I've always been interested in languages and this is the best motivation I could have to learn one. I've got seven months so I could try the self teach ones or maybe find an intensive course to go on.

    Do you have any advice and tips on cameras and photgraphy?

    Thanks for all your feedback, greatly appreciated.

    Mark

  8. #8
    Super Moderator Jon Doran's Avatar
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    Somewhere in the features section of the site are two articles about mountain and travel photography by Simon Kirwan. If you do a search for 'photography' they should come up. My personal problem with places like the Inca Trail is that I'm normally so blown away with the scenery that I forget to get the camera out...

  9. #9
    Widdler peter666's Avatar
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    We walked the Inca trail last year and it is one of those places where round every corner is another "wow" factor. We also walked as part of a group and acclimatisation was no problem, having spent 2 days in Puno at 4000m, before travelling on the train across the altiplano to Cusco.

    Fitnesswise, like most trekking, the fitter the better, though there was only one relatively strenuous day, and we were accompanied by some 72 year olds. At that time trekking poles were allowed, provided they were fitted with rubber tips.

    I too wish I had learnt some spanish before I went, and that's my goal for this year, before returning to South America.

    We have met up with a number of the people in our group since returning, and we all agreed that it was one of those life-enhancing experiences.

    Enjoy

  10. #10
    Widdler
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    Thanks Peter. The more I hear about other peoples past experiences of South America and the trail the more I'm looking forward to it.

    Learning as much Spanish as I can to get by is my main goal now as I've no doubt that it will be a place that I will want to return to.


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