A hike to the stunning 15th-century Inca citadel known as Machu Picchu is on the bucket list for many adventurers. And it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime journey that will take you through a variety of terrain and ecosystems. This hike, though, is not an easy jaunt. For example, some of your trail choices to get to Machu Picchu will take you to elevations that could cause you to become ill with altitude sickness. In addition, the Inca Trail is paved in many locations with stones that can be very unforgiving on your feet and your joints. So before you charge off to Peru, you will need to ensure that you and your feet will be ready to tackle the trails to this amazing ancient site.
The first thing you will want to do is choose which trail you will use to reach Machu Picchu. There are several different options to choose from, including:
- Classic Inca Trail. This is a 28-mile hike that will take approximately four to five days to complete. The highest altitude you will face on this trail is approximately 13,800 feet.
- Short Inca Trail. This is a great option for travelers who don't have the time for a longer hike or are unsure of their ability to complete a more challenging route. The short Inca trail is just eight miles and can be done in one day. Or if you prefer, you can overnight along the trail so that you can time your arrival at Machu Picchu for the sunrise.
- Salcantay Trek. If you want a more challenging trail, consider embarking upon the 34-mile Salcantay Trail. This trail includes a 15,000-foot-high pass and will take approximately five to eight days to complete.
Once you decide upon a route, it is a good idea to start training even if you are already fit. You should, for example, practice hiking on uneven terrain with a weighted backpack. It is also important that you train in the boots that you plan on using during your Machu Picchu trek. That way you can break them in. You should never ever wear new boots on a long and difficult hike such as on a trek to Machu Picchu.
Wearing your boots before your hike will also help you discover if you have any foot issues that could require prescription orthotics from a podiatrist. There are two types of orthotics that you might be in need of -- functional or accommodative. Functional orthotics can help correct any abnormal motions in your stride. These motions can lead to injuries such as shin splints or tendinitis that could cause you pain during your Machu Picchu hike. The other type of orthotics, accommodative, are used to provide additional cushioning and support.
You will also need to invest in a few good pairs of purpose-made hiking socks. You should pack a few pairs that are suitable for warm weather as well as ones that will keep your feet warm when you're at higher elevations. Hiking socks typically offer extra cushioning, which can be especially important when walking on the Inca Trail's hard paved stones. Again, make sure that you train in your stockings so you can ensure that they will be comfortable on a long, multi-day hike.
For the sake of your feet, make sure to also include the following when you pack for your Machu Picchu trip:
- Small toenail clippers
- Antibiotic cream and antiseptic cream
- Forceps or tweezers
- ACE or other rubberized bandages for joint support in event of an injury
Hiking to Machu Picchu is a magical experience, but it can also be a painful one if you don't prepare appropriately for the needs of your feet. So remember to train in your boots and bring the right gear for your trip, and talk to a running podiatrist to get more tips. Your feet will thank you.