Preliminary Planning: Peru

I’m in the very early planning stages of a potential trip to Peru, and I thought it might help me to hash it out on paper screen. Plus if anyone has any experience with hiking one of the trails to Machu Picchu, I’d love your input!

The trek appeals to me for a few reasons. I’ve never really done an adventure like this where the journey is just as much a part of the experience as the destination. I have some hiking experience, but only on short trails 4-5 miles at most and not for several days in a row. So this would be something new, and I love trying new things. A hike of this length (32 miles) at a high altitude with a hefty vertical climb would be a bit of challenge for me, and I do like to push myself. I’ve been hiking in the Rocky Mountains and the Swiss Alps and we’ve been snowboarding and skiing in the Rockies the past several years, so I’m aware of the potential for altitude sickness. I don’t usually have a problem with altitude changes, but I do notice a slight difference in how it feels to breathe when I’m really exerting myself. I’m willing to give it a try though. (The hiking, not the sickness.) Plus, Chris and I have never been to Peru or South America, and we’re always excited to see new places! The thought of seeing an area so rich with ancient history gives me goosebumps.

2014-07-03_0001hiking in Virginia, El Yunque Rainforest (PR), and Alaska

I have no very little doubt in my ability to meet the physical demands of this hike with some training before we go. Truth be told, I’d like to do this trip while I still have the most spring in my step (although I’ve read accounts of people who have done the trek in their 70s). What I do doubt though, is my ability to do the hike after attempting to sleep outdoors on the ground. I am a super light sleeper and have zero camping experience. To add to that, I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep knowing my camera, passport, and other belongings are unsecured. Ideally I’d like to be able to appreciate the journey and my surroundings, and generally for me to enjoy anything I require sleep and time to reset. In that regard, I guess I’m a little high-maintenance, but I don’t think it’s my fault! I would love to be a heavy sleeper, trust me. So there’s that, and I’m also a little concerned about dealing with my dietary restrictions and sensitive stomach, but I think I have found a solution that will address both of these concerns.

Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) offers a guided Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. Compared to the Inca Trail, the Salkantay option is apparently the more challenging option in that it is a few miles longer at a higher altitude over rougher terrain, but the trek offered through MLP includes lodging along the route in accommodations with real beds, hot tubs (!), and showers. That sounds more like my speed! I’d have a better chance at getting some much needed rest, and I think my dining options would open up a little by staying at a lodge each night. I’ve read about the, ahem, “facilities” situation along the trail, so combine that with the difficulty of the 32-mile hike itself and that will probably be enough roughing it for me. The Eleanor Roosevelt quote is, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” So, that’s one singular thing. It’s not, “Do several things all at once that you think you cannot do.” I promise to try camping another time – it’s on my list.

2014-07-18_0002photos courtesy of mountainlodgesofperu.com

From what I’ve researched, the Salkantay Trek offers incredibly beautiful scenery and perhaps a more peaceful experience due to fewer people choosing this route. I keep reading that the Inca Trail can feel slightly crowded at times. I also like the idea of only seeing one ruins site at the end of the trek – I’ve read reports from Inca Trail hikers that there are several ruins along the way potentially making Machu Picchu feel slightly anticlimactic, though I’m sure that’s not the experience for everyone. I’d probably be weirdly over-thrilled at seeing every single thing as I so often am.

I think I’d love to hike either trail, but the lodging option very (very very) strongly appeals to me, so Salkantay with MLP might be our best bet. I’m slightly bummed at the thought of not doing the classic Inca Trail, but from my research so far it doesn’t look like there’s an option for lodging along the way. Chris is completely resilient and would do great with camping each night, but he always votes for whatever will make me happy. (Isn’t he awesome? And smart – I’m sure he doesn’t want to do a strenuous hike all day with me after I’ve had no sleep the night before.) I realize I’d lose a bit of travel cred for not doing the camping thing, but I don’t travel for bragging rights. I simply want the experience of the hike, the scenery along the way, and of seeing the ruins. And yes, obviously it’s pricier to stay in lodges instead of tents, but this would be our big trip for that year and we’d save up our pennies accordingly.

So what do you think? Am I on the right track with my planning? Does anyone have any experience with either trail, or especially with MLP? Please feel free to comment or send me an email with your advice!

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  • SamJuly 24, 2014 - 10:40 am

    So exciting! I vote for beds.

  • SusanJuly 24, 2014 - 11:08 am

    Yes! Beds totally get my vote, of course.

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