TREKKING IN THE ANDES: Things I wish I’d have known

When I began my 5-day trek last month with Apus Peru, I didn’t know what to expect. I had done a bit of backpacking around the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and a 4-day trek in the Himalayas of Nepal, but I knew this would be a completely different experience.

Megan on a warm sunny stretch of the  Vilcambamba trek!

Megan on a warm sunny stretch of the Vilcambamba trek!

The first thing I noticed on my trek was the climate of extremes. In our 8-hour drive from Cusco to the starting point of the trek, we drove over a high mountain pass where I could see my breath in the thin cold air. A few hours later, we were in the jungle, eating bananas and sweating in the hot sun. In the Andes, the weather changes drastically from moment to moment, especially as the sun goes down. As soon as sunset is over, the temperature drops immediately to sub-zero Celsius. This means that, when trekking in the Andes, layers are essential. When we started trekking early each morning, I would shed my jacket, fleece, and thermal in the first thirty minutes of sunlight, eventually hiking in just a sleeveless top. Packing multiple layers that can be easily shed is a very smart move.

Camping at altitude - you need to be prepared!

Camping at altitude – you need to be prepared!

When I was sleeping up at the high-elevation sites, even equipped with a cold weather sleeping bag, I froze during the night. I’d definitely recommend renting a high altitude bag if you feel the cold! I remember waking up in the middle of the night shivering, even with a knit hat and gloves on. I would also recommend packing warm clothes even if it takes up room in your pack. You can send it with the mules during the day and use it at the campsite when the sun goes down. At Machu Picchu, however, the weather was scorching. In the humid jungle, when the sun is beating down, it gets very hot very quickly. I wore shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, and still spent the day sweating my way around the ruins.

I almost did not bring a flashlight on my trek. That would have been a big mistake. In the Andes, the sun sets around 6:00pm every night, and its pitch black by 7:00pm. If I hadn’t brought a light, I could have run into some serious trouble with a misstep in the outhouse tent. A water bottle is another must; the cook boils water every night to fill the passengers’ bottles in the morning, and again at lunchtime. It’s important to stay hydrated after sweating out all of the liquid during the day, so one or even two water bottles should definitely be on the packing list. Another important item is bug spray. The insects are not an issue up in the mountains, but in the jungle they are relentless.

Our fabulous Guide Urbana, leading the way!

Our fabulous Guide Urbano, leading the way!

The terrain on our trek was a bit different than what I had expected. I had envisioned spending the first two days hiking exclusively uphill, then after crossing the summit hike downhill for the last two days.  Although my guide told me that this is the pattern on some treks, on the Vilcabamba to Machu Picchu route ( we crossed multiple passes each day, going up for a few hours, then down for the next few.

Snowcapped Splendour!

Snowcapped Splendour!

This afforded us some incredible vistas more than once per day. These downhill sections were tough on the knees; I didn’t bring hiking poles, but they would have been very helpful during these times and I’d recommend renting the poles if you don’t have your own.  The major challenges I faced were bug bits, sunburn, and hunger. Apus provides snacks for mid-morning, and the meals are very filling, but I was still glad to have brought little chocolate crackers to tide me over while hiking and burning so many calories.

Nosey llama, early morning misty clouds and Machu Picchu!!

Nosy llama, early morning misty clouds and Machu Picchu!!

Hopefully this blog helps give you some more background to what you might need to bring. Although I could have been a little better prepared if I had known exactly what I would be facing, I had an incredible 5 days trekking with Apus. The trek exceeded my expectations and I would do it again in a heartbeat.


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