Category Archives: Peru

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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Taking a toddler on the Inca trail

The Inca trail can’t really be described as easy, but it is still possible to enjoy the trail while taking your toddler with you.

The trail involves approximately 42 km of walking over four or five days. “Less than a marathon!” you say, but this distance measure does not take into account 1) the altitude and 2) the significant elevation changes over the walk. As an example, day two involves a continuous ascent from 3000 m (9000 ft) to 4200 m (13,000 ft), followed by a descent to 3600 m (11,000 ft). That said, the key to happily completing the trail is to avoid overexertion and take regular breaks. Once you’ve pushed too hard and have fallen into the realm of altitude sickness, it is hard to come back.

We did not see any other small western children on the trail. The youngest walkers we saw were probably about 10 years old. We also noticed that most people who were hiking the trail were either young (i.e., in their 20’s) or older (i.e., over 50). The purpose of this blog post is to encourage the people in between – with young families – to take part in this kind of adventure. Done right, everyone can have a great time and your kids will have a great experience. It is my view that a safe childhood lacking in adventure is a sure path to dullness and mediocrity. Some discomfort and acceptable risk in return for unforgettable experiences can provide memories from which strength of character can be drawn for the rest of their lives.

It is important to firmly have in mind that this kind of trip is very different to one where you and your partner and/or friends visit some exotic adventure destination for wild times and late-night drinking. A multi-day excursion with a toddler is the same anywhere – it is an exercise in time management and in prioritising the happiness and sleep schedule of the child. The fact that this occurred over the Inca trail and in Machu Picchu was almost irrelevant to the happiness of the family. As most parents are well aware, a well-slept child is a child more able to handle an unpredictable schedule and moments of boredom. Sleep is the number one priority.

Joey in the Osprey ‘Poco Premium’, which is priced like it’s made of gold, but is also worth its weight in gold.

We carried Joey in an Osprey ‘Poco premium’ baby backpack carrier. This expensive but quality piece of kit was probably the one item we had that contributed most to our happiness (with “Pete the Cat goes to the Beach” by James Dean a close second).  The Poco was designed so well that Joey was comfortable sitting in it for hours. So comfortable in fact that he napped in it during the middle of the day, every day. The gentle rocking of his carrier laboring up steep stairs was enough to have Joey nod off and the Poco did a satisfactory job of holding his body so that he would remain comfortably asleep. This benefit alone meant that whoever was carrying Joey could keep up with the group, who would not be willing to stop for several hours in the middle of the day while Joey napped. In fact, stopping was almost always a bad idea during this time. The cessation of rocking almost always lead to Joey waking prematurely and being grumpy for the rest of the day.

Spectacular views were the norm. We are happy to report that this toddler had some sense of self preservation near large drop offs.

During the hike, Joey spent his wakeful hours partaking in a combination of the following:

  1. Eating snacks, preferring ‘Peru crackers’ a.k.a. oreos (which we learned are vegan, strangely).
  2. Drinking water from his bottle.
  3. Playing with his toy car, which was run back and forth along the drool pad in front of him.
  4. Looking at the scenery, trees and hummingbirds.
  5. Reciting stories.
  6. Calling for mummy/daddy and asking to be let down.

While nap time called for continued walking, regular breaks during wakefulness in which Joey was released from his carrier and could walk around were probably critical to him remaining in good spirits during his stints in the Poco.

The ‘Glamp’, complete with yoga mat.

Camping on the Inca trail with a toddler was made considerably easier by the fact that it wasn’t really camping at all. Upon arrival at a campsite, the porters had already set up the tents and the chefs were busy making dinner. “Glamping” is the more appropriate term to describe this scenario. Given that the parents did little to no work in meal preparation and setting up the tent/bedding, putting Joey to bed was fairly easy.

