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    How Difficult is the Inca Trail?

    June 26, 2012  /  By:

    The Classic Inca Trail, which takes hikers from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu in Peru, is difficult for most people. There is no denying it.

    To start with, most people are simply not accustomed to hiking for four days and sleeping in a tent for three nights. While the daily hiking mileages are not big, porters carry your gear, and the camping is luxurious, this out-of-the-norm experience can still be trying for many people.

    Perhaps more importantly, there are some serious climbs and descents on the trail. Day Two of the hike is the most difficult uphill stretch, with an ascent of almost 4,000 feet. This is probably much more than most casual hikers are used to hiking at home! On the downhill, Day Four is the most difficult as the itinerary most hikers use includes a descent of 3,650 feet before the final gradual rise to the Sungate of Machu Picchu. This amount of descent, much of it on hard rock laid down by the Incas, can be very trying, especially for those with knee problems.

    The most difficult aspect of the trail for many people, however, is the altitude. The high point of the trail, Warmihuañusca or “Dead Woman’s Pass”, is at an elevation of approximately 4,200 meters or 13,860 feet. Unless you have trekked in a foreign country such as Nepal, climbed a mountain such as Mt. Rainier, or hiked in Colorado at the very tip of the Rockies, you have probably never been at this altitude. Everyone who hikes the Inca Trail will feel the effects of the altitude in terms of shortness of breath, many will have symptoms such as headache or nausea, and a few will have more serious symptoms.

    Yes, the Inca Trail is difficult but there are things you can do to prepare!

    • Hike at home before you go, specifically focusing on hiking up and down hills. If you don’t have a good hiking trail in your area, create a routine of walking up and down the 10 flights of stairs in your building three times per day!
    • Spend time in the Sacred Valley or Cusco before your hike. Cusco at 11,500 feet is actually a tough place to fly into because of the altitude but if you do spend two days there, it will help you acclimatize. Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley is at about 9,500 feet and is another good place to acclimatize, especially if you do a few hikes to higher elevations when you are there.
    • Consider taking Diamox if you have had previous issues with altitude sickness or are very concerned about it. Diamox has been proven to alleviate some issues with altitude sickness. You should see your doctor or, better yet, a travel clinic if you are considering this.
    • Consider bringing extendable hiking poles if you have knee problems (or issues with balance). Any hiking poles must have rubber tips on the Inca Trail.

    The truth is thousands of people successfully hike the Inca Trail each year and only a few turn around because of the difficulties. Yes, the trip might be difficult but that is part of the challenge and will make it that much more memorable.

    Remember, too, there is an Alternative Inca Trail that avoids the big hills and high elevation.

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    One comment on “How Difficult is the Inca Trail?

      Joe G says:

      I did the Inca Trail in April with Zephyr Adventures. A lot of what this article says is right on point in my experience. When first arriving to Cusco, the elevation was high enough that even carrying the weight of my backpack was noticeable…And I consider myself to be in decent shape. However, as part of the tour, we were brought down to lower elevation in the Sacred Valley to get more acclimated as well as did some practice hikes a couple days prior. I started taking the Diamox on the first part of the trip, but didn’t feel it was necessary to continue once half way through the trail.

      As far as trekking itself, our guides made sure to take things slow. Especially on day two with the steepest ascent, it was humbling to take things “one step at a time.” However, once we finally made it to Machu Picchu on our final day, that was the most gratifying experience – EVER. After four days and three nights on the trail, it was almost as like walking into the pearly gates of heaven to finally see that breathtaking ancient city! The physical effort was well worth it.

      Lastly, in our group, we had all sorts of people in various physical shape. One lady had a knee brace and she was fine. Our guides made sure no one was left behind. There was a guide up front, one in the middle, and one to bring up the rear. Zephyr Adventures and the guides obviously know what they’re doing and they’ve planned for every moment and every scenario on the trail.

      Overall, if you’re worried about the physical difficulty, don’t be too worried! The trail is all part of the journey and not just the destination. Slow down, allow the majestic mountain scenery to speak to you, and (cliche as it sounds) ENJOY THE VIEW! Trekking this ancient trail is a trip of a lifetime! I enjoyed it so much, I plan on Trekking with Zephyr Adventures on Mt. Kilimanjaro next!

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    It’s all about the adventure! (It’s even in our name) We wouldn’t want to disappoint by providing a guide with you the entire way, holding your hand. We will provide detailed route directions before each day’s ride. Our guides will be available in case anything comes up but you won’t need to worry about staying with the pack or keeping up with faster riders.

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    What To Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

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    Changes to Your Itinerary
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    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    Different Location Every Night
    We will be covering as much ground as possible, which in turn means that we will be staying in four different hotels. We will have to pack up every day but this allows us to bike from hotel to hotel.

    Route Directions
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    Bicycles
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    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

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    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    Route Conditions
    The majority of the paths we’ll be on are paved trails separate from car traffic, but there are a few gravel sections and very limited sections where we will be sharing with cars.

