Prepare yourself for the altitude well by spending at least several days in a high place (eg. Cusco, Sacred Valley, Lake Titicaca) before departing. (3 to 4 days is ideal).
Fitness and acclimatization to altitude are completely different! You can be very fit but still suffer from the altitude. Also, you may have been at altitude before and not suffered effects but then feel it the next time. We really recommend acclimatizing - even to get your lungs used to breathing the thinner air! (For more specific information on altitude sickness please see below)
Fitness. It depends how fit you are. If you are of moderate fitness then you should have no problem doing our treks - just take it easy. If you are not particularly fit, then it might help to do some walking up hills prior to leaving home.
Go at your own pace. It's not a race. Most of our tours have adequate time for you to take it easy along the trail. We also find it is more enjoyable to stop and rest frequently, admiring the landscapes than to arrive in camp early and sit in your tent!
Everyone has their own style, but try going up hill taking slow, even steps.
Make sure your trekking shoes/boots are well worn in. (Two weeks frequent wear!) Commonsense really, but there is nothing worse than hiking with ill-fitting or rubbing shoes. Makes every step agony!
Take “second skin blister protection” and your own medical kit. Our own medical kit is well stocked but it doesn't include "second skin" and maybe not your preferred type of blister medicine!
Extra socks! They are light and easy to carry and can warm your toes at night as well as help out in the case of ill-fitting shoes
Walking sticks. This is of personal preference. Some people like a walking stick and others don't. They help with balance going down hill and resting walking up hill. Colourful sticks are easily bought in Ollantaytambo. (Please note, they can not be taken into the citadel of Machu Picchu).
Sweets and snacks. In addition to what your guide brings, we would recommend having some boiled sweets to suck on as you climb up steep passes. (eg. Barley sugar). It seems to give you energy and take your mind off it!
Consider chewing coca. Again, personal preference! Mingle with the locals and try an age old Andean tradition that has somewhat been despoiled by its association with cocaine. It can give you that little boost to get over the pass but is an acquired taste.
Sunglasses. We generally recommend that you take them! But especially on trips where there is plenty of snow (Crossing the Cordillera Vilcabamba & Ausangate) it's a necessity given the risks of snow blindness!
Be responsible. Take the time to check out the Inka Porter Project, and particularly Guidelines for independent trekking in Peru This page also provides a list of questions to ask your agency when booking from outside Peru, with a focus on porter welfare.
On each trek page we have attempted to grade trek difficulties as best as we can. It is very subjunctive as it depends on your fitness, experience and a whole range of factors including your health on the day. Trekking in the Andes is never easy! The most common feedback we get is "this trek was much harder than I anticipated, you should rate it much harder." (about most treks!) Read the reports on each trek page to get a good idea of what other trekkers thought of the difficulty!
The trek difficulties are in relation to one another NOT to trekking in your home country, or even in another country. Therefore Huchuy Qosqo is considered easy, Ausangate considered moderate and Choquequirao to Machu Picchu difficult... but actually ALL are challenging!
Most people can do many of the treks as long as they have average to good fitness and a good attitude. (but they do find it a challenge!) Some training before the trek WILL make it much easier! We strongly suggest that if you do not consider yourself very fit (be honest!) to talk to us prior to doing a trek! Also, please advise us if you have any medical conditions - ie bad back, sore knees, weak ankles as well as other medical conditions. If you do not tell us we assume you are 100% healthy!
We do not take any responsibility for your assumptions about the grading of the treks ("but I thought it would be easier than it was...!") or poor/insufficient acclimatization.
This information is taken, in part, from this site, The Outdoor Action Guide to High Altitude. It should not be considered informed medical advice - for this see a doctor! When reading this, remember that Cusco city has an altitude of 3399 metres!
Since few people have been altitude, it is hard to know who may be affected. There are no specific factors such as age, sex, or physical condition that correlate with susceptibility to altitude sickness. Some people get it and some people don't, and some people are more susceptible than others. Most people can go up to 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) with minimal effect. If you haven't been to high altitude before, it's important to be cautious. If you have been at that altitude before with no problem, you can probably return to that altitude without problems as long as you are properly acclimatized.
At elevations over 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), 75% of people will have mild symptoms. The occurrence of altitude sickness is dependent upon the elevation, the rate of ascent, and individual susceptibility. Many people will experience mild AMS during the acclimatization process. Symptoms usually start 12-24 hours after arrival at altitude and begin to decrease in severity about the third day. The symptoms of Mild AMS are headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, nausea, disturbed sleep, and a general feeling of malaise. Symptoms tend to be worse at night and when respiratory drive is decreased. Mild AMS does not interfere with normal activity and symptoms generally subside within 2-4 days as the body acclimatizes. As long as symptoms are mild, and only a nuisance, ascent can continue at a moderate rate. When hiking, it is essential that you communicate any symptoms of illness immediately to others on your trip.
Prevention of altitude illnesses falls into two categories, proper acclimatization and preventive medications. Below are a few basic guidelines for proper acclimatization:
- If possible, don't fly or drive to high altitude. Start below 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and walk up.
- If you do fly or drive, do not over-exert yourself or move higher for the first 24 hours.
- If you go above 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), only increase your altitude by 1,000 feet (305 meters) per day and for every 3,000 feet (915 meters) of elevation gained, take a rest day.
- "Climb High and sleep low." This is the maxim used by climbers.
You can climb more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) in a day as long as you
come back down and sleep at a lower altitude.
Keep in mind that different people will acclimatize at different rates. Make sure all of your party is properly acclimatized before going higher.
- Stay properly hydrated. Acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss, so you need to drink lots of fluids to remain properly hydrated (at least 3-4 quarts per day). Urine output should be copious and clear.
- Take it easy; don't over-exert yourself when you first get up to altitude. Light activity during the day is better than sleeping because respiration decreases during sleep, exacerbating the symptoms.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol and other depressant drugs including, barbiturates, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. These depressants further decrease the respiratory drive during sleep resulting in a worsening of the symptoms.
- Eat a high carbohydrate diet (more than 70% of your calories from carbohydrates) while at altitude.
- The acclimatization process is inhibited by dehydration, over-exertion, and alcohol and other depressant drugs.