KidTripster Teen: 10 things to know before hiking to Machu Picchu
Peru is a really fun and interesting place for adventurous families. But before you visit the Land of the Incas and hike the famous Inca Trail, be prepared. Here are 10 things you should know before heading off to Machu Picchu.
KidTripster Tip: My family and I recommend the tour company Peru Treks. It was mid-range in terms of cost and one of the only outfitters that we found that mandated two days in Cusco for acclimation before leaving, which is recommended.
KidTripster Tip: If you're able, book an extra day in Cusco after you return from your trek to recover.
1/Be prepared for high altitude
If you’re headed to Machu Picchu, you definitely need to prepare for the altitude. You’ll likely begin your journey in Cusco, which stands at a remarkable 11,152 feet above sea level. The city is actually higher than Machu Picchu itself. At that height, tourists have had some serious cases of altitude sickness when they first arrive. So arm yourself with altitude pills and chewing gum. If you’re feeling tired, drink lots of bottled water and rest, as it can take three to four days to fully acclimate.
KidTripster Tip: Before you leave home, visit your local travel clinic and get a prescription for Acetazolamide. Follow the dosing instructions carefully.
The porters also will give you mate de coca or coca tea on the trail. I expected it to act like caffeine, but it didn't. Instead it really helped me feel less sick from the altitude. I recommend drinking the tea.
It’s really easy to overpack for an Inca Trail trip. What may seem like cute accessories willeventually become analogous to carrying around ten pound weights! Trust me: you aren’t going to need four flashlights or a nail kit or a diary to record your thoughts (unless you’re a poet). It’ll become so exhausting to carry your backpack that eventually you’ll ask yourself what was going through your head when you packed in the first place! Only bring the essentials. And don’t pack too much clothing either. Speaking from experience, it’s better to feel a bit disgusting than to continuously need to take five-minute breaks every five minutes up the hill on Day 2, the most grueling day of the hike.
KidTripster Tip: Our family of four hired a half porter, but in retrospect, we should have hired two half porters to carry our sleeping bags and bed rolls. The bags and rolls are hard to affix to your pack. Lightening our load would have contributed to our overall enjoyment.
3/Bring your passport
Nobody hikes the Inca Trail without a passport. Obviously, when you’re on the trail, you want to keep your passport very secure. Losing your passport will spell trouble with a capital “T.”
KidTripster Tip: If you book your tour under an old passport number, as I did, make sure to bring both the old one and the renewed passport.
4/Take tons of photos
There’s no such thing as too many pictures, so don’t forget to pull out your camera. The mountains where you’ll be hiking are absolutely beautiful, and you’ll want to capture the moment to satisfy any future nostalgia. I’d even suggest taking video. Hiking for only a couple of days can be life-changing, so don’t forget to capture it.
5/Tip your porters
The porters are hired to carry your stuff. Some of them work for the travel company, butothers can be hired to carry your sleeping bags and mats. Unless you’re a hardcore hiker, don’t assume that you’ll be able to carry everything. The porters also will make your meals, set up your tents, and even bring you coca tea in the morning (which you’ll want to load up with sugar, if coca leaves aren't your "cup of tea"). The chef for our group even made someone a birthday cake. The porters are amazing, so be sure to bring cash for well-earned tips. Speaking of tipping, generally everyone in the group contributes about 10 to 15% of the trip’s cost; the money is put in an envelope and then split equally among the porters. The tipping system will be explained on the last day, but it’s good to know ahead of time, so that you can carry enough cash with you; remember to tip in soles not U.S. dollars.
6/Bring an extra battery
Bring an extra battery for your phone. It costs about $15 to $20 online. Remember, there are no outlets along the trail. So when you’ve run out of juice and start suffering withdrawal, you can whip out your spare. You’ll also be loved by the rest of the group, who will guilt trip you into letting them use your battery.
7/Don't overexert yourself
The air is very thin up on the trail, and you can get nauseous. So when you get tired, take a break. Pushing through the pain may seem like an inspiring thing to do at sea level, but if you ignore your exhaustion at this height, there are some serious ramifications. Our guide told us stories about people dying from overexertion. So when porters run past you on the trail, let them! Remember they hike to Machu Picchu every week; you don’t.
8/Eat & drink as much as you can
The trail is going to be exhausting, and you’ll find yourself getting some of the best sleep of your life. Remember to get enough food to eat and water to drink. Even if the food is not to your taste, it’ll give you the energy that you need to continue to the next camp. Most likely, you’ll be so famished, you’ll eat anything that the porters put in front of you! Also, remember to refill your water bottle and keep it at arm’s reach, so you don’t have to stop every time you want to drink.
9/Talk to your fellow hikers
You’ll find some very interesting people from all over the world on your hike. Don’t be shy; talk to them! You’ll be hiking, eating, sleeping, and taking photos together for four days, so consider them your family. They have interesting stories to tell and plenty of time to tell them. I guarantee that you’ll make a couple Facebook friends.
10/Open your eyes
The views on your way to Machu Picchu are incredibly rewarding. But in your exhaustion, you may (as I did constantly) forget to look around. Especially on Day 2, you may find yourself focusing only on the ground and ignoring the amazing scenery around you. Take a break, put your hands on your hips like a clichéd explorer, and really look. You won’t forget what you see.
Anders Larson is a high school junior, living in Portland, Oregon. He's a travel enthusiast who intends on eating a pizza in every country in the world. He says there's some pretty good ones in Peru.