How to Prepare to Hike The Inca Trail

How to Prepare to Hike The Inca Trail

I hope this doesn’t sound overly dramatic, but there are many important and not so obvious things you should know before attempting to hike the Inca Trail, which was one of the toughest and most awesome things I’ve ever done! I did tons of research prior, therefore I can share all that great information!

Hiking the Inca Trail

How to Get There

First you have to fly to Cusco, most likely via Lima. LATAM airlines, Avianca, American and JetBlue all fly there.

You must hike the Inca Trail with a licensed tour operator. Permits can sell out six months ahead of time since only 200 tourists are permitted on the trail at any given time. The high season is May to October.

Hiking the Inca Trail
Sayacmarca Ruins

I used SAS Travel and was happy with this company. They have many options but I chose the Classic Inca Trail Hike with tours of Cusco and Sacred Valley. There were a few administrative issues pre-hike, but the guides, support staff and the food were incredible. With any tour operator you must read the fine print regarding cancellations, what is included and not included. A tent was included, but sleeping mats, sleeping bags, and hiking poles you had to rent or bring your own.

What You Should Know Before Hiking the Inca Trail
This is what you are in for!

Our guide Rogelio and assistant guide Davis were excellent. In our group there were 15 tourists and 21 staff members including a chef, sous chef, waiter, camp manager, chef for the porters, and many porters.

Things You Should Know Before Hiking the Inca Trail

Most of us opted to pay $60-$80 more for a porter to carry an additional 6-8 kg of stuff. THIS IS WELL WORTH IT!  You will marvel at how these fit Andean Peruvians literally run up and down the trail with huge packs on their back.

Things you should know before hiking the Inca Trail
These are the kinds of steps that are on the trail…hours of them!

This is the one and only Rogelio, aka “Roho”.

Things you should know before hiking the inca trail

If you can’t hike the Inca Trail, you can take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes then the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. You don’t need a special permit to do this. The bus roundtrip to Machu Picchu is $48 dollars and you must show your passport. Also, the line for the bus can be two hours long!

Hiking the Inca Trail
Aguas Calientes

As for the train, you should purchase tickets ahead of time. Train tickets range between $60 to $90 EACH WAY depending the time and type of train. The fancy train is called the Vistadome. If you buy first class tickets you will be served a light meal. They even have music and a fashion show on the train (then aggressively sell you things).

Things you should know before hiking the inca trail

You must have tickets to Machu Picchu ahead of time.  You can either buy them in Cusco or online. The Instituto Nacional de Cultura in Cusco City and the Machu Picchu Cultural Center in Aguas Calientes both sell tickets. This is not a sure bet, however. Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can only officially issue 2,500 entrance tickets to Machu Picchu each day. During the peak season of June to September they often sell out. They are $45 USD.

Hiking the Inca Trail

If you just want to get this stress out of the way you can buy online. Third party ticket vendors may charge up to double, hence it’s better to use the official government site.

Hiking Huanya Picchu (that mountain peak you see in all the Machu Picchu pictures) is an option, however it is limited. They only allow 400 people per day to do this in divided groups. Sadly, I missed out on this because of food poisoning.

What is it like to hike the Inca Trail you ask?

READ MORE: Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Where to Stay

In Cusco we stayed at the Hotel Marqueses. It was included in the SAS tour but prices are reasonable, the location is perfect and the hotel is beautiful with very nice staff.

Hiking the Inca Trail

You will be camping as you hike the Inca Trail. If you opt to spend the night at Machu Picchu and hike Huanya Picchu the next day you can stay in nearby Aguas Calientes, which has mostly small hotels and hostels and is not known for its fine accommodations. I sadly cannot recommend anything since nobody was happy with their hotels.

Hiking the Inca Trail

There is only one hotel right in Machu Picchu called Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. It is 5 stars and expensive but if you feel like a splurge, this would be the place and you will deserve it after all that hiking and camping.

What to Bring

Being prepared for a trek such as the Inca Trail is integral to your experience.

hiking the inca trail
More crazy Inca Trail Steps

Hiking Boots 
This is perhaps the most important item and worth investing in. These don’t require “breaking in”, are waterproof and breathable and very comfortable. I didn’t have ankle pain or blisters. They come in other colors then the pic below. Highly recommend!

KEEN Women’s Logan Mid WP Hiking Boot

Having a pair of clean socks and sandals for camp is a must!  I am a huge fan of Smart Wool socks. They are warm, cushy, wick moisture away from your feet (no sweaty feet!) and dry quickly.


