For those of us that maybe aren’t quite fit enough to take on the most popular of the treks to Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, or who simply didn’t book it early enough (the trek is now so popular that you need to book at least five months in advance), there is an alternative. The Inca Jungle Trek is an action packed, fun and backpacker-budget friendly option which combines a fairly easy hike with extra activities like mountain biking and zip lining, and is fast becoming a very popular alternative to the traditional Inca Trail. (If you are doing the Inca Trail, check out the packing list for that tour here)
I did the Inca Jungle Trek with Conde Travel, who were excellent. Our guide was lovely and the tour was great fun, and they seemed like one of the better organised tour operators. However, even with a detailed briefing the night before, and a recommended packing list on their website, I was still really unsure what to bring.
The four day Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu involves so many different activities, terrains and climates that it’s possibly one of the hardest trips to pack for. On the one hand, it feels like there is a lot of stuff you’ll need for all those different activities, but on the other hand you’ll be carrying it all yourself while you hike so you want to pack light. My advice is to pack as little as possible. You might need to re-wear some dirty items, but no one is judging.
Things to Consider
Just a brief outline of the four day trip. This is the structure that most tour companies follow, although it may vary slightly.
Day One – Mountain biking from the top of Abra Malaga (4350m a.s.l) to Huamanmarca (starts out cold and wet, finishes warm and sunny – protective gear is provided), optional white water rafting in Santa Maria (very wet – ineffective plastic clothing is provided so just wear swimwear underneath), one hour uphill hike through the jungle. Night in a jungle lodge outside of Santa Rosa.
Day Two – Eight hours hiking through jungle and valleys (usually mild weather but the ground can be muddy). Swimming (and a shower) at the Santa Teresa hot springs. Night in a hostel in Santa Teresa.
Day Three – Optional Zip Lining over a canyon outside of Santa Teresa, or alternatively a three hour hike to the Hydroelectric plant (usually sunny and dry), followed by an easy three hour hike from the Hydroelectric plant to Aguas Calientes (usually sunny, but can be rainy depending on the time of year). Night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes.
Day Four – Actually visiting Machu Picchu (weather depends on the time of year, but during the dry season expect a cool morning which gets very hot by about 10/11am).
Altitude and Weather
I did the Inca Jungle Trek in mid April, which was the end of the rainy season. The temperatures don’t vary too much throughout the year, but there is much more rainfall on the trail between November and March. Days are mostly warm to hot, with occasional sporadic rain, and cool nights and mornings. Rainfall can be very heavy – a dry sac or bin liner for the things inside your bag can come in handy.
The altitude on the Inca Jungle trek is generally lower than that of Cuzco (3,400m), so after a few days acclimatising there you should be fine. The very first part of the tour, though, starts at 4350m for some incredible downhill mountain biking, so you might want to take coca leaves, sweets or tea to help with the altitude sickness. After this you’ll be much lower altitudes: 1550m in Santa Teresa, 2040m in Aguas Calientes, and 2430m in Machu Picchu itself.
The mountain biking, being at a much higher altitude, is usually very wet – you will start off cycling through thick clouds and mist and further down you’ll probably encounter heavy rain, as well as having to cross a few streams on your bike. You’ll have protective gear on so just wear warm, quick-drying clothes.
Unlike with the more strenuous hikes, there are no porters to carry your stuff, so only bring exactly what you need. You can leave all your other luggage in storage at your accommodation in Cusco. Bear in mind that everything you bring will be on your back for around eight hours on the second day.
Worth taking note of a few heavy things you definitely don’t need – sleeping bag or blankets, blow up pillows, jeans, make up, bulky toiletries, or more than one bottle of water. You can buy bottled water all along the way – roughly every two hours on the full day hike – so just take one bottle, or better yet a lightweight water bladder like a Platypus or Camelbak.
- One jumper/fleece for the mountain biking and cooler evenings.
- Walking shoes/boots (or very sturdy trainers) – these should be waterproof. The hike isn’t too demanding, so walking shoes rather than hiking boots are fine and are more lightweight, anyway. I recommend the Pebble IsoGrip Walking Shoes for women, or the Field Extreme Walking Shoes for men, both from Mountain Warehouse. Read why in my review.
