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5 Myths About the Inca Trail Uncovered

5 Myths About the Inca Trail Uncovered

Trekking the Inca Trail is on the bucket list for many adventure travellers and quite rightly so, as it is a breath-taking trek following ancient Incan footpaths to the magical Machu Picchu ruins. There are many myths and untruths written about the trek, this article seeks to dispel these and provide some realistic advice for those planning their Inca Trail Holiday.

1) The Inca Trail is over-crowded and you can’t move for other travellers

I have read this statement so many times, in various guide books and blogs, so by the time I came to do the trek myself, I expected to be fighting for space on the paths. I trekked in June, which is right in the middle of the peak season and there were times during the 2nd and 3rd days, when I barely saw another trekker. Spaces on the trail are now limited to 500 people per day, which includes about 300 porters, who all set off early each morning, so actually it is quite possible to find peace and quiet whilst trekking.

The campsites on the trail are, admittedly, busier, especially on the final night when everyone camps as close to Machu Picchu as possible. But by this time your focus will be on reaching the Sun Gate the next morning (and nursing your sore legs) so the lines of tents shouldn’t bother you too much.

2) The altitude makes trekking only possible for the super fit

It is true that the hardest part of trekking the Inca Trail is the altitude. Many people fly in to the city of Cusco to start the trek and at an altitude of 3,500m, it can take a few days to acclimatise. Most people suffer from altitude sickness to some extent, with the most common symptoms including headaches, nausea, breathlessness, dizziness and loss of appetite. These tend to settle down after 36 hours. The best advice is to drink plenty of fluids, rest and don’t exert yourself for the first day or two.

Once out trekking, the key to making it to Machu Picchu in one piece is to take the hiking at your own pace, rest lots and drink plenty of water. The second day, when you climb to 4,300m, is the toughest and most people make it, they just have to walk slowly and rest regularly.

3) It’s cheaper to do the Inca Trail independently

It used to be possible to trek the Inca Trail independently and this is how many people visited Machu Picchu in years gone by. Since 2002, the trail has been regulated by the Peruvian authorities who issue permits through licensed agents. The terms and conditions of the permits mean that you have to trek with a guide and porters. There are strict checks along the way to ensure that all trekkers have permits.

4) It’s cheaper to buy your permits online

Whilst it is possible to purchase your Inca Trail trek or holiday online, permits can only be obtained by authorised agents located in Peru. To be able to do this, they need to take your passport details and a deposit. The local government agency issues 500 permits each day and you can check availability of these on the official government website.

5) Porters are all poorly treated

Whilst historically, porters were badly treated and under-paid, there is much more awareness amongst traveller about responsible travel, ensuring that porters’ well-being has moved into many trekkers’ consciousness. That said, price competition has meant that all aspects of service on the trails continue to be squeezed, including wages. You can help to support porter welfare by making sure you only book your trek through a reputable operator who provides porters with correct footwear and proper food. You can also supplement wages by tipping them at the end of the trek.