The Fit Bucket List: How to Prepare for Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu EVEN Hotels
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If Machu Picchu, Peru, is on your travel bucket list — and if your idea of a vacation involves adrenaline-fueled fitness challenges, it should be — you’ll need more than a guidebook to experience it. This strenuous trip, the ultimate test in learning to enjoy the journey, will require physical preparations for you to withstand and savor the challenges of its high-altitude location.

Here are six strategies to get you ready for the trek of a lifetime:

Determine Your Capacity for Adventure
For a destination like Machu Picchu, which is nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, you should first decide your endurance level. Do you want the full experience of the four-day Inca Trail hike, or does visiting the ruins with a short (although strenuous) hike up Machu Picchu Mountain sound more like your speed?

You’ll want to make this decision early because you’ll need to reserve tickets and a guide as soon as possible for the Inca Trail, due to limits on the number of people permitted there at the same time. You’ll also want to start preparing your body for the challenge.

Get a Leg Up on Your Fitness
To get ready for the stair-filled trails and miles of hiking, make sure you’re not skipping leg day. You’ll want a workout that strengthens, as well as improves endurance in your lower body. Functional exercises like walking lunges, step-ups and dead lifts, paired with cardio on the stair machine, need to be staples in your routine. Core exercises like planks and power exercises like kettle bell swings are also important additions.

Take a Hike (Literally and Often)
You will also want to spend plenty of time outside of the gym hiking. The principle of specificity dictates that to adapt to a certain stimulus you need to perform that mode of activity. So walking on the treadmill won’t cut it. Weekend hikes also provide a great time to break in your hiking shoes, make sure your backpack is comfortable and test other gear, such as compression socks and walking poles.

Find the Right Foods to Refuel
Weekend hikes will also allow you time to figure out your fueling strategy. If you take the Inca Trail, your guide will likely provide meals, but they may not meet your needs if you’re vegan or have other dietary concerns. You’ll want to supplement their offerings with your preferred trail snacks. Even if you’re just planning to spend a day or two exploring the ruins, you’ll want to bring your own food and water because neither is sold in the park.

Packing extras of your favorite travel snacks and bringing a CamelBak to fill with filtered water is your best solution for day-hiking. The altitude will also make you lose fluids faster, so you might want to consider a supplement like Nuun hydration tablets to add electrolytes to your water supply. For the Inca Trail, you will also want a water filter or water purification tablets.

Prep for Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness is a very real concern for which you need to prepare. Talk to your doctor or consult a travel medicine clinic to see if a prescription altitude sickness medicine called Acetazolamide is appropriate for you. (At the same time, you can make sure you have all the CDC-recommended immunizations, as some vaccines require more than one dose.) Locals swear by coca tea for altitude problems, but it’s not considered an official treatment.

Give Yourself Time to Adjust
Once you arrive in Peru, build in a two- to three-day buffer to get used to the altitude. Bring along your yoga mat for some light activity to help ease the transition.

Set your expectations accordingly. Despite your preparations, you will likely be slower and feel more exerted than normal. Take that as a reminder to be present, and enjoy the journey.

About the Author

Pamela HernandezPamela Hernandez is a certified personal trainer and health coach who specializes in empowering women with fitness. When she's not in the gym you can find her writing, drinking tea and planning her next trip.