6 Ways to Successfully Hike the Inca Trail in the Rainy Season
Initially, we’d wanted to do our trek in May, but it turns out that a lot of people have the same idea. When we started looking into Trek Passes for the trail in January last year, the whole month of May was already fully booked up!
After a last minute scramble of our travel plans, we were able to fit the trek in at the very end of March – the tail end of the rainy season. Not our ideal situation, but we hoped for the best!
Here are 6 ways to successfully complete the Inca Trail during rainy season.
1) Book with a reputable local Peruvian company
Booking with a local company is a great way to give back to the country, and ensure that you have a great trek. Can you imagine having tents that leak and sleeping bags that are not warm enough at night? or food that is not nutritious and satisfying?
There are big international companies that sell Inca Trail treks, but the reality is that ONLY local Peruvian companies are authorized by the government to be on the trail. So even if you book with a well-known international travel company, you’ll still end up on the trail with a local company. They’ll just be wearing uniforms that say otherwise, and you’ll be paying a lot more for the exact same service.
We found that the large companies sold their group treks for between $800 to $1000, while local Peruvian companies sold theirs for between $500 to $700. Where does the $300 difference end up? Well, I can’t say for sure, but I have a guess. 😉
After a lot of research, we ended up booking our trek with Quechuas Expeditions. Locally owned and operated, this is a company that GUARANTEES trek departures, no matter the number of people in the group, and promises to NEVER combine groups with another tour company.
We’d booked and paid to be part of a group tour (cheaper than the private tour), but ended up being the only 2 in the group! And yes, Quechuas Expeditions honoured their commitment and took off with the just the 2 of us, without cutting any of the promised services.
Their price for the group tour was on the higher end, compared to other companies (we paid $620 each), but they had better camping equipment, provided sleeping pads, had a smaller maximum group size and treated their porters fairly, which was important to us. And honestly, if you’re paying the minimum amount for the 4 day trek, a sacrifice is being made somewhere, and it’s usually the porters that pay the price. Perhaps they send 1 less porter on the trail with you, meaning that the remaining porters get loaded down with more weight than is legislated…or they are not provided with sleeping bags, proper backpacks or adequate meals.
We definitely saw this on the trails. Porters using straps, instead of real backpacks and loaded down with insane amounts of weight. Quechuas Expeditions has a great article about porter welfare here.
2) Hire an extra porter
We hired an extra porter to carry our gear for the 4 days of the trek. He carried our sleeping bags, mats, extra clothes and anything else we wanted to give him, leaving us with just 1 small backpack to manage for the duration of the trek.
Unless you’re someone that enjoys the feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing physical challenges (NOT ME!), hire a porter.
In the rainy season, the stone steps are slippery, and at some points, we were being blown by strong, wet winds. I cannot imagine what it would’ve been like scaling Dead Woman’s Pass with a fully loaded pack! It was hard enough without one.
And besides, by hiring an extra porter, you’re giving one more person, who probably really needs it, income and a job.
3) Take time to acclimatize
I believe that almost anyone can hike the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu successfully.
Unless you’ve got terrible knees or some kind of extreme breathing difficulty like asthma, it’s possible to finish. And if your will is strong enough, it’s possible even with those hardships.
We ran into several people over the course of the trail who had all kinds of ailments. We passed more than one individual on the “Gringo Killer,” that was taking each step slowly and painfully. It was obvious that their knees were in agony, but they survived to see Machu Picchu in all it’s foggy glory.
We also saw tiny little girls, carrying massive packs labouriously up and down all those stairs, and then later observed them lighting up cigarettes at the completion of the trek. They too, made it successfully, albeit with some huffing and puffing and many stops along the way.
We saw people of all shapes, sizes and ages tackling the trek, and yes, they all made it to the end too.
My point is that you don’t have to be in peak physical condition to complete the trek. And while the Bear is naturally strong and athletic, I can’t say the same for myself. I have a reasonable fitness level, but there’s no standard in the world by which I could be called athletic. Let’s just say that the last time I attempted a 10k race, I was passed by a lot of grandmothers (and no, I’m not kidding).
Nonetheless, we didn’t do anything extra or special in preparation for the trek. We meant to (sorta), but it just didn’t happen. By some trick of fate or timing, we ended up on 3 hikes a few weeks before the trek – first in Guatavita, Colombia, and then on the islands of Lake Titicaca. In a strange way, I do think they helped, but only because they gave us a little taste of what it’s like to trek at high altitudes, and helped us acclimatize a little bit more.
On those mini-hikes, we definitely noticed the impact of less oxygen in the atmosphere. Breathing was more difficult and our muscles tired out more easily than usual.
Most tour companies recommend that you spend at least a day or two acclimatizing to the high altitude, but we spent an entire week in Cusco the week before the trek, to be sure. It definitely helped. We didn’t notice the altitude at all!
4) Take high quality rain gear, quick-dry clothing and extra socks
We invested in Colombia high-tech breathable raincoats and quick dry pants, and are we ever glad we did.
My rain jacket actually kept me totally dry, and protected me from the wind. There was enough rain at times that I would’ve been completely soaked without it. Without it, I would’ve finished each day with wet clothes, and without hot shower available at the campsites, my night would’ve been very unpleasant indeed. It’s COLD in the Andes at night.
Quick dry pants were also a total necessity. I can’t count the number of times my pants were soaked through and then dried on the trek. Unless you want to carry multiple pairs of pants while you’re hiking, this is definitely the way to go.
Take at least 4 pairs of socks with you on the trek – a new pair for everyday. Even if you have waterproof boots (which by the way are unnecessary – I hiked in New Balance Minimus Barefoot running shoes and loved it), your feet will thank you.
5) Get the trekking poles
The Bear would totally disagree with me about this, since he hated using the poles, but I am totally convinced that they helped me on the trek.
Apparently, poles reduce the impact of hiking on knee joints and leg muscles because the arm and shoulder muscles take on some of the weight load.
A landmark study published by Dr. G. Neureuther in 1981 proved that the use of “ski poles” while walking reduces the pressure strain on the opposite leg by approximately 20% and reduces the body weight carried by the legs by approximately 5 kg every step. On an incline, the reduction increases to 8kg, which translates to tons of weight over a 4 day hike!
No wonder I didn’t feel as tired as I thought I would. I was carrying much less weight!!
Having the poles was like having an extra pair of feet, which gave me much needed stability and balance, especially when I was walking across the wet, slippery, uneven stones of the Inca Trail. They also gave me several extra feet of reach for climbing down some of the extra large steps.
On the Inca Trail, to prevent environmental degradation, only poles with rubber tips are allowed, and these are easy to rent from your tour company.
6) Manage your expectations / Accept it
Finally, the best thing you can do to successfully hike in the rainy season, is to manage your expectations. Accept that you’ll be wet and soaked for parts of the 4 days and prepare accordingly. Recognize that you probably won’t get the classic view of Machu Picchu at the end of your trek, and don’t be disappointed if it turns out that way.
The trek is beautiful, no matter the season, and hey, you’ve just successfully walked 42km in less than ideal conditions. Smile. 🙂