10 Things I wish I knew before Hiking the Royal Inca Trail (short hike)

Never make A decision when you need to pee!

Leonard Cohen

Here is a tip, before you decided to do anything, Google “10 things I wish I would have known before…”

Doing the Sexy Llama dance at Machu Picchu

As a blogger, we want to be optimistic about our experience, we want to show the world how great it was. We want to feed you the same “My life is perfect” garbage that we post on our social media sites, but with more words.   

We don’t want to show you every mistake we made, every lousy learning moment, and all the craziness that led to that perfect shot.

The picture above shows me at the end of the Inca Royal Road Hike, with the ancient city below and a somewhat beautiful sunset. What it does not show is I am beyond exhausted, I haven’t been able to catch my breath, every muscle in my body is screaming out, I have more Coca stuff in me than Scarface and I really need to pee.

Because what I wanted to show was how I very easily breezed through this.

In the hopes of more likes and follows, I am going to let you know ten things I wish I knew, did, or understand before I headed out. 

Number 1. Coca Leaves are going to be your newest and best friend. Learn to chew them like a Native.  

Guyo, the brave tour guide who taught me to chew like a native. I sucked at it by the way.

Many people have very mixed feelings about the Coca leaves, especially Americans. Since an early age we have been pounded with the whole War on Drugs. Peruvians are bad people for bringing this highly addictive stuff to us clean wholesome Americans. Yad, Yah, Yah.

If you ask any Peruvians, it is us who corrupted them. It was never a drug before we got our hands on it.  

In the mountain culture, the leaves were used for medicinal purposes. Have a bad ache, here is a tea made from the leaves. Feeling nauseous, chew on some leaves. Have a hot date, chew on the leaves, and you will have fresh breath and white teeth. I am not kidding about the last one, our tour guide pointed that out, and it was one thing I notice, almost everyone there had nice-looking teeth.  

My mouth always felt clean while I was there.  

So, when Guyo (the tour guide) offered to teach me how to chew like a native when the altitude and exhaustion was starting to get to me, I took him up on the offer. And by the time I was done, I was chewing and spitting like a Gringo pretending to be native.  

And if you are wondering, the tea taste like milder green tea.   

Number 2. Altitude sickness is real and living below sea level does not prepare you for it. 

Taking a breather at a couple hundred feet!

As I mentioned before, you are up at extremely high elevations doing very strenuous walking. If you are not from the mountains or not used to it. You will feel it.  

I run a couple of times a week, plus Kickbox, and I couldn’t believe how out of shape I felt.

There are a couple of ways to help with it.   

  • Learn to chew the Coca leaves – this helps a lot. 
  • Spend a couple of days before the hike in Cusco (which has a higher elevation) and run/exercise outside. I wish I had run a couple of times before doing this hike.   
  • Drink lots of water  

Number 3. Seven miles on a flat surface is different from seven miles up and down a mountain 

The Royal Inca Bridge and the start of this Journey

Most of my hiking in Florida is between 7 to 12 miles, and usually, I can do that in 3-4 hours depending on how fast I am walking and if I take any photo stops or breaks. 

This hike was about 7-8 miles, started at 8:00 AM, and hit Munch Pichu around 5:00 PM. In the second part of the hike, I didn’t stop, trying to make up time. I was feeling the effects of the Coca Leaves, and it is better than any Red Bull.  

Just realize when you have to ascend and descend a lot, it is going to take time. Don’t think you can do this hike in four hours (like I did).

Number 4. A good light backpack is key 

Showing off the packs!

When I went, I used my Sierra High backpack, a very good but heavy backpack. This added weight to what I was carrying. We were taking everything for a night at Aguas Calientes and the next day.

During the hike, Guyo carried my backpack through one of the more challenging parts and couldn’t believe how heavy it was. 

Guyo pointed this out when he asked me what was in it, and I told him a change of cloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, a small bar of soap, and my glasses. He thought I was carrying everything else I owned. 

After the trip, I bought the Cotopaxi 16L backpack and realized there is a big difference between a light pack verse a heavy backpack.   

If you are planning on doing this, whether it is the whole seven-day hike or just the overnighter that I did, do your research and find a good light backpack. Your knees and back will thank you. 

