Inca Trail Tips from Alex Lindell, traveler on a May/June 2006 Peru trip with Amazonas Explorer.
Trekking Packing List and Tips
In your day pack, you should carry your camera (and all accessories), sunglasses, water bottle or camelback, sunscreen, bug spray, pocketknife, blister stuff, baby wipes, sunhat, fleece or sweater, extra socks, and an extra t-shirt. If you want a trekking pole, bring a proper pole with you – the bamboo things they sell at the trailhead are more of a hassle than an asset. At the top of every pass you will be wet with sweat and the passes are windy and cold. You should switch into your dry t-shirt and fleece. Splay the wet t-shirt over the back of your pack so it will dry before the next pass. Although, we had only perfect weather, you should have a raincoat and waterproof cover for your pack just in case. I wore shorts the whole time, but you may want a pair of trekking pants as well if it is colder.
I suggest wearing light colors. There were relatively few bugs on the trail, but they were attracted to dark colors like black and blue.
For the porter carried items you should bring a few extra t-shirts, towel (a backpacking towel is recommended as my traditional towel never actually dried after the first day), pants, down jacket, long underwear, good sleeping bag, warm hat, after-trek shoes (I had sandals and that was a mistake – I suggest lightweight slip-ons of some sort), plenty of hiking socks and underwear, baby wipes (absolutely critical), limited toiletries (Amazonas provided soap so really a toothbrush and toothpaste is all I needed – people with hair may want a brush), and cash ($200-250 was plenty). We also had a backgammon set we brought along which was used often. I brought a book and never opened it. Even if you don’t smoke, most of the porters will appreciate cigarettes.
Get some dried cocoa leaves and chew them on the uphill days. They seemed to work wonders.
Finally, get in good shape. The first people to arrive at camp each night get the first choice of tent. However, this is actually not a requirement, as the pace is quite slow. The slow pace is a necessity to allow the porters time to get ahead of you and set up prior to your arrival. For reference, we did the trail in three and half days and the record for a porter running the same trail (without a load) is three and three quarters hours.
Food & Water on the Trek
The food was the best backpacking food I have ever had. Every meal was hot. In addition, at the beginning of each day they provided us with a bag of snacks. They catered to specific dietary requirements ranging from me (anti-veggie – no corn, eggs, or mushrooms) to the full on vegetarians. Do not expect gourmet food as all the food is carried on someone’s back, but I am super picky and this was my primary concern. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality.
Every morning and after every lunch, Amazonas provided drinking water for filing up water bottles. I did not need the purification tablets.
I recommend planning your activities in advance of arrival, way in advance if you want to do the traditional Inca Trail. There is no need to waste time while on vacation planning your activities.
Don’t drink, or even put to your lips, any water that is not out of a bottle. If they say the ice is from purified water, drink it at your own risk – I am pretty sure I sold my soul to the devil while hugging my porcelain friend at Machu Picchu.
Learn at least a little Spanish, it will go a long way. Be patient, do not expect U.S. type service in South America, because you will be disappointed. Try to avoid doing any more damage to our reputation – George Bush and his “foreign policy” have taken care of that for at least the next three generations.