    Route Directions
    It’s all about the adventure! (It’s even in our name) We wouldn’t want to disappoint by providing a guide with you the entire way, holding your hand. We will provide detailed route directions before each day’s ride as well as have GPS units available. Our guides will be available in case anything comes up but you won’t need to worry about staying with the pack or keeping up with faster riders.

    Bicycles
    We have available for rent very nice 27-speed touring bicycles that are suitable for the road conditions we encounter on this trip. You have your choice of drop down or upright handlebars and standard or SPD pedals. You can also rent a road bike for an extra charge. Bicycle rentals come with a front handlebar or rear bag and a lock but you must bring your own helmet.

    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

    ×
    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    Different Location Every Night
    We will be covering as much ground as possible, which in turn means that we will be staying in four different hotels. We will have to pack up every day but this allows us to bike from hotel to hotel.

    Route Directions
    It’s all about the adventure! (It’s even in our name) We wouldn’t want to disappoint by providing a guide with you the entire way, holding your hand. We will provide detailed route directions before each day’s ride as well as have GPS units available. Our guides will be on the trail with you but you won’t need to worry about staying with the pack or keeping up with faster riders.

    Bicycles
    We have available for rent very nice 27-speed touring bicycles that are suitable for the road conditions we encounter on this trip. You have your choice of drop down or upright handlebars and standard or SPD pedals. You can also rent a road bike for an extra charge. Bicycle rentals come with a front handlebar or rear bag and a lock but you must bring your own helmet.

    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

    ×
    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    Altitude
    The altitudes on the Inca Trail can vary greatly, anywhere from 3,750ft to 13,776 ft. Getting altitude sickness is no fun. You may want to take extra precautions to help avoid the risk of altitude sickness such as gradually acclimating to the altitude by arriving in Cusco a few days before our trek begins or purchasing over the counter medications.

    Booking Early
    There are 500 Inca Trail passes available each year – and they always sell out! Because of this, you’ll want to book early in order to secure your spot.

    Accommodation Flexibility
    Often times our first choice hotels are not available. If this is the case, we will substitute these hotels with equal or better options.

    Bathrooms
    We’ll be hiking on the majestic Inca Trail, which means flushing toilets will be scarce. We will be providing a private, clean toilet tent when we set up camp for the night, but you will need to use the faciliTREES while on the trail.

    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

    ×
    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    Flights
    We’re not going to lie, the flights to New Zealand are long, ranging from 14 – 18 hours depending on where your starting airport is located, and expensive – but it’s absolutely worth it!

    Limited Trail Options
    We’ll be hiking point to point in order to cover as much ground as possible during our time in New Zealand. Because of this our the days on the QCT are NOT as flexible and we are not able to offer a range of route distances. On these days you will need to be prepared to do the full distance. However on one of the days, you may opt out of the hike by taking a boat ride (NZ $45) instead. Though you would miss the beautiful trail scenery, there is a lot to do at the Lodge where we’ll be checking into and you would otherwise not get a lot of time there.

    Not So Vegetarian Friendly
    We truly try to accomodate everyone’s meal preferences on every trip, but due to the location of this tour Vegetarians should take note that meals are meat heavy.

    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

    ×
    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    Weather
    We’ll certainly be having some fun in the sun and enjoying the 78 – 84 degree F days. The temps can then drop to the mid-50s at night, making it ideal camping conditions – but please bring layers!

    Equipment
    We’ll be supplying you with all equipment needed for kayaking and camping. However, we would recommend bringing your own sleeping bag and wet suit. If you don’t have a sleeping bag or wet suit, don’t fret, there will be ones available to rent if needed.

    Difficulty Level
    Our Baja trip is rated Moderate, which means that some base fitness is required, as our main mode of transportation will be via kayak. However, you do not need to be an experienced kayaker, for a few reasons: a motor boat escorts us and transports all our gear, so kayaks are light; you have the option of selecting a tandem kayak and we can pair you with a stronger paddler or guide, which means you wouldn’t have to paddle as hard; and if you decide to skip the kayak for a day, it is no problem as you can ride the motor boat to the next camp and paddle a shorter distance from camp when you arrive.

    Physical Preparation
    If you want to prepare physically prior to the trip, your enjoyment will likely increase!  We recommend anything that strengthens your core and shoulders/arms.  Yoga, sit-ups and push-ups are all good.  If you belong to a gym, you might ask a trainer what would be good exercises to prepare for kayaking.

    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

    ×
    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    No Single Supplements
    We get to journey to the end of the earth! Limited space comes with the territory and therefore, no single supplements are available for the overall trip. The lodging will be dorm style for the majority of the tour, but you may be able to request a single supplement for our hotel nights. If this is something you’d like to consider, please let us know as costs vary.

    Lodging and Meals
    Seeing as we are basically leaving civilization behind in order to explore one of the remotest places in the world, meals and lodging isn’t of the five-star quality kind. For instance, it is difficult to find fruit, but we believe it’s all a part of the experience!

    Shuttle Time
    In order to get you from civilization to these remote locations, there will be some time spent driving in vans. This can’t be avoided, but we guarantee it’s worth the trip!

