Give me your best Peru recommendations, please
September 8, 2009 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Best gear to buy for the Inca Trail? Specifically trying to figure out which water pump (if any?) and looking for a lightweight, portable tripod for my camera, but all recommendations are helpful! (Also, general Inca Trail/Cusco/Manu recommendations, please)

We're going to Peru! I've looked at previous threads about the Inca Trail, including someone's very helpful blog. We're spending 2.5 weeks in November, flying into Lima for a night, then going to Cusco. We booked an 8-day tour to Manu, then have 4-5 days of downtime/altitude acclimation in Cusco, then we're doing the 4-day Inca Trail and heading back home the day or so after we get back from that.

I have a dSLR and hefty zoom lens, and plan to take a lot of photos. I think a lightweight, portable tripod is in order to get some great Machu Picchu shots, but I don't want to spend a ton of money. Can anyone recommend something that might fit the bill?

I'm also worried about drinking water. I know most people go with iodine tablets, but I'm afraid I'd really dislike the taste of it and find it hard to get down, even with the other tablets that mask the taste. A friend suggested we get a little backpacking water purifying pump, and it's not a bad idea. I just don't have a clue which one is good and what to look for! We'll both be using Camelback bladders, so something that could just pump directly into that would be good (rather than carrying an additional bottle).

Other recommendations that would be neat: vegetarian dining, things to do in/around Cusco, where to celebrate my 25th birthday in Cusco-area, your Inca Trail/Cusco/Manu experiences, etc. Thanks!

(Other gear I'm already planning to bring: waterproof trail running shoes, daypack, bigger backpack, waterproof pants and jacket in case of rain, long underwear, warm fleece jacket, hiking socks, trekking poles, a waterproof camera case for my smaller camera, a warm sleeping bag [and yes, planning to hire a porter because I'm small and weak], etc.)
posted by booknerd to Travel & Transportation around Peru (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm an adventure travel tour operator who does a lot with the Inca Trail Trek. Check with whomever you booked the Inca Trail with. Usually the Peruvian operator there provides plenty of filtered water which is safe to drink, so no need to bring a water filtration system with you. If they don't, then don't go with them. You just need to carry a daypack, porters carry everything else.

I got a cheap tripod on Ebay from a China seller. $10 including shipping, but it took about 10 days to get it. Make sure you get a tripod that will hold at least 6 lbs. The tripod I got came with a screw that I had to remove in order to fit my DSLR (a Canon Rebel Xti). It was a gorilla tripod copycat which works just fine.

For the Amazon, invest in high qualty lightweight wicking clothes. NO COTTON, no jeans! Long sleeved shirts to prevent bug bites and scratches, long pants for the same reason. Make sure you have a headlamp. Manu provides wellies so I don't bother bringing heavy hiking boots. Meat tenderizer is a cheap alternative for killing itchy bug bites.

Your operator should be providing a lot of in-depth pre-departure information, so I'm surprised they're not giving you a recommended packing list for both the trek and the Amazon.

I highly recommend Footprint Guidebook's Inca Trail / Cusco guidebook. Excellent. MeMail me for more info.
posted by HeyAllie at 11:26 AM on September 8, 2009

I went this past March, am also 25, and did the four day hike as well.

Some of my friends brought iodine tablets for drinking water, but we were fine just drinking the boiled water provided by our porters. That being said, one of my friends got diarrhea on the hike (by Dead Woman's Peak nonetheless) which was very unpleasant, as the bathrooms tend to be spaced pretty far.

I would wear layers. It gets very cold at the peaks, but very warm at the bottom, and I always felt underdressed or overwrapped. Bring an extra roll of toilet paper because you don't want to run out. A warm cap is also important, though you can also buy many in Peru. Lastly make sure you bring a strong set of flashlights as it will be very dark; just fumbling to the bathroom in our evening camps is an adventure in itself. Make sure it is hook-hangable or (even better) can be strapped to your forehead, as the hole-in-the-ground bathrooms are very difficult to use when it's pitch dark and you don't have enough hands to hold a flashlight and do your business properly.

We didn't need trekking poles. I brought a camcorder along in addition to my camera, which was great to document our pain to relive with much hilarity later. For the actual hike, if you aren't an accomplished hiker, you'd want to carry as little as possible.

Happy hiking! It's amazing!
posted by gushn at 11:29 AM on September 8, 2009

MSR makes several different water filter/purification systems geared towards hikers and backpackers. They are by no means the only company that makes such gear, but their Water Treatment FAQ is pretty helpful in explaining the difference between filtration and purification and under what conditions you would want one or the other.

On preview: Looks like you may not need to bring your own water treatment. Posting for reference anyways.
posted by strangecargo at 11:34 AM on September 8, 2009

Response by poster: The tour operator says this about water: "Will provide boiled water to fill your bottle at meal times, although the water is clear always use sterilizing tablets and follow the instructions. The sterilizing tablets 'MicroPur' can be bought in most pharmacies in Cusco . With these tablets you have to wait 40 minutes before drinking. Take a bottle of at least 1½ liter capacity per person. Bottled mineral water can also be taken from Cusco."

