Stretching 43 km across verdant valleys of lush greenery, the Inca Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the world. The trail must be done with a registered operator and there is a limit to the number of trekkers who have access each day. During the hike, your main luggage can be stored in Cuzco; for the classic four day hike, you are given a small duffel bag in which to store your essentials for the next few days. This duffel bag, along with your sleeping bag, will be carried by the porters during the day – they must weigh no more than 6 kgs exactly, a legal requirement. You will not have access to this bag while you’re hiking, so it’s important to be careful how you split your belongings between your duffel and your day bag!
On the trail:
- Good hiking shoes, broken in. Hiking shoes with an ankle guard are ideal, as they will give your feet more support. I found that my ankles hurt the most after a day’s hike! Don’t forget to ensure your shoes have a good tread as the steps can be slippery!
- Socks. I wore a double layer – liner socks, followed by a medium weight wool sock. The liner socks wicked away sweat and kept my feet dry, while the wool kept them warm. Don’t wear cotton socks, they will only get soggy with damp by day’s end.
- Hiking sticks. You can hire these, and I am glad I did! I only hired one, which helped to counter my dodgy knees on steep descents. Ensure that any you use have a rubber tip, which protects the trail from damage.
- Sunglasses, hat and sunblock. It’s no fun getting sunburn, so remember to pack a small bottle of sunscreen in your day bag and reapply according to the prescribed directions. A soft, light hat with a brim is also advised to keep your face from burning up.
- Bug spray. I had no issues, but for the insect-shy, bug spray should deter creepy crawlies and the mosquitoes from biting!
- Layers of clothing. A thin sleeveless thermal top, a short sleeved cotton top, followed by a fleece if cold, a rain jacket if sprinkling, and a poncho if it was raining hard. Wearing layers is ideal as it allows you to adjust according to the changeable mountain weather.
In my day bag:
- Passport. Your Inca trail permit is tied to your passport number and officials at checkpoints will need to sight your passport to let you continue.
- Plastic zip lock bags. Bring some in different sizes to protect your passport, electronics and keep anything you want dry. It rains on the trail, and often!
- Toilet paper. There are limited number of toilets on the trail, and none of them will have toilet paper. Bring your own in a zip lock bag (see above)
- 1.5 litre bladder and a 750 ml water bottle. The porters boil water every morning, and you can fill up during stops taken in the day. A bladder was best, as I found I didn’t have to stop walking in order to drink.
- Personal snacks. High energy snacks like chocolate bars, fruit, nuts and jerky are ideal. You will be given snacks at the start of your trek, but it’s always wise to bring some extra, if only to trade them with the porters for coca leaves!
- Poncho. A good quality poncho that is long enough to comfortably cover your daypack when worn over it, and reaches down to your knees is ideal. There are cheap versions for sale in Cusco and Ollantaytambo, but I advise getting a thicker, better quality version (Mine cost US$16 from a random shop in the latter town) – it’s never fun to hike in the wet!
- Rain jacket. If it’s sprinkling but not quite wet enough to pull out the poncho, a rain jacket will be sufficient to keep off the damp. I also found that layering the poncho over the rain jacket in the downpour I experience on Day 3 kept me dry as a bone.
- A fleece. The high altitude along the trail means that it can get cold at night, but it’s wise to also keep a fleece in your daypack – the winds can pick up, especially along Dead Woman’s Pass, which is located at 4,200m.
- Camera and spare batteries. Forget your other electronic gizmos – the camera is the only thing you need. Carry it in your daypack – the views along the Inca Trail are sublime, and you will want to remember them. Don’t forget to ziplock it in case of rain! There are no power outlets on the way, so bring fully powered spare batteries.
- Antibacterial gel. Apply before snacking, after using the camp toilets, or anytime you feel you need to sanitise your hands – there is no soap or running water along the trail.
- Knee guards. If you have dodgy knees (like me), the Inca Trail is going to be challenging. It’s more of a giant Stairmaster than a meandering trail. Knee guards alleviate the burden and even if you don’t use them, they’re light and easy to pack. Just in case.
With the porters:
- Sleeping bag. This can be hired for about US$20; I brought a silk liner, which added an extra layer of warmth – I usually use a liner when I hire sleeping bags anyway.
- Change of clothes. Mostly layers and thermals. I brought 1 spare pair of pants, and two thermal tops, which I changed everyday, and 1 spare cotton tee shirt. This more than sufficed.
- Wet wipes. There are no showers on the trail, except on the last day. The porters come around with warm water at the end of each day, but this is sufficient only to wash your face and hands. For other, more hard to reach places, zip up your tent for some privacy, and whip out the wet wipes.
- Personal items. The usual – toothbrush, toothpaste, contacts, contact lens solution, glasses; and the not so usual – disposable underwear, hedgehog mascot, conch horn, “I DID IT!” signs, etc.
- Torch. Absolutely essential, especially for after dark trips to the bathroom or for rummaging around in your bag at night.
- First aid kit. The guides usually carry a comprehensive kit, but for your own use you may want to pack Immodium, Panadol, Nurofen, bandaids and antiseptic.
- Ear plugs. Thin tent canvases do little to keep sound out. You’ll need ear plugs if you’re a light sleeper.