Looking for the ultimate health-kick? Take on the challenge of South America’s most famous hiking trail and you’ll soak up a multitude of long-lasting health benefits.
The famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, that hardcore multi-day hike which retraces the steps of the ancient Incas in Peru, is seen by many as an unobtainable dream. Surely, one should already boast an athlete-level fitness to tackle this mammoth hiking challenge? Or, at the very least, have serious mountaineering experiences under one’s belt? In truth, hiking the Inca Trail can be just the enticement you need to kickstart your health. Not only will it spur you to be more active before your trip but the experience of meandering through the high Andes for days, in some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, may just trigger a renewed desire to lead an active lifestyle.
Tackling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu may just be the health-kick you’ve been craving.
Preparing for the Inca Trail – long- and short-term tactics
Hiking permits for the Inca Trail usually sell out a few months in advance and even a year ahead of time for the most popular visiting months (July & August). The great aspect of pre-booking your trip to Peru is that it’ll give you an incentive to prepare for the hike. The Inca Trail isn’t technically difficult, but it does involve walking for 5-6 hours a day and if you’re not used to it you may want to consider it ‘training’ to head out on weekends and get a few long hiking days under your belt. Whilst you may not be able to replicate the conditions (the altitude being the most pivotal) getting your legs used to being on the move for so many hours a day is the first thing that’ll kickstart your health, long before you even get to Peru.
When it comes to last-minute recommendations, there’s a long list of high-altitude hiking tips you ought to consider. Anyone who’s successfully tackled the Inca Trail will attest to all of them having plenty of merit. For a week leading up to the hike, you’ll want to have plenty of rest: enjoy early nights, refrain from consuming alcohol and eat smaller meals, more often. All these things will ease your body into altitude-mode, facilitating digestion and helping your body peak in top form. It’ll also help preserve your energies so you can tap into them when you need them most – somewhere along day 2 of the Inca Trail and the highest pass of all – Dead Woman’s Pass, 4,215m.
Even the fittest and most experienced mountain hiker can seriously hinder his/her chances by doing all the wrong things in the few days immediately prior to the Inca Trail and that’s why age and fitness level are not always fail-safe predictors of a successful hike. At Chimu Adventures, we’ve had 70-year-olds have the time of their lives hiking the high-Andes and have witnessed super-fit 25-year-olds struggle.
In many ways, strength of mind trumps strength of body along the Inca Trail and you’ll find a positive mental preparation just as important as the physical one.
Check out this inspiring story on the first women porters working on the Inca Trail.
The Importance of a Slow Pace and Acclimatization
You’ll be amazed what your body can achieve once you give it the time it needs to adapt to a new environment. When it comes to high-altitude hiking, as in the case with the Inca Trail, acclimatisation is key. Everybody needs time to adjust to lowered oxygen levels in the high Andes and, if anything, the fitter one is, the more time one needs. Athletes have perfected the art of breathing correctly to soak up more oxygen and they can suffer most when that oxygen is naturally depleted. When it comes to tackling the Inca Trail, you’ll learn to take it slow, the ‘baby steps’ approach very much being the tactic that will see you complete the trail successfully. Your training for this slow pace starts before you get anywhere near the starting point of the Inca Trail.
Cusco – The best springboard for hikes along the Inca Trail
The base town for Machu Picchu visits, the wonderfully historic town of Cusco, sits at a breath-taking altitude of well above 3000m, the thin air slowing down even the speediest of walkers. As a bonus to its illustrious array of attractions, the altitude of Cusco makes it the ideal acclimatisation base: spend a few days here sightseeing before hitting the trail, and you’ll be all the better for it. Reaching Cusco by road (as opposed to flying in) is a wonderful way to help you acclimatise faster. You can read more about this on the altitude sickness guide linked at the end of this article.
Why the Inca Trail could be the secret to kickstarting your health
The Inca Trail taught me the invaluable lesson that, contrary to popular belief, big challenges are at-times best tackled by looking at the ‘smaller’ picture rather than the bigger one. Sometimes, when I was at my most exhausted along the trail, picturing myself reaching the Sun Gate above Machu Picchu isn’t what made me tap into my energy reserves: homing in on an idyllic-looking rest-spot 100 meters away did the trick. Small steps, small conquests, just one foot in front of the other whilst never forgetting to look up and admire the view: that’s ultimately what actually got me to that glorious Sun Gate and that jaw-dropping view. Sometimes, the BIG picture can seem unobtainable and that’s true of any health-kick you may be considering. You won’t get there today so may as well break the challenge down into smaller targets and reach those one at a time.
It may sound cliché to state that you can achieve whatever it is you pour your heart and soul into but, when it comes to the Inca Trail, it’s true: the moment you decide this is a challenge you wish to take on then there’s nothing stopping you from achieving it. Whether it’s a bonus of your already healthy lifestyle or if it will become the health-kickstart you need matters little: get out there exploring the extraordinary Andes of Peru and I bet you’ll never regret it.
Is 2019 the year you kickstart your health on the Inca Trail challenge? Come walk with us! Check out our Inca Trail experiences and tours of Peru, and contact us when you’re ready to set your goals in motion.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”