And yes, okay, we admittedly booked with the cheapest possible tour operator, so I'm trying to plan for every contingency. :)
posted by booknerd at 11:36 AM on September 8, 2009


I'm jealous of your trip, have fun, and porters are nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, given a choice, I wouldn't leave the house without a porter.
posted by TheBones at 11:41 AM on September 8, 2009

I visited Cusco in January (went to Macchu Picchu but didn't do the Inca Trail) and my only advice is, good luck finding vegetarian food - you probably shouldn't eat any raw veggies or salad because of washing/water quality issues, and the rest of the options we found were very heavy on the meat & potatoes. The only vegetarian places we saw anywhere were the Hare Krishna restaurants called Govinda - we didn't end up eating there, but we did see them around Peru, and they always had a great menu special posted ("menu" [men-'oo] is the fixed-price special of the day, and it's nearly always the best deal you can find if you're not terribly picky and want something 'authentic' - our strategy was to follow the locals & ask for the menu. If you're obviously a tourist, they might not offer it to you, so be sure to ask! YMMV looking for vegetarian options, though).

Also, if you're taking the train from Macchu Picchu to Cusco and have some time to kill in Aguas Calientes (I guess they're also calling it Macchu Picchu Pueblo these days), there is a FANTASTIC French/Peruvian fusion restaurant sort of near the tourist info office - I'm sure if you ask around, someone can direct you to it if it's still open. I had one of the best meals of my life there, and it was high-end enough that I'm sure they'd have no trouble concocting a vegetarian option for you.
posted by pikachulolita at 12:10 PM on September 8, 2009

As I recall, there's some opportunities to buy bottled water from farmers and other people who actually live in the rural areas along the Inca Trail route on each day. I brought along Micropur tablets just in case, and never needed them--the water provided at mealtimes, supplemented with a bottle or two of water purchased along the way, was more than sufficient. I dislike the taste of the water treatment pills, but honestly I think you'll regret the extra weight of a water filter. Even if you're in pretty good shape, hiking at that altitude is tough--the people who were most miserable on my trek were those who (a) didn't hire a porter and (b) carried along huge cameras and other gear that wasn't totally necessary. When in doubt, ALWAYS go with the lighter alternative.

Other tips:

*There's a weight limit for how much stuff each porter can carry for you (something like 6 kg if they're also carrying your sleeping pad and sleeping bag--check with your outfitter), which is enforced by the Peruvian gov't at the entry checkpoint for the hike. Some low-cost outfitters will get around this by having you carry stuff through the checkpoint to give to your porter on the other side, but to be safe you should really figure out what you'll have the porter carry BEFORE you leave to Peru. The weight limit sounded really high before I left, but when I was in my hotel room in Cuzco trying to weigh out clothes at 10pm the night before the trek, I nearly had a meltdown trying to figure out what I had to leave behind. Clothes are heavier than you think. The entire process was WAY more stressful than it needed to be if I had just planned ahead when I was in the States and had access to a decent scale.

*The single item I regret not having the most was a headlamp. This is so, so, so far superior to hand-held flashlight, particularly on the last day when you're up before dawn to hike to Macchu Picchu by sunrise. This is the one I use now when camping, and it's held up really well. Man, I was *really* jealous of the people who had a headlamp.

*Other things that I kinda wish I had brought, although YMMV: a foldable comb with a mirror in the handle, because I'm less good at putting in contacts without a mirror than I thought; and a small baggie of Dove face/body wipes (I felt so grimy and caked with sweat at the end of four days that I spent less time at Macchu Picchu than I would have liked in retrospect).

*The single thing that I'm most grateful I did was ask my doc for a prophylactic prescription for Diamox. As a general rule I tend to gut things out rather than take even OTC drugs (to my boyfriend's eternal frustration), but I've had altitude sickness before and didn't want to mess around with it. Every person on my trek who didn't take Diamox lamented their decision--they were pretty much laid out in their hotel room for 2-3 days upon arriving in Cuzco. It's a gorgeous, gorgeous city and it'd be a shame to waste that much of your vacation feeling too weak and headache-y to go outdoors. (IANAD so obviously talk to yours about the appropriateness of taking something to prevent--actually I'd say lessen--the symptoms of altitude sickness.)

*Not sure if you've purchased the trekking poles yet, but you can buy walking sticks that will function nearly as well as decent trekking poles for very cheap in the town where you leave on the trek. Trekking poles are awesome and hugely useful on the up-and-down of the trail, but I think most people could probably get away with using the $2 walking sticks (with nice cloth hand covers, natch!) that can be discarded at the end of the trail, rather than paying $80-100 for a nice pair of trekking poles that have to be carried with you for your entire vacation.

Have fun! The Inca Trail was definitely the highlight of my vacation. I'm sure you'll have a blast.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:12 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips! I do have a headlamp, and I already bought the trekking poles (for a really good price) and have been practicing with them a bit. Face/body wipes are a genius suggestion!

