When you are planning a visit to South America you might want to think about heading to the Andes and walking those heights along the Inca trail. It is a very popular hike for hikers as well as those who love adventures, history, great views and great plant life. It draws thousands of visitors a year. Built hundreds of years ago it connected in a huge network of paths from along the coastline into the mountains.
Over 20,000 kilometres of stone trails stretch as far north as Quito in Ecuador and as far south as Santiago in Chile. The hike starts at the city of Cusco and then winds up through passes and mountain terrain before coming to the awe-inspiring ancient site Machu Picchu. Before you head off though here are some tips to help plan your successful adventure.
Travelling at the right time
Heading to hike on the trail is not something you can do any time of the year. There are two seasons to consider that have a big impact on the trail. The dry season is May to September, it is dry, sunny and the most popular time for the hike. The average temperatures in the day are around 20 degrees Celsius. At night it drops to being cold though not quite to freezing point. October to April is the wet season when yep you got it, it rains a lot. Hikes might still run, but can also get cancelled due to weather, fewer people go so it is not as busy but you need to have the best waterproof gear. In February the trails are closed for maintenance.
Find reputable tour operators
Using a tour operator makes a lot of sense. They know all the guidelines, safety concerns, have the porters, the guides and so on. But when you choose an operator keep some things in mind. First of all only Peruvian companies can operate there, so if you have booked with someone who is not in Peru be very wary or expect to see them sub-contracting to a Peru based service.
It is safer to do this hike with people who have medical equipment to hand, who can carry some of the load and who knows where they are going on the Inca trail and what they are doing. Not all tour operators are equal though. Some are going to offer a better service so do some research. You might also appreciate the recent move for some to finally accept female porters.
Hikers must have a permit
Another thing to check into before you fly off is getting a permit to hike the trail. The DRC created a permit system to protect the trail. You have to reserve a permit online and the most that are issues each day is 500. If you cannot get a permit, you cannot hike. Your need your passport number to get the permit. When you have a tour operator this should be something they handle, but you should always double-check to make sure. Especially if hiking in the popular dry season. It is best to plan at least 3 or 4 months ahead.
Make sure you take acclimatization seriously
People sometimes hear of hikers not making it and think it must be a really hard hike. While this is certainly no picnic hike, you do need to be physically fit, it is often not the Inca trail that trips people, it is elevation sickness. The better you acclimatize the better you will do on the hike. Spend at least 2 days in the highlands getting used to it.
You may experience slight headaches, some dizziness, some shortness of breath. The trail only goes higher and higher and you need to be ready for that so hang out in Cusco, enjoy the city and you are more likely to finish the hike.