Why I decided NOT to hike the Inca Trail

Not hiking the Inca Trail

Many people, they visit Peru for one reason and one reason only-to trek the world famous Inca Trail. Sure, they look forward to touring the famous ruins of Machu Picchu, but it is the walk they take to get to said ruins that they are most excited about. In all the years that I spent dreaming about Peru, the Inca Trail was never in those dreams. I dreamt about seeing the sights of Peru, experiencing its culture, learning about its history-but never once did those dreams include walking x amount of miles each day and sleeping in a tent. Not that there is anything wrong whatsoever with that (Angela over at Angela Travels is a perfect testament to the fact that the outdoors can indeed be an incredible experience). However, it’s just not me.

I realize that there are plenty of people who are not really the “outdoors” type and yet still walk the Inca Trail. And the fact that walking the trail takes less than a week (there are routes that vary between three and four days) translates to yes, of course I could have survived since truly, humans can survive quite a lot. However, it was my vacation and granted, while it didn’t always seem like a vacation between feeling utterly exhausted at times, downright unattractive (sweat, sunblock, and bug spray all mixed together while wearing REI attire doesn’t make you feel exactly “sexy”), it was still my vacation. And for me, someone who has camped a total of once in my life (and has no desire to ever do it again), a vacation does NOT include sleeping in a tent, being restricted with what I could bring (i.e. I wouldn’t have brought as much as I did with me to Peru) and doing copious amounts of trekking each day.

Why I decided NOT to hike the Inca Trail

While exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu I did plenty of trekking like climbing these very steep steps.

Okay, frivolities aside, from a lot that I’ve read, it seems many (not all) people who walk the Inca Trail miss out on a lot of sites in the Sacred Valley that I just adored visiting. As in, they have their time aside to walk the trail, they visit Machu Picchu, they spend some time in Cusco, but then that’s it. They never get to marvel at the agricultural terraces of Moray; they miss out on being awestruck by the sight of the salt pans of Salineras; they even forfeit their chance at being able to have the workout of all workouts while climbing the ruins of Ollantaytambo. Yes, Machu Picchu is one of the most incredible places I will undoubtedly ever visit and yes, it was of course the main reason in wanting to visit Peru all these years. But it wasn’t the only unforgettable memory I took home with me from this South American nation.

Why I decided NOT to hike the Inca Trail

Salineras (salt pools)-one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.

One’s health is another reason. Altitude sickness is no joke. Countless travelers are beset with it each and every year and in some very serious cases, travelers have even died from it. When you travel to a high altitude area, it is recommended you spend a few days (if not more) acclimatizing to it, which means resting and taking it easy. After reading numerous recommendations, I decided to “officially” start our Peru trip in Ollantaytambo as opposed to in Cusco since the altitude in Ollantaytambo is 2,000 feet lower than Cusco’s. We still didn’t rest as much as we should or could have, especially since I felt the effects in Moray, but we did what we could. Many people who hike the Inca Trail acclimatize in Cusco, the same city where I often felt a shortness of breath. I took Diamox, which is a prescription drug used to stave off the effects of altitude sickness, which meant never once did I throw up/feel nauseous or have headaches (two common symptoms associated with altitude sickness). Truthfully, I could not imagine arriving in Cusco, spending a couple of days there where I think everyone feels some sort of effect if you’re not used to high altitudes, and then setting out on one of the most physically grueling and exacting journeys ever.

I know there are those travelers who sneer at the people who opt not to walk the Inca Trail. In their opinion, Machu Picchu is nothing but a Peruvian version of Disneyland-mobs of people, lines, a lack of authenticity. Personally, I feel I had no less an authentic experience. The train ride up to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of the ruins) both ways was utterly spectacular; being at the ruins by 7:30 AM meant that they were not overly crowded. And honestly, seeing the hordes of trekkers enter the ruins (with their obnoxious walking sticks, which  by the way are supposed to be illegal to use when at the ruins), I don’t feel they had any more of an authentic experience than myself. I know that Peru is facing a dilemma over how many people should be allowed to walk the Inca Trail each year and seeing the swarm of hikers, yeah.