One challenge was the lateness of dinner. As the porters had to build the kitchen every night, as well as make dinner, the meal was not ready until around 8pm – after Joey’s bedtime. He was bought to dinner a couple of times but his tiredness and irritability did not go over well with tired parents and other hikers. Eventually, the schedule was changed so that he was given an early dinner and sent to bed before the adults were fed. That way, everyone could eat in peace while the toddler regained the sleep time that was lost with the early (4-6am) starts.

Unique encounters with nature were a highlight on this trail.

Inside the tent, care was taken to ensure Joey did not sleep on the floor. Previous experience had taught us that in a cold climate, the floor of a tent is very cold as there is no ground insulation. While a cold floor could be mitigated by an air mattress, the air against the walls of the tent cools and then pools on the floor. A back-sleeping adult typically lies with his or her nose and mouth above the coldest of this air, but a small child – who often sleeps on their front and does not possess nearly as much thermal mass – will be affected greatly. To avoid the chill, Joey slept on a collapsible child stretcher that raised him about 100 mm off the ground. While he sometimes rolled off his little platform in the middle of the night (and on to me) he remained fairly warm and comfortable even when the temperature dropped below freezing and/or he struggled out of his sleeping bag, which he disliked intensely.

Joey in the Poco with his parents at the “Sun Gate” – the entrance to Machu Picchu, when arriving via the Inca trail.

It is interesting to note that while westerners think of taking a toddler on this trek as a challenge, the locals who live on the trail – far from any road – raise their kids here without porters, expensive compostable nappies or fancy baby backpacks. As far as we could tell, these people were extremely happy. I suppose difficulty is all a matter of perspective.

Joey had a great time on this walk and so did his parents. A couple of other parents on the trail mentioned to us that they would have liked to bring their children along. I wondered why they did not. Sure, the additional complexity is a burden, but that is the nature of raising children. I started to adopt a different point of view about these things which went something like: “If your child is amenable to this kind of thing, you could say you have a responsibility to do it. Not because you can, but because others either cannot, did not think of it, or thought it too difficult. Show by example that such a thing is possible, and that far from being just a burden, it is also a pleasure”.

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Success! Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

We have all three returned home safely from our trip to Peru, after having successfully navigated planes, cars, trains, and four days of trekking the Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu. I think that overall we can easily say that this trip went well.

The beginning of the Inca Trail
The beginning of the Inca Trail
First day of hiking
First day of hiking

I’ll start with the good stuff. Joey loved hiking in the Poco and camping, and Simon was a champion about carrying him the whole way – including two serious climbs to nearly 14,000 feet! Everyone in our group handled the hike very well, and although it was significantly harder to breath at altitude no one had any serious problems. The tour company, Llama Path, was absolutely

Joey's bed time in the tent
Joey’s bed time in the tent

amazing in terms of service and accommodating all of our needs. This was a case where the journey beat the destination. The hike was extraordinary, traveling through an astonishing number of biomes over four days (near desert, cloud forest, rain forest, high alpine, and more).

Joey makes friends
Joey makes friends

We saw nearly every kind of livestock imaginable, much to Joey’s delight, along with native hummingbirds that squawked and later butterflies that littered the trail. During the first two days we passed several local villages, and the villagers out and about on the trail (their main highway) with donkeys carrying goods. The views were extraordinary, and we were able to visit many Inca sites along the trail. None were quite as magnificent as Machu Picchu, but we had them all to ourselves. After listening to our guide Coco describe the site and give another installment of his on-going history story, we were allowed to explore at our leisure.

Checking out a donkey on the Inca Trail
Checking out a donkey on the Inca Trail

I will never forget the site of Joey playing with his toy Prius on a 500 year old terrace that drops off to extraordinary mountain views, few other people around for miles. The stonework and masonry of the ruins and the trail was quite impressive. While some had been restored, other buildings and parts of the track have been left untouched for over 500 years and appear in near mint condition.