I learned a lot about backpacks on this trip! I’m a small person and a 18-25 L backpack was just big enough. My water bladder was only 1.5L , but it worked for me. I drank approximately 3L or more per day. At meals additional fluids are provided in the morning and also at night. In addition, the porters filled our bladders with freshly boiled clean water.

Things to consider:

  1. Size The pack needs to fit with your torso.
  2. Venting  Packs with a curved back and venting so that your back doesn’t touch it really help with sweating.
  3. Shoulder and Waist Straps  These should be well padded, otherwise it can get painful really quickly.
  4. Water bladder  Consider the size and look for hose straps to keep it in place. You don’t want it flailing all over the place. Having a cover for the mouthpiece to keep it clean is nice.
  5. Rain protection Some packs have integrated rain covers which is very handy. Some are sold separately.

I recommend going to your nearest outdoorsy store and finding someone who knows their stuff and try them on.  Here are a few examples of ones that would work for a few days of trekking

Camelback Day Star 18 L Hydration Pack   I like this one and it’s very basic. It may not be large enough for a larger person. I buy everything lightweight and packable so my things are very small. I was able to fit my mirrorless camera, GoPro with stick, snacks, sunblock, 2 bugsprays, hats, a couple layers and rain jacket. The water bladder is 2L.
Osprey Mira AG 26 Hydration   This is a higher quality and more expensive pack but has more room and features, including pockets on the waist strap for chapstick or little things. It has a larger water bladder also.

Osprey Tempest   This is the bag I use for basically everything. It doesn’t come with water bladder but has a hydration sleeve designed for it. This bag is specially shaped for women’s body and has all kind of cool features, pockets, front stuff sack and little easy to reach zipped sunglasses or snack pouch on the top. It also has loops on the side to hold trekking poles, as well as a helmet clip on the front. The mesh air vent back is great for preventing you from getting too hot.

Water Bladder  This is the size I use for the Tempest Backpack shown above. With bigger bags you can get the 3L size but 2L works well for me.

Rain Cover  You should always be prepared to protect your bag if it doesn’t come with it’s own integrated rain cover. This one fits the size bag I use. If you buy a large bag look for a larger size rain cover. This one squishes into a tiny bit of material and is light and easy to carry along. 

Rain Jacket

I prefer lightweight jacket such as the NorthFace Resolve jacket.  It has many nice features, also is comfortable, well-made and comes in many colors.  Some hikers opted for a poncho, which you can purchase very cheaply immediately before your hike at the starting point. This covers you AND your backpack.

Hiking Pants 

The pants that convert to shorts are really not a great idea here because of bugs. Something that dries fast and water repellant is perfect. I used the Patagonia Quandary Pants. They have a nice shape, lots of pockets, sun protection and were fine with light rain.

The other pant I took is the Athleta Bettona Jegging. I adore these pants and get so many compliments on them. They are athletic leggings that look like jeans with pockets. They come in petite, tall, plus and 4 colors. I wear these for flying, exercising, lounging, sleeping or hiking. Talk about versatile! I am wearing them in the cover photo.

Rain pants are something to consider. I did not bring these and luckily did not need them. They are WARM, as most waterproof materials are.


It gets very cold at night at the high elevations. I slept in these. My new fave brand is 32 degrees, Inexpensive, warm and lightweight.


You need a sun protection hat and a warm hat.


It gets dark early and at camp you will need this to get around, to see in your tent and for nighttime bathroom runs! The last morning involves hiking in the dark. I used this one and it was so strong for less than $15! You can get on Amazon!

Wet and Dry Sacks

Sometimes you need to keep wet things separated from dry things in your backpack and you want to keep important things, like cameras and phones, dry. I used these wet and dry sacks and they were very handy!


There is little shade along the trail and long days at high elevation in the sun, which is a recipe for sun damage.  The sun ages the crap out of your skin and I don’t think anyone likes looking older right? This is my favorite sunscreen. No chemical ingredients and it works. Make sure to reapply every two hours, more if sweating.

Mosquito Protection.

The mosquitos in Peru are VICIOUS. I recommend bug spray with at least 30% DEET but I dislike using this near my face. I did some research then purchased what is supposedly the only herbal that works, “Repel Lemon Eucalyptus”.  It smells nice and I used in from the chest up and those annoying gnats stayed away.

However, you may need something strong and how about this adorable travel size one?

I  took vitamin B1 pills twice a day starting a week before the trip and also during the trip. I learned this from a friend who works in Africa. It works. Overall I only had two bites the entire nine day trip, which may be a record!

Altitude sickness prevention.

