So several people have asked me to post advice for tackling the Inca trail. I learned a lot, but I was also very prepared due to many years of horse trekking and camping experience. My guide was appreciative of my efficiency and minimalism.
1. Arrive in Cusco at least two days prior to acclimatize, unless you are already coming from somewhere at least 10,000 feet or higher.
2. Bring trekking pants and a trekking shirt. [This means lightweight, quick drying and breathable]. Also bring thermal pants and a thermal shirt. Bring only these two interchangeable outfits on the trail. Keep the weight down, for both you and your porter. [Wear one, pack one].
3. Bring a fleece pull over and carry it with you during the day. You will be hot and sweaty - until you stop to catch your breath, rest or eat. Then you will be unbearably chilled.
4. Buy the cheap plastic poncho. Don't bother with a heavy rain coat. The weather changes at the drop of a hat and digging a raincoat out of your bag would be a pain. Plastic poncho in your pocket is quick and easy. If porters carry your bag you won't have access to it until camping at night, anyway.
5. If your gear is over 12 lbs, hire a porter to carry the heavier bag. Keep in mind they have weight restrictions, so keep it as light as possible. Be prepared to tip your porter well and offer them snacks. They do not get paid well and live in comparative poverty.
6. Your guide handles the permits, government check points and they provide the tent, meals, train and bus fare [for the return]. Keep your passport on you at all times.
7. Rent the sleeping bag and any other gear you need. Easier than trying to carry it from home, and very cheap.
8. Test your trekking shoes or hiking boots before you leave home. Break them in well. They should be somewhat water resistant. This is a very challenging hike, so unless you are an avid hiker or climber, identify potential blister areas and put moleskin on BEFORE you hike. Be preventative! Wear good wool socks. Bring extra pairs.
9. Do not be ''that girl.'' Like the one in my group who delayed in packing her gear each morning so she could put her mascara on.
Seriously. Because the Andes mountains and Amazon jungle care how you look. And packing in your makeup, different clothes for each day, and many little items that you will not use is a burden on everyone. Bring only what will be used.
10. Book in advance, up to a year if you are planning on going between May and August. These are the busy times. Only 200 non-personnel are permitted on the trail per day and permits sell out fast.
11. When walking the trail, find your rhythm. Hiking in a line with your group will break up your rhythm and pacing. Fall back or jump ahead to keep a steady, ground-covering pace.
12. ALL items inside your tent at night! Nothing worse than a village dog taking off with your boot or putting your foot onto a tarantula hiding in there in the morning.
13. Keep your tent door closed at all times. One hiker I met learned this the hard way - she left it open during dinner, went to bed, then woke with a swollen and painful venomous spider bite on her leg. It was in her sleeping bag! Close your tent.
14. Take a camel bak water reservoir. Better and easier than constantly reaching for your water bottle.
15. If you are a balanced individual, skip the trekking poles! I rented them just in case, but it was just extra weight for me, and when attempting to use them it slowed me down. I am not accustomed to putting my weight in my hands and they did me no good. Being a horseback rider gave me something of an advantage over the majority of the other hikers I passed. I am used to keeping my weight in my pelvis and legs. I have experience with shock absorption from dismounts, so I was able to hop down tall stairs that others crawled, and I automatically scan the ground ahead and judge footing and foot placement. I was able to make quick and accurate judgement calls and this gave me speed and grace.
16. If there is a dirt path on the side of the cobblestones, use it! [Keep in mind that it is usually along the cliff]. The break from having your leg and ankle joints torqued from the jagged stones over the miles is merciful.
17. Watch the porters. If they take a side trail, follow them! It doesn't give you a short cut in terms of distance, but it is always an easier path than the stone stairs! Many times I took these side paths and I didn't exhaust myself as quickly as my counterparts.
18. Be flexible. Understand that you are in another country. Do not bitch if the guide or porters do not know your language! Be kind. Learn a little language, do pantomimes, keep laughing. The staff is exhausted from from first world grumpy tourists and a lighthearted take-it-as-it-comes attitude goes a long way.
19. If you have bad knees, don't do it. You might blow one.
20. Coca candy is your friend. I kept one under my tongue at all times during the first three days of ascending.