- Comfy hiking socks to wear with your walking shoes if needed.
- One change of footwear for evenings (as lightweight as possible – preferably flipflops)
- Raincoat or poncho
- Either: one pair of comfy shorts and one pair of walking trousers
- Or: One pair of walking trousers that zip off into shorts (the best option). My recommendation are the Travel Extreme Zip Off Walking Trousers from Mountain Warehouse, as they are also anti-mosquito – perfect for the jungle hike. Read my review for more information. Whatever you do, get trousers that dry quickly – the last thing you want to do is put wet trousers back on.
- Optional – One pair of leggings or light comfy trousers – to wear during evenings or while your walking trousers dry out. Double these up as sleepwear to save space.
- No more than four t-shirts or vest tops – comfy stuff that you don’t mind getting dirty
- (For girls) one sports bra
When you leave on the first day, it’ll be cold, so wear one or two of your t-shirts under a jumper and raincoat, plus walking trousers. Girls should wear their sports bras too. You’ll be given full protective gear including jackets and trousers to go over the top of everything. When you finish mountain biking, you can take your wet clothes off and leave them in the sun to dry while you have lunch. If you’re doing the white water rafting (and I recommend it), just wear swimwear under the provided plastic clothing, as you’ll get completely soaked – and your clothes won’t dry in the humid jungle.
On the second day, just wear your walking trousers again if they’re zip-off, or go for shorts straight away if not. It’ll be hot and humid most of the day.
On the third day you can wear shorts and a t-shirt for the zip lining and the hike, but keep a rain coat or poncho to hand. Agaus Calientes can be cooler at night so comfy trousers are handy if you plan to browse the shops and market.
The last day is tricky, as you’ll leave around 4:30am when it’s pretty cold, so you’ll want warmer clothes and a sports bra for tackling the climb, but once you’re in Machu Picchu and the sun is up it gets very hot. You probably won’t need a jumper as once you start climbing you’ll warm up quickly enough. I recommend wearing leggings/trousers and one of your already dirty t-shirts, but taking a bag with shorts and a clean t-shirt (and a spare bra, for girls) and changing when you get to the top. If you plan on climbing either Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu when you’re inside, don’t bother changing until after that! You can leave all your other stuff at the hotel in Aguas Calientes to make the climb easier – if you’re in a group you can share one backpack with food, water and changes of clothes, and take turns carrying it.
For the first two nights the accommodation has only cold showers, which you won’t want to spend long in. It’s worth just waiting for the hot springs on the second evening and the hot shower at the Aguas Calientes hotel. You don’t need to take your normal beauty regime or make-up, it’s heavy and unnecessary. Just tie your hair back, stick a hat on and be grateful for your light backpack as you hike along steep Inca trails!
- Insect Repellent – make sure it’s strong and that you have plenty of it.
- Sachet or small bottle of shampoo*
- Toothbrush and paste
- One roll of toilet paper (don’t skip this – for at least the first two days you won’t see a toilet with paper in it!)
- Anti-bac handgel
- Small shower gel/bar of soap
- You can buy shampoo in Aguas Calientes when you arrive and wash your hair in the hotel shower that evening, to save carrying it from Cusco.
- Torch (a nice small head torch is best)
- Batteries or charger
- Sun hat
- Water bladder or bottled water
- A few snacks like energy bars (you won’t need too many)
- Dry sacs or plastic bags to wrap your clean clothes in, in case it rains.
- Swimwear and a towel – to save space I really recommend a lightweight travel towel like the PackTowl – it’s a fraction of the size of an ordinary towel, dries in five minutes and weighs next to nothing. Read more in my review.
- Passport (you need this to enter Machu Picchu so don’t forget it!)
- Cash (there are no ATMs at all). All your meals are included with the tour, but you’ll want cash for snacks and bottled water, entrance to the hot springs, tips for guides, lunch and dinner on the final day, and maybe souvenirs from Aguas Calientes. Try to get small notes and coins as Peruvians, especially in small villages, are allergic to giving change.
All of this should fit into one backpack of 20L-30L, so you can leave your big backpack and all your other luggage in Cusco. It may not seem like much, but it’s only four days and this really is everything you’ll need. Believe me, if you pack too much, you’ll regret it!