Hiking events

Peru’s Inca Trail: Expert Hiking and Climbing Tips from Local Guide Maritza Chacacanta

How did you come to mountaineering?

I was born in the city of Cusco, in the south of Peru. I’ve worked in tourism and climbing here for 20 years, and now work as Intrepid Travel’s assistant operations manager for trekking in Peru. I started trekking in 2000 and I have probably walked the Inca Trail more than 500 times, among many others.

Trekking has always been a way for me to share my love of the mountains with tourists. Mountains are where we live — they are part of our culture and are considered sacred. We call them ‘Apus’ which means ‘sacred mountains’ – we still believe in the sanctity of Mother Earth as part of our Quechua religion and that the mountains are our protector. Climbing the mountains helped me connect and learn more about my own culture.

I learned a lot from the people here – the herders taught me how to chew cocoa leaves for energy and how to hold sacred ceremonies to give thanks to the mountains. I can pass that on now.

What advice would you give to newcomers?

Prepare yourself physically but also psychologically. Get as much information about the trip as possible before you go. I’ve had many clients on the Inca Trail who mistakenly thought it was a mostly flat hike, but then suffered from altitude sickness. Although some could endure this physically, it hampered their mental ability to enjoy the whole experience. Some even had to leave the trail because of it.

I’ve met people who didn’t practice much at all, but were mentally prepared and could push and finish the trails. It’s important to learn as much as you can about the climbing conditions, allow yourself time to acclimatize to the altitude, and get the best gear for the trip.

What are the essential equipment?

Good hiking shoes are the most important thing. You must protect your ankles on all ascents and descents. If it’s a new pair, wear them at home and practice before hitting the track. You can buy the most expensive high-tech hiking boots in the world, but if they’re brand new, you can get blisters that prevent you from enjoying the climb. Be sure to practice the full range of motion (down as much as up) to avoid blistering or chafing anywhere.

I would also recommend proper hiking clothes. The weather in the mountains is very unpredictable, so be prepared for all seasons. It can rain or snow even in the dry season, so bring a thermos for the night when the temperature can drop below zero. During the day it can be extremely hot, so sunscreen, wet wipes, insect repellent and a premium water bottle are absolutely essential.

Also get a good sleeping bag designed for all seasons, not just the one you would camp with on a beach. You can usually rent them in Cusco, but, even then, be sure to bring at least a good waterproof liner. While a good waterproof jacket is essential, you should also get a poncho; they are extremely useful, especially in heavy downpours, as they can cover your backpack and help keep the rest of your gear dry.

A first aid kit is another must. Your tour guides and porters are likely to have good first aid training and carry basic kits, but it’s worth being better prepared. Bring pills to relieve altitude sickness, as well as electrolytes. You can get dehydrated quickly in the mountains, even if you drink two or three liters of water a day. Get yourself a decent backpack – a proper hiking backpack big enough to carry everything you need for your trip, without weighing you down too much.

There is no electricity on the mountain peaks, and extreme weather conditions can affect your phone’s battery, so no matter how good your phone is, bring a spare battery with multiple charges. You will also need an appropriate torch for hiking; the one on your phone isn’t good enough for a night in the mountains.

Finally, one of the most important things to bring is a positive attitude and an ability to adapt. Being able to ride with things like rainy weather in the dry season will help you enjoy the climb more and take the experience for what it is.