Simply put, your body compensates for less oxygen by hyperventilating and this hyperventilation leads to chemical changes that can cause nausea, headache, fatigue, dizziness and appetite changes. The trekking companies all have oxygen available for emergencies. Acclimatizing properly is very important. Hydration is probably the most important factor in combatting altitude effects.

  1. Diamox (Acetazolimide) requires a prescription in the United States but is cheaper and available without a prescription in Cusco. This drug helps with the altitude sickness but I personally don’t like it.  It is a diuretic therefore you will urinate more. This increases your risk of dehydration.
  2. Gingko Biloba  A coworker gave me this tip. The dose is 120 mg twice a day, starting a week before your trip and during. I usually get altitude sickness, however  I felt good on this trip and only had a headache at very high altitudes (14,000 to 16,000 feet).
  3. Coca leaves   This is the traditional Andean remedy for altitude sickness. It works. Chew the leaves, drink the tea often, and you will feel better. Don’t worry, you won’t get high.

Disclosure: I use affiliate links in this post so if you purchase something I will receive a small commission. However I am only sharing products I love and truly believe hikers may need!

How to Train

If you are an avid hiker, you will probably be fine but keep in mind the altitude factor. It makes you feel terrible and than there’s that not getting enough oxygen thing. I am not an avid hiker and have had three knee surgeries. Running a mile is sort of big deal for me. In order to prepare, I did the stairs in my high rise several times per week for months before my trip. Starting with with 20 flights, I eventually could do all 45, then repeated this up to three times, adding hiking boots and a backpack a couple weeks before the trip.  It’s better to do every other step because this is more what it is like to actually hike the Inca Trail. 

I still found the trail to be a struggle, but I did it. I suggest stair climbing for sure, as well as squats, deadlifts and anything to get your calves, quads and glutes strengthened and ready for the steep inclines and steps.

If I can do it you can do it!

Hike the Inca Trail

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Hiking the Inca Trail

About The Author

Cherene Saradar

Cherene is a travel expert with 30 years of experience in over 100 countries and 7 continents. She has traveled solo to over 50 countries. She is also a nurse anesthesiologist with over 20 years of healthcare experience. Her passions include wildlife travel and visiting wine regions of the world.


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  3. Ro | 6th Nov 16

    A great post – detailed, informative and fun to read at the same time. Reminds me of all my prep for trekking Kili!

    • csaradar | 10th Nov 16

      I can imagine. One of the girls I was with had done Kili. Much respect! I’m not going to attempt that one!!

  4. Leah | 5th Nov 16

    Great post! Your stories and photos brought back such great memories of my own Inca Trail experience. And yes, I totally remember how the porters RAN up and down those steep hills and staircases, sometimes in freakin’ SANDALS!! A once-in-a-lifetime experience, to be sure.

    • csaradar | 5th Nov 16

      Hey Leah and thanks for commenting. They are truly memories of a lifetime. Those porters are incredible…I couldn’t get over the sandals!!

  5. Katie | 5th Nov 16

    I didn’t realise hiking the Inca Trail needed so much preparation! Thank you for sharing this, this really helps!! 🙂

    • csaradar | 5th Nov 16

      Haha. I barely knew until a couple weeks before! Thank goodness for being able to order things online!

  6. elisa martinez | 5th Nov 16

    So relieved to read this. My young cousin and I have been talking about this together to go one day. We werent so fully sure about what we going to really need. Thanks for sharing. Now we can adjust abit of planning better.

    • csaradar | 5th Nov 16

      I’m so glad it was helpful. It is a challenging trip to plan. FYI you can get lots of stuff in Cusco for good prices:) They have many outdoor stores. I actually got some things last minute before the trip.

  7. Sharon Wu | 1st Nov 16

    I am not really much of a hiking fan, but honestly, the scenery here makes me really crave a good hike! Thank you for the inspo! xo, sharon

    • csaradar | 2nd Nov 16

      Thanks for your sweet comment! I honestly don’t consider myself a hiker…I just thought this sounded cool. LOL. I was in over my head but it’s all good.

  8. Jacqui | 30th Oct 16

    Hiking the Inca Trail is on my list! I’m pretty out of shape right now though so I’m not sure if it’s a super immediate goal but I loved reading this and will def save it for when the time comes. So excited you did this though, it makes me wanna jump on the trail now!

    • csaradar | 30th Oct 16

      Thanks so much and I’m glad to be able to help with this info. I would definitely start doing stairs and increasing leg strength before this hike. If you can do an hour of stairs regularly you should be ok. Just remember to go slow…you need endurance more than speed 😉

  9. Cynthia | 29th Oct 16

    This is so helpful, Cherene, esp as we plan our trip!

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