Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Local tips on trekking in Peru

Picture the scene: you’re high in the Peruvian Andes. It’s 5,000 metres above sea level, the air is thin, and you’re doing your best to keep altitude sickness at bay. You’re surrounded by snow-capped mountains and the rain is relentless.

This is when you happen upon a teary eyed backpacker, who has been separated from the rest of her group. She’s wearing cotton trousers, two T-shirts and a jacket that isn’t waterproof. She’s so cold that she’s verging on hypothermia and she’s even started to hallucinate.

This is what my group came across a few weeks ago on the week-long Salkantay trek through Peru’s sacred valley.

Fortunately, we were able to take her to a nearby lodge, where we dried her off the best we could, and gave her some hot food and dry clothes. Finally, her exceedingly casual guide showed up, accompanied by her shivering friend, who was similarly under-prepared with plastic bags on her feet to combat leaking boots.

This article isn’t meant to scare people out of trekking in Peru. The point is just because so many people are doing it (up to 500 people a day embark on the famed Inca Trail), it doesn’t make it a walk in the park. Altitude and weather conditions can make it tough, so preparation is essential.

I’ve been speaking to the experts (namely Jose from, Dameiro from Mountain Lodges of Peru and Jose at and getting their tips on what people should know before starting their big Peruvian trek.

If you’ve been trekking in Peru, feel free to add your own.

To combat altitude sickness
Keep hydrated by drinking lots and lots of water.
Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine.
Do drink coca tea - locals swear by it.
Go to bed early, as your sleep will be interrupted at high altitude.

What to pack
Decent trekking boots (fully broken in and making sure toes don’t touch the end)
Sock liners to go inside trekking socks to prevent blister-inducing friction (available from outdoor shops, or ordinary thin socks should do)
Blister plasters
Insect repellent
A warm hat
A sunhat/cap
Longsleeved T-shirt (to protect against insects/sunburn)
Waterproof jacket and trousers
Non-cotton trekking clothes (they dry faster)
Sleeping bag suitable for the season (or you can often hire one)
Consider taking or hiring walking poles, which, according to Cusco Guides, "reduce up to 30% off your legs' effort and also give more confidence when you walk downhill".

Book ahead if you want to do the Inka Trail
(at least six weeks). The trail is closed in February, which is the height of the rainy season. It’s not all about the Inka Trail though. Consider taking an alternative and less busy route. The Salkantay - which traverses nine bio zones and gives an unusual, distant view of Machu Picchu - is highly recommended.