Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu While Pregnant

Success! Pregnant lady made it!
Success! Pregnant lady made it!

You’ve probably heard by now that we all had a wonderful time on our hiking trip to Machu Picchu, and that we’ve got another little adventurer on the way. When we were planning the trip, I found a distinct lack of positive or remotely helpful information on the web about hiking this particular trail while pregnant. Several people had asked on travel forums (Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, etc) only to receive scathing comments about how dangerous and silly undertaking such a hike would be. I can’t help but note that almost all of said comments came from men (thus probably were never pregnant) who were not medical professionals. So, I’m here to let you know that it is certainly possible, can be extremely fun, and is not that different to any other hike.

There are two big concerns for the expecting (really for anyone) on the Inca Trail – altitude and hiking endurance.

One of many unique experiences along the trail
One of many unique experiences along the trail

Hiking endurance is something you can plan ahead for fairly easily. A couple of months of regular exercise will do the trick. Do you walk often and choose to take the stairs? Do you have a regular exercise routine? If so, you are most likely set on this front. I had completed several hikes during my first pregnancy without trouble – small snacks throughout the day and hydration helped. The Inca Trail is not an easy hike, but it is paved or graded the entire way and you take it quite slow, especially on the steep climbs. I brought one walking stick on the Inca Trail and was pleased to have it for the extended downhill portions. I would say the downhills were the hardest part because it is tough on your knees. I found myself keeping good pace with the other woman in our group (the guys tended to run out ahead), and our guide continued to reassure me that I was making great time. While there were two serious climbs, the limiting factor for everyone in our group was lung capacity (altitude), not physical endurance.

Our group at the highest point - Dead Woman Pass
Our group at the highest point – Dead Woman Pass

Altitude was a much bigger concern for me, as I have little experience with it. I have always lived at sea level, and nearly all of my previous hiking experience has been below 8,000 ft.  We took the basic precaution that is widely recommended – spend 2 days at altitude (in Cusco at 12,000 ft) before the hike. I drank prolific amounts of water. I also took everything at about 60% while in Peru, to avoid getting overtired. I never felt terrible, but I did start to get light-headed and dizzy during the first big climb on Day 2 of hiking. I slowed down and sipped on an electrolyte drink (like Gatorade). The difference was remarkable – I felt nearly back to normal within 10 minutes and didn’t have any other major problems after that. I elected to not drink coca tea or chew coca leaves as I was unsure of the effects on my developing fetus, but I got a similar caffeine kick from small cups of coffee and dark chocolate scattered throughout the day.

I was slower than normal, but completed the entire trail with a smile on.
I was slower than normal, but completed the entire trail with a smile on.

Choose your team wisely. We elected to take the 5D/4N Inca Trail itinerary with Llama Path, who were very supportive of our group needs ranging from a one-year-old to a pregnant lady (me) to strict vegetarians. In fact, the tour operators were not remotely phased at my pregnancy (“we get lots of pregnant women and they all do great”). They were much more impressed with Simon carrying a toddler, and the endurance of the 1.75 year old. Go figure! This itinerary spreads out the hiking over four days instead of three, and you don’t have to get up as early on the last day when you visit Machu Picchu (4am instead of 2am). Between this and the two days in Cusco ahead of time, we did everything we knew of to stack the odds in our favor of having an enjoyable time. Speaking of Llama Path, it is nearly impossibly to hike the trail without buying a guided tour now. The upside is that basically all of these tours include an army of local porters that carry nearly everything for you (I had a daypack with water, snacks, camera, and raincoat that weighed 10-15 lbs), set up the tents, and prepare three hot meals for you a day. We called it glamping instead of camping, as it was so luxurious compared to what we are used to!

Glamping. I didn't have to set any of this up or cook a thing, and the food was phenomenal.
Glamping. I didn’t have to set any of this up or cook a thing, and the food was phenomenal.

Everyone is different and what worked for me may not for you. I found that by making sure I was in decent shape ahead of time, planning a slow itinerary, drinking lots of water and gatorade, eating small amounts frequently, sleeping lots, and enjoying occasional dark chocolate hit kept me happy and healthy on the trail. Every person and every pregnancy is unique, and it is critical to discuss any such activities and travels with your midwife or doctor ahead of time. I had travel insurance and was ready to completely abandon the trip, or skip the hike, if I had any complications with the pregnancy. Thankfully I did not, and our midwife was incredibly reassuring that I would be tired but just fine. There is no medical care on the trail, and there are limited places from which you can be helicoptered out. In the case of an emergency, the porters will carry you piggyback to the closest place that you can be airlifted (while running – they are truly amazing). So planning ahead and being fairly confident you can handle the hike are a good idea. I was 12 weeks pregnant at the time of hiking, and would have been happy to do it up to about 26 weeks. At some point, the extra size and weight start to make things a little trickier! I had just cleared first trimester fatigue and food aversions when we left for Peru, and wished that the trip had fallen a few weeks later in my pregnancy.