Joey feeds a baby llama
Joey feeds a baby llama

The views from our third campsite (Phuyupatamarca), which is not used by trekkers on the classic 4-day itinerary, were the best of the trip and simply breathtaking. But most of all, climbing the final stone staircase through cool, dark jungle to emerge at the sun gate and gaze over Machu Picchu was an unforgettable experience. After that, taking the bus in the following day for our tour, surrounded by hundreds of people for the first time in days, just didn’t seem nearly as good.

Our favorite campsite
Our favorite campsite

We took the 5 day/4 night itinerary with Llama Path on the Inca Trail. Day 1 was quite easy, nearly flat with one small climb over dusty even track to our campsite adjacent to a very small village/house. We were basically camping in a Peruvian family’s yard, and our group were the only ones in attendance. We stopped at our first Inca site, Llactapacta, and enjoyed impressive views along with extensive hide and seek amongst the many rooms. Day 2 was the most physically demanding, as we moved ahead of schedule to climb over Dead Woman Pass (13,780

Our group at the highest point - Dead Woman Pass
Our group at the highest point – Dead Woman Pass
Joey practices jumping off of rocks at an ancient Inca site

ft) and then camped between the two mountains in the saddle. The most challenging part of the climb was not our muscular strength or endurance, but our lung capacity. Despite spending two days in Cusco (12,000 ft) to acclimatize we all felt short of breath during the climb. On Day 3, we started off with our last big climb over the second mountain pass then descended to our favorite campsite, Phuyupatamarca. Not only were the views extraordinary, we were visited several times by a group of llamas. Awesome. Day 4 was another early start (we woke at 6am and started walking at 7am most days) as we descended past many Inca sites. We spent so much time at each that we wound up a bit behind schedule at lunch for the first time, and at our guide’s suggestion we walked quickly towards the Sun Gate. Not realizing where we were, we powered ahead and were suddenly faced with several steep staircases. I put my hiking pole away and climbed up with my hands. The forest was cool and dark, but as we neared the top we could see light streaming through. On the other side was the Inca city of Machu Picchu, perfectly illuminated in the late afternoon light.

Made it - Machu Picchu!
Made it – Machu Picchu!

We spent lots of time admiring Machu Picchu as we wound down the trail closer to the city. It was near dusk when we walked past the entrance gate. Then came the only part of the trail I really didn’t like that much – about 1.5 hours of steep downhill stairs to our campsite near the town of Aguas Calientes.

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

It was a bit of a buzz kill after thinking we had reached our destination at the Sun Gate! No matter, we made it to the campsite intact and had a last impressive meal with our porters. They head chef even made us a cake! The next day we were up before dawn (3:30) to walk into town and catch the bus to Machu Picchu for the day.

If you are thinking about doing the hike – do it. It is 100% worth it. Simon completed the entire trail with a 50lb bag of toddler and accoutrements (at the front of our group!). I was three months pregnant. Along the way we saw young (10 years old) kids, old (> 65 years old) adults, and individuals that were clearly not fit and/or did not exercise much. Everyone made it. Everyone in our group made it with smiles on their faces.

Joey with his Uncle Peter
Joey with Uncle Peter

The not-so-good. Our first days in Cusco were rough, despite staying in a really nice hotel. Joey was tired, cranky, and not feeling great from altitude. He refused to eat anything, and he refused to sleep unless I was lying next to him (not Simon or anyone else – it had to be me). After being blessed with a fairly chill kid for 1.75 years, we didn’t know what to do with this behavior. We decided to ride it out and gamble on the hike anyway, knowing that Joey loves outside time, his Poco, and tents. Taking a toddler on a group tour has its pros (we didn’t have to cook) and its cons.

Joey also brought Pikachu to Machu Picchu
Joey also brought Pikachu to Machu Picchu

The biggest con was that we had to mold his schedule to the fairly strict schedule set by our guide, which was not designed for small children. We finally had to start putting J to sleep before dinner to avoid extreme crankiness. We often had to duck out of meals or history lessons to take J elsewhere and tend to his needs. Some of our group members and some of our porters took great interest in Joey and would play with him while we set up our tent or got changed, which was a huge blessing. Some of the places we stayed for lunch or to camp were fine for him to wander around, but many were terraces on the side of a mountain, meaning that J required constant attention. While Simon & I had a blast, we were definitely not well-rested!

