How you pack and what you bring can make or break your hiking experience in Peru.
Receiving thousands of visitors every day, Machu Picchu is undoubtedly Peru’s most popular tourist attraction – and it’s easy to see why. One of the biggest and most beautifully preserved Inca citadels in the world, this jungle-backed UNESCO World Heritage Site has to be seen to be believed. From sickness pills to hiking poles, here’s everything you’ll need to visit South America’s most impressive Inca ruin.
Since Machu Picchu has become so popular in the last few years, there are now strict regulations on how many people are allowed to enter the citadel per day. In order for your ticket to be valid, you need to show your passport at the ticket desk, along with your printed entry (other forms of ID may be accepted, but it’s not always guaranteed). You’ll also need your passport for another very important reason: you can get a Machu Picchu stamp in it on the way out!
Remember that Machu Picchu is bang smack in the middle of a cloud forest, so chances are that it will get damp – particularly in the morning. If there’s one piece of hiking gear you should splash out on, it’s the rain jacket. Opt for a breathable, ultra-light jacket with top-quality waterproof technology. If you’re doing the Inca Trail hike, getting soaking wet on the first day (with no way of drying out your clothes) could make the rest of the trip pretty miserable.
Whilst the Inca Trail isn’t as high as many other popular treks in the Cusco region (such as Rainbow Mountain and the Ausangate circuit), the altitude here can still affect those who aren’t acclimatized. In fact, you’d be surprised how many have to cancel their trip due to sickness. A popular natural remedy in Peru is to drink lots of coca leaf tea. However, if you’re only here for a short amount of time and you know you suffer badly from altitude sickness, then it may be wise to come prepared with a course of altitude pills (you usually have to take these a few days before you arrive).
On the Inca trail, you’ll be hiking for an average of five to six hours a day for four consecutive days. Throw in the altitude and a couple of steep climbs, and that makes for a pretty tough hike. Walking poles can be really useful on the steep slopes, as they’ll not only give you more stability, but they’ll also ease the pressure off your knees, essential for that notoriously steep downhill on day three. If you’re visiting Machu Picchu by train, walking poles won’t be necessary, but can be useful inside the site if you need extra support on steep stairs.
While it may feel hot when you’re hiking in the midday sun, temperatures at these altitudes can drop dramatically once the sun sets. Make sure you take a breathable, lightweight thermal top and leggings with you to keep warm.
Even if you’re having the bulk of your gear (such as sleeping bags, tents, food and so on) carried by porters along the trail, it’s always a good idea to keep a small day pack on you to carry essentials like your water bottle, rain jacket, extra fleece, and the all-important energy bars and snacks. Same goes for if you’re just visiting Machu Picchu for the day: it can get really hot here during the day, and the weather can change for the worse very suddenly, so take a small daypack with you to store the essentials.
Despite it getting cold at night, the sun along the Inca Trail and at Macchu Picchu is ridiculously strong. While you may be covered up, make sure you apply plenty of high-factor sunscreen on your face to avoid burning. A cap might be a good idea, too, to help keep the sun off your face, as well as some decent UVA and UVB protection sunglasses.
After a grueling four-day Inca Trail hike or just a full day strolling around the impressive Machu Picchu ruins, a dip in the hot springs in the nearby town Aguas Calientes may be in order. Make sure you bring your swimsuit!
If you’re going to be dipping in some hot springs (or plan on taking a shower at some point), you’re going to need a towel. There are lots of brands out there offering super light, quick-dry “micro towels,” ranging from small face flannels to full-sized bath and beach towels. That way you can still dry off, but without having to give up half your backpack space.