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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!