Hiking the Inca Trail in Rainy Season: 6 Tips for Success
HIKING THE INCA TRAIL IN RAINY SEASON
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is an arduous 4 day, 42 kilometre undertaking, under the best of conditions. Hiking the Inca Trail in rainy season involves slippery rocks, high winds and washed out trails. Not to mention, soaking wet clothes and low visibility.
The precipitation in Peru’s rainy season is such a factor that, in February, the Trail closes completely due to the intensity of the rain.
Of course, with just 500 people (including porters), allowed on the Classic Inca Trail each day, trekking dates fill up fast. The ideal weather months of May to August, fill up the fastest of all.
We’d originally planned on hiking the Inca Trail in May, but it turns out a lot of people have the same idea. When we tried to get Inca Trail permits for May, at the beginning of the year, the entire month 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 the ideal situation, but we hoped for the best!
Here are 6 ways you can successfully hike the Inca Trail in 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. They also promise NEVER to 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 Inca Trail cost for a group tour was on the higher end, compared to other companies (we paid $620 each). However, they had better camping equipment, provided sleeping pads, a smaller maximum group size and treated their porters fairly, which was important to us.
If you’re paying the minimum amount for a Inca Trail 4 day trek, a sacrifice is being made somewhere. And it’s usually the porters that pay the price. The company might send 1 less porter on the trail with you, meaning that the remaining porters get loaded down with more weight than is legislated. Or even worse, they’re not provided with sleeping bags, proper backpacks or adequate meals.
We definitely saw this on the trails. There were porters using straps, instead of real backpacks, and loaded down with insane amounts of weight. Make sure you educate yourself about porter welfare, laws, and regulations before booking a particular company.
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.
Hiking the Inca Trail in the rainy season, the stone steps are slippery, and at some points, we were being blown by strong, wet winds. I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like scaling Dead Woman’s Pass with a fully loaded pack! It was hard enough without one.
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 TO THE INCA TRAIL ALTITUDE
Hiking the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu can be done by almost anyone 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 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 hubby 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 the high Inca Trail 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 Inca Trail altitude, but we spent an entire week in Cusco 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. I would’ve finished each day with wet clothes, and without hot showers 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
Agri 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 while hiking the Inca Trail 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 the Inca Trail in the rainy season, is 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. 🙂
Is hiking the Inca Trail on your bucket list? What’s your ideal season to try it in?
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