So you've probably done some research on the Salkantay Trek in Peru by now. You know that this trek is challenging - rugged terrain, mixed with high altitudes, and extreme climate changes - and it's long, 70-90km route depending. It would be a terrible idea to spend all that money flying to Peru, paying for the trek, purchasing all the gear you need, and not spending enough time prepping for it!
Don't worry my friend, by the end of this post you will know exactly what to do to properly prepare for the trek. You'll be able to push through all the pain and discomfort and you'll make it to the ultimate end goal: Machu Picchu.
If you're an inexperienced hiker, don't shy away just yet. Anyone will be able to hike through the Salkantay pass if they spend adequate time preparing. If you haven't tackled a 10km hike through rugged terrain, then that should be your first goal. You want your body to be prepared both physically and mentally if you plan on making it to the end of Salkantay.
Experienced hikers should have relatively few issues prepping and completing the trek. I'm not saying that it's easy, I'm just saying that you might know how to prepare yourself a little bit better and you should know how to push yourself to the top of that pass!
1. The first thing you should do is practice hiking. Explore your own hometown and get out into nature. You'll want to be able to hike at least 10km without feeling too much discomfort the next day. You can slowly build up to this if you need to, but make sure you start early, and take it slow. If you don't have a 10km hike nearby, do what we do, hike the same trail multiple times in a row until you reach your goal kilometres.
2. Add some weight. Once you are able to hike 10km without any issue, make it tougher. Add some weight to your back if you haven't already. Grab that old backpack and throw some necessities in there; food, water, extra layers, and anything else you might be carrying around with you on a daily basis while you're in Peru. Get comfortable with this weight, and get comfortable having a bag on your back all day. Adding weight might throw off your balance, so be sure to try this out on a shorter, easier hike before you tackle anything major.
3. Try out those hills. We all know that hills are absolute torture, but don't shy away from them. Hill training will be very helpful to get your body conditioned to trek up to the Salkantay pass. There are a ton of ups and downs throughout the trek, so if you practice on them now, it'll make everything a heck of a lot easier in the future.
4. Train with even more weight. I know that I already told you to put weight on your back, but now it's time to add a little bit more. This will make it more comfortable to trek at high altitudes and hiking with extra weight will build up those muscles. Everything from your core, to your arms and shoulders, legs and ankles will get stronger and trust me, you'll notice.
TIP: Put those old textbooks to use, or throw some cans of beans in you backpack and hit the trails.
5. Take extra time to acclimatize. This is the most important point I'm going to mention! Altitude sickness can hit you hard if you aren't properly prepared for it, and it can lead to you having one miserable climb. So in order to help prevent this from happening, you should make sure that you spend extra time acclimatizing in Cusco.
Most trekking companies will suggest spending 2-3 days in Cusco before you head out on the trek, but I'm telling you, you should plan to have 4-5 full days up there. Everyone will react to altitude changes differently, but if you've never been at high altitude before you don't know how you'll manage or how quickly you will acclimatize. Altitude sickness can quickly escalate to a dangerous health crisis, so make sure you take a few steps to help prevent it from happening to you.
6. Build some muscle. This will help you perform better during every hike, not just hikes in Peru. Lifting weights is a great way to stay in shape and look fit too. So grab a gym membership, or buy some weights, and get lifting. Main areas to focus on for muscle growth are, shoulders, back, glutes and core.
TIP: If you plan on beefing up, make sure that you do this months in advance. Unfortunately muscle building is a slow process, so start long before you plan on trekking.
7. Work on your cardio. Having a healthy cardiovascular system will make your body more efficient with it's oxygen use. It doesn't matter if you love to run long distances, or if you just want to pump out a quick HIIT workout. Everything counts and all forms of cardio will help you get to those world-class views!
8. Purchase some good gear. Proper gear is important for you to stay comfortable, warm and dry throughout the trek. Get a few pairs of socks made specifically for hiking, these will keep your feet dry and free of blisters. A good rain jacket will come in handy too, especially with the weather being very unpredictable. For a complete list of gear that we brought on our trek, check out this post!
9. Break in those hiking boots! If you're purchasing new hiking boots, give them a chance to break in. I don't mean just wear them around the house for a few days either. You're going to need to trek around in them 3-4 times in order to completely break them in. New shoes can give you sores and blisters and they can be VERY uncomfortable.
10. Eat properly. Both before the trek and during. You want your body to perform optimally all times, and you want to make sure you have enough energy to get you through the tough parts. Don't shy away from carbs, hiking burns a ton of calories, and carbs are what your body uses as energy. A low carb diet will drag you down and make you feel terrible.
11. See a healthcare professional. You're going to want to make sure that your vaccines are up to date, and that you have any outstanding medical issues under control before you fly out. Your doctor may recommend that you take medicine to help combat altitude sickness, as well as anti-malarial medication.
12. Book in advance. If you plan on trekking during high season (May to July) you should really book months in advance. Although the trek is less popular than the Inca Trail, there is still a limit on the amount of people hiking at any time. Tickets to get into Machu Picchu also sell out quickly, so be on the ball and book as early as you can!
TIP: We booked with a company called Salkantay Trekking. They are a little bit more expensive than other trekking companies, but you don't spend the entire time sleeping in tents, and they can cater complete (and delicious) vegan meals! YAY!
13. Drink extra water. When you're hanging out at high altitudes, you're going to need to bring some extra water. Altitude takes a lot out of you, and water is one of them. That headache a lot of people get when they're at high altitude is actually a result of dehydration.
14. Bring toilet paper. When you're out on the trails the only real bathroom you will come across is the Inca Toilet, AKA a boulder. So get used to squatting in good ol' mother nature. I wouldn't exactly trust that wiping with leaves from unknown flora will be the safest option, so pack some toilet paper to keep your mind at ease. 15. Practice hiking in all different types of weather. The weather in Peru can be hard to predict and it can vary drastically. This is especially true on a long distance hike the winds through the jungles, tundra and mountains. The temperature on our trek ranged from 5 to 30 degrees Celsius!
So there you have it, if you follow all of these tips and tricks, you'll be at the top of Machu Picchu Mountain in no time, and you'll conquer your goals! You'll be able to endure the rough and tough climbs of the Salkantay pass and the long distances each and every day.
Now get out there are start preparing for the trek of a lifetime, and don't forget to be safe and have fun! Push yourself through those challenges because we all know that you can do it if you believe in yourself!