I know I’m not the only traveler who doesn’t have unlimited amounts of time at her disposal when she travels and that you have to pick and choose what you want to do the most. For me, that meant having the type of traveling experience I personally wanted and also doing what I felt was comfortable and the right choice for me in regards to my health.

If I had to do my Peruvian trip over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. The Inca Trail is  a perfect testament to the fact that travel is one hundred percent a subjective matter.

Why I decided NOT to hike the Inca Trail

Nope, wouldn’t change a thing!

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  • Reply
    October 8, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Oddly, I really like reading posts about why people didn’t do certain things. You absolutely should always do what you want on your travels, not what’s expected.

    I’m not sure if I want to do the Inca Trail or not. I really think so, but I really struggle with steep stairs and walking on anything where there isn’t much space for my feet so maybe it’s not something I can realistically do!

    I had never seen a picture of Salineras before, but wow! You definitely wouldn’t want to miss out on all those other sights.
    Emma recently posted…The Queen’s Hamlet at VersaillesMy Profile

    • Reply
      October 9, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      I do too, for me it’s always interesting to read people’s reasons why on certain decisions etc. I’m interested in one day doing part of the Camino de Santiago, but at least then you’re not contending with high altitudes! With only a week’s time for my vacation, I just didn’t want the hike being a good deal of it.

      Yes, Salineras was amazing! It almost looks fake until you see that it is indeed not 🙂

  • Reply
    Jenn Turnbull
    October 9, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Sounds like you made the perfect choice for you. I think you’re right that a lot of people travel a certain way because they think that’s the experience they should have because that’s what everybody else does. For me, I love hiking so am psyched to be arriving to Machu Picchu on foot. It’ll be interesting to see what I think about all the people on the trail- we’re doing Salkantay instead of the Inca because it’s supposed to be a lot less busy, plus it’ll be off-season in December so hopefully won’t be too bad. How did you feel about the touristy aspects?

    • Reply
      October 9, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      Exactly-travel should not be about conforming to “popular thought” but doing what makes you personally happy/what you want to ultimately experience! As a hiker, I’m sure the trail portion will be your experience of a lifetime. Very cool that you’re doing Salkantay, I’ve only heard good things about it!

      To me, the touristy aspects are what they are-there are so few places today that are undiscovered or rarely visited, considering the type of world we live in. By the early afternoon at Machu Picchu, yes, it was definitely becoming crowded, you had to wait for people to pass on stairs/around corners, etc, so it was a trifle annoying but no different than waiting in line at a popular tourist spot in New York City or Paris. As much as we would like special/unique experiences, we’re just not going to get them and should just appreciate what they are and bask in the moment I feel!

      I did find it funny that a lot of people bemoan how crowded the ruins are and yet the hikers who were entering in from the trail, they were in queues too! Nothing is perfect though 🙂

  • Reply
    Kelly @ TastingPage
    October 9, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Sounds like you made a very wise and perfect decision for yourself. I’m with you on minimizing camping and the totally roughing it part. There’s nothing worse than coming back from vacation…in need of another vacation! And it certainly sounds like you weren’t lacking for great sites. Those salt pools are unreal! So amazing.
    Kelly @ TastingPage recently posted…Shiki Beverly HillsMy Profile

    • Reply
      October 11, 2014 at 9:09 am

      Thanks Kelly! Yes, when you travel it definitely boils down to what you personally feel comfortable with and enjoy. And I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who doesn’t really enjoy camping and whatnot 🙂 The salt pools were definitely one of my favorite parts!
      And yes, when you’re on vacation for a week and come back even more tired than before you left, that says a lot!

  • Reply
    Unplugging while traveling - The Red Headed Traveler
    December 2, 2016 at 7:36 am

    […] also nice to share them when they’re live. It was such a great feeling sharing a photo of me at Machu Picchu the same day I […]

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