Hiking the Inca Trail in Rainy Season | 7 Tips for Success
The precipitation in Peru’s Sacred Valley during the rainy season is such a factor that, in February, hiking the Inca Trail is impossible. It actually closes completely for restoration, due to the intensity of the rain!
Jump to what you want.
When is the Rainy Season on the Inca Trail?
The rainy season on the Inca Trail typically begins in mid-December and ends in mid-March. January and February have the most precipitation, and see anywhere from 120 – 160-mm of rainfall per month.
It’s important to note however that places located at high elevations have unpredictable weather. It’s best to be prepared for any conditions, in any season, since the weather can change at any time.
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.
Of course, with just 500 people (including porters), allowed on the 4 day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu each day, hiking dates fill up fast. The ideal weather months of May to August, fill up the fastest of all.
I’d originally planned on doing the Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu in May, but it turns out a lot of people have the same idea. When I tried to get Inca Trail permits at the beginning of the year, the entire month was already fully booked up!
After a last minute scramble of my travel plans, I was able to fit the trek in at the very end of March – the tail end of the rainy season. Not the ideal situation, but I hoped for the best!
TIP | You can still visit Machu Picchu in February! The Classic Inca Trail does close for the month, but Machu Picchu remains open to visitors. It’s advisable to guarantee your entrance to Machu Picchu by purchasing tickets or a day tour from Cusco in advance.
Hiking the Inca Trail | Tips for Success
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu takes a huge investment of time, money, and effort. It’s something you’ll want to prepare for properly, not only so you can complete it as painlessly as possible, but also so you can enjoy the experience along the way. After all, this is likely a once in a lifetime event you’ll never forget!
Hiking the Inca Trail | Book with a Reputable Local Peruvian Company
Hiking the Inca Trail with an independently booked 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?
The big international travel companies sell Inca Trail hikes, 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 hiking the Inca Trail with a local company. They’ll just be wearing uniforms that say otherwise, and you’ll be probably pay a bit more for the exact same service.
Hiking the Inca Trail | Be aware of Porter Welfare when choosing a company
After a lot of research, I ended up booking my 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 just the 2 of us, without cutting any of the promised services.
Their price for hiking the Inca Trail on a group tour was on the higher end, compared to other companies. However, they had better camping equipment, provided sleeping pads, had a smaller maximum group size and treated their porters fairly, which was important to me.
If you’re paying the minimum amount for hiking to Machu Picchu, 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.
I definitely saw this while hiking the Inca Trail. 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 – whether it’s through an international tour provider or directly with a Peruvian company.
Hiking the Inca Trail | Hire an Extra Porter
I hired an extra porter to carry my gear while hiking the Inca Trail. He carried my sleeping bag, mat, extra clothes and anything else I wanted to give him (up to 7-kg), leaving me with just 1 small backpack to manage for the duration of the hike. 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, I was 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.
Hiking the Inca Trail | Take time to Acclimatize to the High 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.
I ran into several people hiking the Inca 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 its foggy glory.
I 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 finish hiking the Inca Trail. 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, I didn’t do anything extra or special in preparation for the trek. I meant to (sorta), but it just didn’t happen. By some trick of fate or timing, I ended up on 3 hikes a few weeks before the hike – 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 me a little taste of what it’s like to hike at the high Peruvian altitudes. On those mini-hikes, I definitely noticed the impact of less oxygen in the atmosphere. Breathing was more difficult and my muscles tired out a lot more easily than usual.
Most tour companies recommend that you spend at least a day or two acclimatizing to the altitude, but I spent an entire week in Cusco before hiking the Inca Trail, to be sure. It definitely helped. I didn’t notice the altitude at all!
Hiking the Inca Trail | Take High Quality Rain Gear, Quick-dry Clothing and Extra Socks
I invested in Colombia high-tech breathable raincoats and quick dry pants, for hiking the Inca Trail and am I ever glad I 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 again on the trek. Unless you want to carry multiple pairs of pants while hiking the Inca Trail, 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.
Hiking the Inca Trail | Get the Trekking Poles
I’m totally convinced that trekking poles helped me while hiking the Inca Trail.
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 wet, slippery, uneven stones. 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.
Hiking the Inca Trail | Manage Your Expectations
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.
Hking the Inca Trail is stunningly beautiful, no matter the season, and hey, you’ve just successfully walked 42km in less than ideal conditions. Smile. 🙂
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Hiking the Inca Trail: Essential Info and FAQs
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the most memorable things I’ve done… is it on your bucket list?
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Bella Remy Photography
Wonderfully put together, and hope your post helps many others finding themselves soaked on the Inca Trail. It really makes me appreciate all the pre-planning for our trip as we booked in Fall for the following May.
Good planning! I really think May is the ideal month to go. Not as cold, but dry! You got the epic view of Machu Picchu at the Sun Gate, didn’tcha!!? 😉
Bella Remy Photography
Oh yeah !!
Great article Mrs. Bearski!!
Hopefully I can talk the Missus into doing the hike with me one day…
Love watching you and Mr. Bearski enjoy the world!
Aww thanks Ed! I’m guessing you won’t have to talk the Missus into anything. She’ll race you to the top AND win! 😉 Miss you guys. xo