Seven Tips for Hiking to Machu Picchu
These are the top seven things that nobody told me – that I wasn’t expecting – when hiking to Machu Picchu.
Tip #1: Bring The Right Gear
This tip includes both clothes as well as extra gear you’ll need throughout your hike. I already have written my Machu Picchu Packing List (with a free printable for you!) so be sure to reference that when preparing for your trip. My A1#1 top most important advice is to wear long pants every day. There are SO MANY bugs out there in the jungle, and I promise you will get bitten. I’m one of those people that normally turns down bug spray because “I never get bit”… well, that was wrong.
Make sure your water bottle is durable and closes tightly. I recommend using packing cubes so you can keep your stuff organized in your backpack. Plus, it’s so much easier to slide one cube out of your backpack than empty the whole bag looking for one little thing! Trust me. Don’t forget bug spray, anti-itch cream, band aids, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, a hat, sunglasses, and a warm jacket.
Tip #2: Travel Accessory Necessities
Now this one may not be specifically tips for hiking to Machu Picchu but for travel in general. For two long international flights, I brought all the perfect goodies: a blanket scarf (big & comfy), headphones, headphone splitter so Dan & I could watch movies together, neck pillow, eye mask, ear plugs, a couple books, a portable charger for my phone, and my camera (and its charger). When traveling I usually wear comfy clothes (leggings, tank top, and sweatshirt), SOCKS, and slip-on shoes. Socks are so necessary so you aren’t walking through security barefoot (gross!), and slip-on shoes or sneakers make going through security a breeze. Obviously you’ll be curled up and perhaps trying to sleep, so comfy clothes are where it’s at.
Tip #3: Know your Bags
This sounds so dumb, honestly, but make sure your bag game is right. I was under the impression we could bring a duffle bag on our hike (IDK why), and didn’t realize we weren’t allowed to bring one until like a week before we left. Everything had to fit in our backpacks – and mind you, we don’t have big ones. Mine is a 28L Patagonia Refugio (older though, so the design is different) and Dan’s is even smaller, I think. The mesh pockets we both had on our backpacks were awesome for bulky or wet items, and water bottle holders on the side were easier than (and prioritized over) purchasing a camelbak or hydration pouch.
We ended up purchasing a llama backpack from the market in Aguas Calientes so we could avoid lugging our heavy backpacks around all day… a much smaller daypack would’ve been nice to bring (although I don’t regret buying our cute llama bag!). I didn’t bring a purse with us on the trek, just kept my wallet, camera, and phone in my backpack or pocket at all times.
Tip #4: Altitude Sickness
Two words: COCA LEAVES! These are available at most hostels/hotels in Cuzco, or you can purchase a bag at any of the open markets. Coca leaves come from – yup, you guessed it – the same plant that is used to make cocaine. You can either add them to hot water or tea, or you can simply chew on them like the ancient Inca people. Be warned: when chewing on them, your mouth will go numb. Seriously. But if you have altitude sickness, it’ll go away!
Tip #5: Getting to Machu Picchu
Numer five on the list of tips for hiking to Machu Picchu is that the morning you go to Machu Picchu will be early. I’m talkin waking up at 3:15am early. EARLY. And you’re going to be tired and sore, but you have to hike. Again. It took our tour group about 25 minutes to get to the base of Machu Picchu (arrived at ~4:10am) and we were near the front of the line.
We waited until the gates opened at 5 and began what was honestly the most horrendous experience of the trip: climbing the Machu Picchu stairs. I think our tour guide said there were over 1800 stairs. They’re not manmade; rather, they’re windy, natural stone steps that are DIFFICULT AF to climb. It took us basically a full hour, and we reached the top just before they opened the entrance to Machu Picchu at 6am. Pro tip: plan to sweat through your shirt on the climb up… bring an extra to change into or just don’t wear gray cotton like I did (oops). You get the idea.
You could alternatively take the bus up to the entrance and avoid the hour of stair climbing. I believe it was $12 USD (unconfirmed, as I didn’t take it) but I do know you could use credit card. We wanted to take the bus back to town after our day in Machu Picchu, but it was raining so the bus line was approximately a hundred thousand years long. So we walked. It was brutal.
Whether you take the bus or hike the stairs, be prepared! Buy your bus ticket ahead of time, or be mentally prepared for the task at hand before climbing the stairs.
Tip #5b: Being in Machu Picchu
- There are no bathrooms inside the gates. You can use the bathrooms outside the entrance, and they cost 1 sol.
- You can enter twice, which allows for you to exit, pee, and reenter
- Your hike tour guide will be your tour guide in Machu Picchu
- You are allowed to touch the llamas
- You are not allowed to bring a large backpack, selfie stick, or drone
Tip #6: Get Your Passport Stamped!
Of all the tips for hiking to Macchu Pichu, this one is my favorite! The site has its own passport stamp right outside the exit of the park. Make sure you go do this and stamp your passport! Obviously it has no official credibility, but it’s definitely fun for another kind of keepsake from your trip.
Tip #7: Peru Life
We have a handful of tips for hiking to Machu Picchu already, but here are some that revolve around everyday Peru life.
- Don’t expect hot water everywhere you go. We were freezing after whitewater rafting on Day One, and couldn’t wait for a hot shower… only to find out we were having cold showers.
- Don’t expect private bathrooms (or even toilet paper). We shared bathrooms with other couples at our hostels during the trek for a night. The “restrooms” along the hike were more like outhouses and rarely had toilet paper. Make sure to pack a roll of TP. Also grab some hand sanitizer!
- The roads and drivers are INSANE. They beep, swerve, and drive like there’s a wildfire chasing them. Be extra careful when walking along a road!
- You will not go hungry. All our meals were 4-course meals and honestly were too much food at times. They took a long time, but were usually followed by a peaceful rest or nap time.
- Plan out your money. Use a credit card when possible so you have cash on hand when you need it. We planned a tip for our tour guide, but didn’t realize there would be an assistant tour guide as well… so we didn’t have enough cash on hand to tip him 🙁 The cab from the airport to our hostel was around 50 soles, and the cab from the train station in Poroy to our hostel in Cuzco was another 35 soles. (see below for cash recommendations and our expenditure)
Which tip surprises you the most? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂
If you’re interested, here was our cash situation:
We each brought $100 USD to convert to Peruvian soles. I think we each got around 300 soles (September 2017). I don’t remember every little sol we spent, but here are some of our major purchases, including transportation:
- Cab from Lima airport to Lima hotel: 50 soles
- We took our hotel’s free shuttle from downtown Lima to Miraflores and definitely recommend seeing this area!
- Cab from Lima hotel to Lima airport: 20 soles
- We got this cab through the doorman at our hotel. He used an app on his phone so it was a safe service.
- Cab from Cuzco airport to Cuzco hostel: 40 soles
- Amount spent in Cuzco markets: ~30 soles
- During the hike, we spent a ton of money on bottled water. Each night we had a beer or two, which were generally pretty cheap. One night we did “go out” for a couple drinks at a discoteca that was a little more expensive. All in all, I’d say about 200 soles on drinks and snacks during the trek.
- Amount spent in Aguas Calientes market: ~130 soles (backpack, hat, blanket, headband… yikes. I’m an impulse buyer)
- Machu Picchu: we spent money on an overpriced lunch — but we used our credit card!
- Train from Aguas Calientes to Poroy (Cuzco station): booked ahead of time! I think about $100 each
- Cab from Poroy station to Cuzco hostel: 35 soles
- Cab from Cuzco hostel to airport: 15 soles