Number 5. Good Shoes and trekking poles 

I cannot stress the shoe one enough. My go-to hiking shoes (I don’t like boots) are Columbia Mountain Runners. They are water-resistant and very sturdy. I have three pairs, one for work, one for hiking, and one as a backup.  

Me and the too big trekking pole

Some people wore sandals and halfway were paying the price, while others tried to hoof it with cheap shoes.  One lady had heels on. She didn’t make it too far.

The Trekking Poles are another thing I would recommend. I wished I looked into this before heading out because the ones I had borrowed were too big for me (size matter) and ended up borrowing an extra set that Guyo carried.   

When buying them, pay attention to the height. You want to be able to grab the handles and make a 90-degree angle with your elbows.  

Trekking poles help with both climbing up and down the mountain. They help redistribute weight so that you are not putting everything on your knees. They help with balance. Highly recommend buying a set.

I noticed while I was out there that even the tour guides were using them. 

Number 6. Stair Master Machine 

So, you are going to do it, you booked the flight and the tour, bought the pack…now what. Hit your local gym and become the Master of the Stairs Machine.  

Yep, we made it!

One thing I forgot to do while training for this is get better at climbing the stairs. Most of the blogs I read never mention how many stairs you will be climbing. I think it was over 5,000 stairs or a couple hundred flights of stairs.

If I had to do it all again, I would have concentrated a lot more on stairs and less on running. I would be doing great, getting a nice rhythm down, and we would hit stairs, and I would lose it. 

Take it from me, before you do this trek, you need to own the Stair Master at your local gym. 

Number 7. You don’t need to bring everything; there are stores in Aguas Calientes. 

Hitting the town at night – bars, drinks, and alot of tired tourist

We talked to people who brought curling irons, heels, makeup, hair extensions, etc. You get the point.

In backpacking, less is more and weight matters. After a hard day of climbing up and down those mountains, I knew I would not be in the mood to hit the town looking like a million bucks. 

And here are two hints!

Hint 1:  All of the bars we went to that night were full of people getting off the same trail and looking as beat up as we did. At the point, who cares! 

Hint 2: They have stores in town. If you forget your toothpaste, you can get it there. It might be more, but at least it is nice to know it is an option. 

Number 8. The bus in the morning is always a good idea 

My buddy Pedro, who waited with us for the bus.

Aguas Calientes is in the valley below Machu Picchu, and to get up there at sunrise; you will have to start walking around 3 AM. Mixed in that it is completely dark out and you and hundreds of tourists are racing up a mountain (and more stairs) in the dark, you can see it isn’t the greatest experience. 

I was all for doing the climb, but my bestie vetoed me. It was worth the extra money.

We got up around 2 AM to get the bus (we were on the second bus). While we waited in line, I had a nice hot cup of coffee from one of the coffee stores, shared my ham sandwich with Pedro, a nice dog, had a nice ride up to the city, and got a spot twenty minutes before the sun peaked over the mountains.   

Totally worth the money. I would also recommend walking down; it is a nice easy walk as you go through the forest before hitting the town.  

Number 9. Watch City of Gold…it explains a lot 

Guyo showing us a quipu

As a kid, one of my favorite Television shows was called “The Mysterious Cities of Gold,” which was about the Spanish expedition into South America. One of the main characters is a girl named Zia, who is in Inca. Many culture and history references are in the show (once you get past the colonization and how they downplayed Mendoza). The show explains a lot about Machu Picchu and what was going on during this time.  

The show takes place around the time that the Inca Empire was active and that Machu Picchu was inhabited. It gives a somewhat Cliff Notes view of the history. Bear in mind it is just the Cliff Notes version, and it isn’t the whole picture.  

I hadn’t seen the show since I was a kid and wished I had. I watched it again when I got home and realized I missed out on understanding what I was seeing. 

Plus, you can impress your tour guild by knowing what a quipu is. 

Number 10. Learn to pee in the woods 

On the way down from Machu Picchu!

There aren’t many outhouses or bathrooms along the trail. I hadn’t learned to pee in the woods at that point. This meant I had to hold it THE WHOLE 8 MILES!

Also, make sure you bring your toilet paper because there is none. 

There you have it, 10 things I wish I knew before I hiked to Machu Picchu

The tour company we used is call Tierras Vivas, and the trek we did was the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Try pronouncing this one Winaywayna


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