on August 29, 2006
The Peruvian authorities are extremely concerned about protecting the integrity of the Inca Trail, and for good reason. The number of people who use it annually create a very great risk of degrading the trail and creating erosion. As a result since 2004 the authorities have imposed a quota of 500 hikers each day (200 trekkers, and 300 guides and staff). You simply cannot hike the trail on your own; those turning up ‘on spec’ and expecting to be able to do the trek will be disappointed. Tickets are only sold at least thirty days in advance, on proof that you have booked a tour with a licensed operator – it's easiest if the tour company itself organises your ticket. As of May this year tickets were $60 for adults, $30 for students and under-15s; these prices are being cranked up every year.Your guide will arrange a meeting with you in advance to explain the logistics of the trip. You will be provided with a bag in which you are allowed to pack no more than 5kg of gear – this will be carried by a porter. Anything else has to go in your day-pack. You should be able to hire sleeping-bags and thermorests direct from the tour company, though these are bulky bottom-of-the-range models. If you have lightweight, professional 4-season sleeping-bags you are best to bring it along; otherwise a number of companies in Cuzco can hire them out.Equipment you will need to bring are good-quality hiking boots. Do not leave this to chance. Good boots will save you from a world of pain. Clothing-wise, light-weight removable layers are best. You will be cold at night, and you will be sweating like a carthorse during the day. Zip-off trousers are useful. I found full leg coverage was essential at 7.30am when setting out, but by 8 I needed to be in shorts. Ones with side-zips are a boon, to save you from having to stop and remove your boots. Layers can be taken off and stowed in your daypack. For your day-pack get a light bag with two shoulder-straps and a waist strap. I made the mistake of having a pack with just one strap that crossed my chest. This meant that with every gasp my chest was having to work against the weight of my backpack. All you’ll need to carry in here are essentials – waterproofs, sun lotion, blister plasters, maybe a torch, your water and any snacks (I’d recommend the little coca sweets you can buy in supermarkets). I’d also recommend at least one, possibly two, stout walking sticks. You can buy these in Ollantaytambo.The trail is tough, and I found it a struggle at times. However all of our group, which ranged from school-leavers to pensioners, managed it. If you’re not obviously unfit you should be able to make it. Practice beforehand, and acclimatise to the altitude. Keep a positive frame of mind, walk at your own speed, and enjoy the spectacular sights.
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