Preparing for the Inca Trail: What I Did and What I Wish I Had Known

preparing for the inca trail

This July, I went with Contiki Tours to Peru. We explored a number of different modern and ancient cities, but the highlight of the trip for me was getting to hike the spectacular Inca Trail. As someone who has grown up with wonderful hiking trails all around me, this had always been an experience that I wanted to have.

Inca Trail Sign

As soon as I found out that I would be headed on this expedition, I knew that I needed to do some major work on my endurance. I’ve been a runner for a while now, but I took to the stairclimber to build up some muscle and to get used to walking uphill—because the much of the trail is entirely up the side of a mountain.

Inca Trail Ruins

I also took visited the trails around my home in Montana and started carrying my backpack with me so I could feel the weight I would have on my back while hiking up the trail. I packed it with a lunch and some water so I would have a general idea of how it would feel and whether I needed to adjust my workout or not.

The trail we took is 11k, but you can opt for the much longer 4-day hike (which the ancient Inca would run in less than a day). There were times when I was glad for a break, especially after the ancient ruins of Winay Wayna—basically just hundreds of steps up the steep mountainside. I was grateful that I had taken the time to climb some stairs. I was still disgustingly sweaty, but it didn’t take long before I was ready to go again.

Inca Trail Hill

Inca Trail Waterfall

With lunch of quinoa and chicken provided by Contiki, we built up enough energy for the final stretch which would take us to the Sun Gate and our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. I was feeling pretty good about myself until we got to the Monkey Steps. A almost straight-up climb, you’re bent over climbing, almost like a ladder. Just when you’re about to kill yourself, you make it to the top and a short two or three (or four) set of stairs after, you’re at the Sun Gate.

What I Wish I Had Known

Bring as large of water as you can. There really is no place to fill up on the trail—everything is pretty close to the way it was hundreds of years ago, so there’s also only one bathroom on the final stretch. Also, you will need sustenance. I ended up eating some of a new-found friend’s food in addition to my own (thank you again, Kiera) because I was starving.

Finally, take your time. Though I pushed myself (and actually regret it a little—it would have been fun to leisurely enjoy the walk instead of barreling through), you can take the trail at whatever pace you want, and our Contiki group was really accommodating to whatever speed you wanted to go.

Machu Picchu Contiki

Have you ever done the Inca Trail? Have any tips?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander


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  1. Travelella

    I took a water bladder, but we were given fresh boiled water at the beginning of every day and when we reached camp.
    To be honest I didn’t do much ‘training’ but i think the key is to take your time and don’t worry about everyone else.

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