“It’s not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.”
~Sir Edmond Hillary
So I am married to an Eagle Scout. There are quite a few things about this honor that come in handy when it comes to survival skills and creativity during our trips. I’ve always been supportive and would recommend the Boy Scouts of America program.
During a vacation planning session, Brian put the idea of visiting Machu Picchu on the table. Admittedly, it had not been on the top of my list but I want to see the world therefore no country or destination is out of the question. Then he added……..”I will only see Machu Picchu by way of the 4-day trek to get there.” What!?!?!? As a non-athletic type, this was terrifying yet Brian assured me his learnings as a Boy Scout would help us prepare.
If you have read our introduction, you know that this trek is on the top of my list when it comes to ranking our past travel moments. Today, I will share with you my top 10 tips on completing the 4-day trek to Machu Picchu from a non-outdoorsy type!
1. Spend time getting acclimated to the altitude before beginning the trek
We spent 2 nights in Cusco getting adjusted to the altitude. In addition, we came prepared with altitude sickness medication from the U.S. that we took as precaution. I know there are varying opinions on the medication however we experienced no complications. Cusco is a really beautiful place and we enjoyed getting to the know the town while adjusting to the altitude.
2. Take at least one walking stick
When Brian came home with walking sticks a few weeks before our trip, I laughed at him. While I am not in stellar shape, I can hold my own when it comes to cardio activity. I poked fun at the sticks as I attempted to use them up and down our staircase. He assured me I would feel differently when we were on the trail and that he was taking the pair. If I didn’t want one, he would use two. Don’t tell him I said this, but he was right. This walking stick was a life saver. I honestly do not know if I could have completed the trek without it, especially on the downhill portions.
3. Be realistic on what you can carry
In full disclosure, I did not train for the trek. We chose a trekking company that carried some of our belongings. We were very methodical in what we carried to ensure it truly was only what we needed. We put our belongings in the Columbia bag above and came in under the weight limit given to us. Shout out to the porters…..these guys have the hardest job around. They carry these back breaking packs all the way through the trek. Because they also carry the food and tents, they literally run through the trail in order to have food ready and tents set up by the time we arrive at the campsite. They are incredible!! If you are using porters, bring extra cash to tip them, they deserve every penny!
In addition to the bag we gave the porters, Brian carried a book bag with our camera equipment and rain gear while I had a small backwards fanny pack that held first aid, medicines, candy etc and held water bottles on each side as well.
Sometimes the guides made fun of me, but I knew this was my limit and planned appropriately with the type of trek we chose. Brian carried quite the load with our camera and video gear!
4. Fill-up at the water stations
There were a couple of water stations along the way. The price was steep however we would highly recommend refilling your water bottles even if you still have half the bottle left. Better safe than sorry in our opinion. In addition, we brought a few packs of Propel and Gatorade powders to add to the water. The water is warm and sometimes it was nice to have a few added electrolytes during the trek.
5. Don’t forget to document the trek
There are portions of this trek that are without a doubt strenuous. However don’t forget to stop and look around and document your journey! During pit-stops, we would ask our guide to take a couple shots of us along the way. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us and the benefit of the trek is to see the beauty along the way!
6. Bring different footwear for the evenings
After spending several hours each day in your hiking boots, it’s nice to switch your footwear in the evening. It allows your feet to breathe and get a break from the confinement of the boots. The first thing we did when we arrived at camp was change our shoes!
My feet were throbbing, especially at the end of day 3. This day is primarily all down-hill therefore my toes were pushing against the top of my shoes. I couldn’t get out of my hiking shoes fast enough that day!!
7. The best training would be stairs
I underestimated the amount of rugged, stairs that we would be trekking throughout the 4 days. If you plan on training, I would highly recommend training on stairs to prepare yourself for the hike.
8. Celebrate the victories along the way
Day 2 is the hardest….you reach the highest elevation point mid-morning that day. Celebrate it!! It is quite the feat to get up there!
Finally, when you get to Machu Picchu, do a little dance and capture the moment!! I was on cloud-nine to have made it! Prior to the hike, I had visions of a helicopter flying in to rescue me!
9. Embrace the weather
You can’t control the weather. We had visions of seeing the sunrise at the Sun Gate and capturing a beautiful blue sky backdrop to our Machu Picchu photos. We had gorgeous weather the first 3 days of the trek. During our final evening, it rained allllllll night! We woke up to rain and started the last part to Machu Picchu in rain. BRING RAIN GEAR!! We were prepared and I could not imagine how miserable the day at Machu Picchu would have been if we had not had it. When we arrived at the Sun Gate, the fog and clouds were so thick, we couldn’t see across the mountain to get our first glimpse of the lost city.
We were disappointed that the most important day of our trek had the worst weather. Since you really can’t control it, we embraced it and believe the fog added a different feel to our photos than the pristine ones you see online. We could have complained and been disappointed but we embraced the conditions and made the most of our day!
10. Consider spending a night at a hotel in Machu Picchu
We were tired, wet and in need of a shower when we arrived to Machu Picchu. We only had that afternoon to explore the area before taking the train back to Cusco that evening. If we would plan it again, we would stay at a hotel near Machu Picchu for 1 night following the trek. Our legs were sore and climbing all of the stairs to explore the massive site was painful! It would have been nice to have added time there the next day. In addition, the downtown area of Machu Picchu seemed like a nice little town that we did not have the opportunity to explore. Lastly, we potentially would have given ourselves a second chance for better weather when we were there had we planned the additional night.
The sites along the way were spectacular! Machu Picchu is amazing however after seeing several of the sites throughout the trek, we had an even greater appreciation for it’s sheer size! I would highly recommend adding the trek to your visit. The sense of personal accomplishment combined with the breathtaking views make this one of our favorite travel moments! Highly recommend!
We booked with Sun Gate Tours. While we did not book a private tour, we were the only 2 to sign up for that time therefore we ended up being the only people on our trek. It was incredible!! The food was incredible, the guides and staff friendly and knowledgable. If you are looking for a company, we would hands down suggest them!
Have you trekked to Machu Picchu? What piece of advice would you give others? Share it in the comments!