Was it still worth it? Totally. Would we do it again? Already planning our next trip.

For the finer details on how to take your toddler on the Inca Trail, read Part 2 from Simon. For tips on hiking the Inca Trail while pregnant, read Part 3 from Lauren.


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Packing for Machu Picchu with a Toddler

We’re gearing up for our family vacation and packing for departure on Sunday! The destination: Machu Picchu, Peru. The route: planes, a train, and a 5 day trek along the ancient Inca Trail. The team: Simon, Joey, and me, plus five dear friends that were brave enough to join us.

Joey loves the Poco and asks for it by name.
Joey loves the Poco and asks for it by name.

Enthusiasm is growing as our packs get filled with equipment for our next big adventure. Joey is cheerfully telling everyone that he is going to Peru to see Picchu. This is a luxurious trip as far as backpacking goes. Our group is in the hands of Llama Path tours, who will outfit us with a guide, chef, and porters to carry most of our gear. Trekking this way has become almost necessary given the popularity of and regulations regarding the Inca Trail.

Backpacking is different with a toddler on board, and our gear list is predominated by Joey’s specialty equipment. Here’s what we are bringing along for our 1.75 year old for the trek:

  • Baby thermals x2. We have one merino wool outfit from New Zealand, and one Patagonia baby capilene 3 set.
  • Full body fleece suit for warmth in the evening/at night with hood and hand/foot covers
  • Full body rain suit for wind/rain protection (we brought only the shell and not the liner since temperatures will be mild during the day)
  • Compressible down/synthetic jacket and pants
  • Five diaper covers and compostable diaper inserts
  • Wool socks (from New Zealand) and toddler hiking shoes
  • Osprey Poco baby carrier backpack
  • Toddler sleeping bag (hardest thing on this list for me to find!)
  • Toddler travel cot(heaviest item by far, hopefully worth it)
  • One favorite book and one new book to be revealed on the trail
  • His favorite stuffed toy for sleeping
  • Sunscreen, baby ibuprofen, sun hat, bacitracin, band aids
  • Water bottle
Joey's small sleeping bag is ironically bulkier and heavier than our down adult bags
Joey’s small sleeping bag is ironically bulkier and heavier than our down adult bags

Simon and I each have a sleeping bag, thermals, hiking clothes, and warm jackets. Llama Path takes care of tents, water, and food – luxury! We’ll have extra clothing for the pre-tour time, stored at our Cusco hotel while we are on the trail.

Car camping in Virginia - Joey's travel bed and sleeping bag
Car camping in Virginia – Joey’s travel bed and sleeping bag

*If we were going solo/worried about weight, we would bring a thermarest inflatable sleeping pad for Joey. In this case, we have some extra room and think he will be more comfortable on the cot.

Trip Planning: We booked this tour in late 2014. Tour companies apply for permits for the year in January, so we wanted to get our deposit in before that for the best chance of getting a spot on the trail and at Machu Picchu. We opted for the less popular 5 day 4 night trek (the classic is 4 days/3 nights) to give ourselves extra time on the big climb and also avoid the crowds as much as possible. We fly to Lima from DC, spend one night, then continue to Cusco where we stay for two days and nights to acclimatize to the high altitude (12,000 ft) before beginning our hike. After the tour, we decided to add a night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes (the town near Machu Picchu) so we could have the entire day at MP and time to enjoy the hot springs in town without worrying about catching a train home. We have one more night in Cusco on our way back where we can get cleaned up and pick up our extra gear at the hotel, then we fly Cusco-Lima-Panama-DC. We planned to travel before Joey’s 2nd birthday so that he is still free (or heavily discounted) for big ticket items including flights, hotels, and the tour. June is the beginning of the dry season in Cusco/Machu Picchu, which lasts through September, so it is a prime time to go.

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