    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

    ×
    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    Snow
    Weather is always unpredictable and winter in Yellowstone is no exception! It is possible that there may be no snow, but don’t fret, we plan great alternate activities to take the place of the cross country skiing and snowshoeing if this happens to be the case.

    Snow Coach
    While in Yellowstone, we’ll be taking the snowcoach to get from place to place. These fun and funky snow vehicles can get quite crowded as they fit all our gear and people from two vans into one! But they are definitely a part of the experience and allow us to do and see things that wouldn’t be possible without them. Plus we strive to be responsible citizens of this sensitive area and not waste resources for the 30-mile trip in! (Snowcoaches get about 2-3 miles per gallon of gas)

    Pack Appropriately
    Since we’ll be transporting in the snowcoaches, and therefore have limited space, you’ll want to pack smartly. Wear what you want to wear for snowshoeing and pack your extra ski clothes, lunch, and x-c shoes in your ski backpack. This will be on your lap during the snowcoach ride. Your overnight bag should include only what you need for two days: toiletries, wallet, reading materials, pjs, dinner clothes for 2 nights, ski clothes for Day 3 (clean base layers), socks, and shoes (if you don’t want to wear your boots to dinner).

    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

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    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    Shuttle Time
    We get to explore the 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone National Park – and given the sheer size of the park itself, we will have to have spend time shuttling from point to point. But no fear, keep your eyes peeled as we drive as we will get to see some amazing sights along the way!

    Food and Lodging in Yellowstone
    Staying inside the park is a top priority – you get to explore and experience so much more by staying in the heart of Yellowstone. Since it is a national park, the accommodations and food options are not going to be equal to a five-star hotel. But, we think the rustic experience just adds to the overall adventure!

    Delays in Yellowstone
    It is not uncommon to get stuck by one of Yellowstone’s famous “Bison Jams”.  This is when a herd of bison has decided to cross one of the roads within the park and causes a traffic jam.  Though they can be inconvenient while trying to stay on time, it is a one-of-a-kind experience that you won’t find anywhere else.  Additionally, July is one of Yellowstone’s busiest months so the park will be crowded.  Your guides try to manage this by timing the tour schedule appropriately as well as showing you lesser known (and frankly better!) vantage points for some of the biggest attractions.

    Beer Activities
    This beer tour is anything but typical. We will technically only be touring one brewery during our trip. We figure, being in the gorgeous setting of Montana and Wyoming, why keep our guests indoors? We’ll certainly be quenching your thirst with a wide variety of beer throughout the trip with beer-paired dinners, meet and greets with brewery staff, and tastings in breathtaking settings (like overlooking Old Faithful!) You’ll learn and taste just as much, if not more, than if we were taking you from brewery to brewery.

    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

    ×
    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    Shuttle Time
    We’ll be exploring a number of breathtaking and diverse hiking trails and bike paths – not to mention some amazing breweries. This means we will need to shuttle to and from trailheads and breweries. We will also be driving to and from the Great American Beer Festival that is being held in Denver. We promise the road time is worth every amazing sight and sip of this trip.

    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

    ×
    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    Visiting a Developing Country
    Tanzania is a developing country which means life is taken at a slower pace. It also means no internet. We highly recommend taking this rare chance to disconnect and give your brain a little peace and relaxation!

    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

    ×
    What to Expect On This Trip

    As on all of our adventures, we want to ensure you have the best experience possible – which is why we like to set expectations appropriately for every trip.

    Cost
    Alaska is one expensive place! On average, it is 20% higher in all costs compared to other parts of the US and the price of this tour reflects that. Despite this, the last trip we ran in Alaska was rated a 4.5 out of 5 (5 = outstanding) in “Value for Money.”

    Wildlife
    Alaska is also one wild place! It is quite possible to see a moose as you roll along the trail, or a bear in the road as you walk to dinner. Even though we spend our time in the most populated areas of Alaska, wildlife sightings are common (although actual encounters are rare). We take precautions to make sure you remain as safe as possible while out and about. Our guides are trained to minimize our risks.

    Rain
    Alaska is also one wet place! Weather is one element out of our control and Alaska is well-known for its wet climate. You should be prepared to have moments of skating or biking on wet pavement. Fortunately, the mountains continually cycle the air and the rain usually doesn’t last all day. Since our trip dates are near the solstice, the days are very long, allowing us to adjust our schedule as necessary by delaying our trail activities until things are drier. If we absolutely are not able to skate or bike, there are plenty of other fun things to do!

    Changes to Your Itinerary
    While everything under “What is Included” on the right side column will remain the same, the actual restaurants, hotels, and activities listed in our itineraries are subject to modifications. Changes that are out of our control are common – a restaurant closes or loses its awesome chef, a winery changes its visiting hours, a hotel gets remodeled, a road or trail undergoes construction. You are entrusting us to create an outstanding vacation for you and so it is possible we may take the liberty of making necessary changes (even at the last minute, during the guides’ scout trip) to the itinerary that will improve your overall trip experience. If there is any one experience that is going to make or break your trip, please discuss this with us in advance! We will attempt to keep our website itinerary as current as possible and communicate any major changes with you in the weeks prior to the tour.

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