Yoga doesn't stop for hikes
Yoga doesn’t stop for hikes

About me – I’m not a fitness superstar, just a working mom that loves to play outside in her free time. My exercise routine typically consists of a 2-3 mile jog twice a week, yoga twice a week, and a stroller walk with my toddler to the grocery store a couple times a week. On the weekends we mix in kayaking, paddleboarding, and biking depending on the weather and where we are. I have been a fan of hiking, camping, and backpacking for 10 years now and have enjoyed tweaking my style along with Simon to accommodate our growing adventure squad.

Just do it. The Inca Trail is amazing, and we have so many beautiful and unforgettable memories from the hike. There is truly no better way to see Machu Picchu than clambering up the steep stairs to the Sun Gate in the late afternoon. So worth it!

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7 thoughts on “Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu While Pregnant”

  1. Hello and thank you for your post, it was very encouraging and informative. My husband and I are avid hikers from California (live at sea level) and have been planning on a 4 day hike to Machu Picchu all year – we are so excited to leave in 1 week from today!! However, we just found out I am pregnant and will be 6 1/2weeks pregnant on our trip. I read the same responses that you mentioned that really discouraged me from going on this hike, especially because the fetus (and everything else in there) is in such early stage of development. You had mentioned that you were glad to be out of the first trimester when you hiked… do you have any insight/recommendations for me being so early on in my pregnancy? This is our first baby and I can’t imagine what it would be like to miscarry or for our fetus to not develop properly at this time, especially knowing it could’ve been prevented. But I am very conflicted because this is a trip we’ve been planning on for quite some time and I would hate to miss it if not necessary.

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    1. Congratulations Erika! The reason I was glad to be past the 1st tri is that I was SO TIRED from 4-12 weeks. I could fall asleep anywhere 🙂 and definitely got more energy around 12 weeks (right when we left for Peru!) You should definitely check in with your provider but assuming you’re healthy & everything looks good hiking shouldn’t cause you to have any issues. Good luck – and have a wonderful trip! It will be an extra special memory 🙂

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  2. Thank you so much for your prompt reply, Lauren- I really appreciate it 🙂 (and sorry for my delay… I had told you that we were pregnant before I had even told my husband the news, so we’ve been busy celebrating; rechecking our tests, talking to the dr, etc). Anyway, I did have a follow up question for you… I really appreciate your encouragement to still go, but I am concerned that my risk of miscarriage is very high so early on in my pregnancy… do you have any idea if the high altitude might increase that risk?

    And last tiny question– was there any particular reason that you opted out of the tea or was it a just in case precaution?

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    1. Hi Erika! I hope you’ve enjoyed celebrating – it is such an exciting time. Your first question is for your midwife or doctor. I didn’t find any info that suggested high altitude would increase risk of miscarriage, but I’m not a medical professional. I discussed my plans thoroughly with my midwife before I left & had an ultrasound when I returned.
      RE: Coca tea, I personally didn’t feel comfortable with it while pregnant. There aren’t any studies of actual effects on an embryo or fetus, but I figured that the potential cons were much worse than not drinking tea. I did quite a bit of travel and exercise while pregnant with both of my kids, but I was conservative about foods, drinks, medicines, soaps, and creams simply because for me those changes came at a low cost.

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  3. Hi Lauren! Thank you for the great blog posts about Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail! My husband and I are discussing a trip next year. I’m currently 12 weeks pregnant and we are looking at doing the hike when our baby is about 6 months old. I really haven’t found much online other than your blog posts and a bunch of scathing comments about how crazy people are for considering the hike with a child. I was wondering- did you go on the private 5 day tour or group tour? Would you do the Inca Trail again with a child less than 1 year old or was closer to 2 a better age? Thanks in advance for your help!

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    1. Hi Amanda! Thanks for reaching out! We went on a 5 day private tour – the group was all family & friends that we had gathered together. I would go with a younger child as long as they didn’t have any health issues. Littler babies are usually happy to sit in a front pack for a long time, so it may actually work better! You’ll need clear communication upfront with your tour company (some wouldn’t allow little kids, and they may not let you on a group tour) and of course your pediatrician. Good luck!

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