With the porters, will I be able to access the stuff in my pack when we stop at various places along the trail? I'm wondering if I should keep my big, heavy camera in my pack, or if I could put it in the porter's pack and have a chance to just set up a tripod and catch some scenic views when we're stopping for meals. I have a smaller point & shoot camera I could use while actually hiking the trail.
posted by booknerd at 12:49 PM on September 8, 2009

I went a few years back... no "tour" just landed in Cusco, hung around for a few days getting used to altitude (a good idea).

then hopped the local "bemo"/bus to the next town and stayed there a night... next town... a night... next stop - the train (doing it w/o a "tour" really isn't as difficult as it may seem - most every cabby speaks some english, locals are very nice, lotsa tourism - just get a good guide or three and see what sounds good! this way you can stick your head into new places to stay and see if they look nice, haggle a good price, find a good local restaurant)... anyway... this was fun for me anyway.

So, once you do the train down to the hop off at the trail head (maybe they've built a new train stop there by now, and it's not still an "area of track where you have to hop off") just follow the peeps to the place where you have to pay the state - local currency (taken care of I'm sure if you're doing the "tour").

I took a ceramic catadyne pump with me, it was waay over the top for what was needed, but a fun gadget to take along, as it didn't require iodine, attached to my bottle, was easy to clean off the ceramic filter - which filtered down to virus level or so... anyway, I wasn't too careful eating at restaurants, and i think i had some ice or maybe brushed my teeth with tap or some such stupid oversight.

Thankful to have a prophylactic dose of cypro along!

Going (if you have time) to Lake Titicaca (sp?) is a MUST! horrible long journey, but amazing going over to Amantani with the stoned locals (every one sits chewing coca leaves, staring at the westerners)... try the coca tea! awesome relaxing stuff... with a bit of milk... it's available at the local grocery in boxes of tea bags!

Everyone, and I mean everyone will try to sell you "baby alpacca - is berry berry soft" ... most of the stuff is factory produced, packaged, sold in local stands, very kitchy designs... don't buy anything right away until you've been there and become a bit inured to the selection else you'll kick yourself later.

Aquas Caliente - the slimey little town at the end of the trail (below Maccu Piccu) - is an interesting tourist trap with hot springs (hence the name) and lotsa less savory folks hanging out near bars who'll sell you anything you may wanna snort, smoke, screw, etc... (all to be avoided I'd say, but to each their own).

The food that's sold on the train to and from Maccu Piccu is WONDERFUL - it's local cuisine and may only be avail on the local trains (I didn't take the tourist trains, so I dunno)... this is some of the best food I had while there - only slightly exaggerating.

In Maccu Piccu there are these mean little bastard gnats (or at least there were when I was there) so take some industrial deet... which MIGHT work on them.

The trail to Maccu Piccu is like 4000 feet up, then 3000 feet down, then another 2000 up, then 3000 down, then 4500 up, etc.. etc... but it can be done by a relatively out of shape 30yo in 3 days (that's how I did it 8-9 years ago)... and I was injecting insulin the whole way, suckin down protien bars to maintain even glucose levels (type I diabetic).

there's lotsa chatting on the trail, german, french, italian, aussies yelling, americans complaining, brits quietly enduring, peruvians laughing and drinking and running with giant piano size packs on their backs (and setting up tables with giant silver services, carpets, tents, etc for the tourists).

It's a pretty cool trek!

Oh, and there are some nice things/places in Aguas Caliente... when we arrived at the end of the trail (at Maccu Piccu) we stayed at the hotel right there onsite for one night, as they'll do laundry cheaply, they have nice little bar that makes really good Pisco Sours (have a few, they're great), and a warm shower was heaven at that point - my trip was marked by 3 days marching in mostly rain (still beautiful, no regrets at all).

When you're in Cusco, on the square... you can arrange a trip to the jungle, it's worth doing if you have the time! Find one that's taking you to an "eco-tourism" site... I know it's lame, but the trips are nice and they do buy up land that gets slightly more protection that way.

Have fun! I'm jealous!

PS. If I were you I'd pack a really good point and shoot like a Cannon/Nikon/Leica/Pannasonic (back in the day I used my new Cannon S50) it'll be less to carry, the pics will be good enough, you won't worry as much about damage, theft, etc... Just a thought.

Oh, and I'd skip the cooked local delicacy - what's it called again? looks like a giant rat on the plate - have'ta figure out what it was called again.
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 12:58 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

oh, yeah... you said vegetarian... that'd keep you away from the cooked guinea pig anyway...
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 1:01 PM on September 8, 2009

Oh, and if you're in Lima for any time at the end... I have a friend from there, I could ask him for favorite restaurants, markets, sights... etc.
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 1:03 PM on September 8, 2009

As to being able to fetch your stuff, while we did see our porters pretty often on the trail, our stuff was wrapped up pretty tight in a rice sack, and as thus you probably won't get to it until you head into camp for the night. You might be able to get it at the lunch campsite, too.

I'd actually also advise you on learning some spanish and getting to know your porters, as you'll be with them night and day for the whole trek. Some of the ones in our group were quite awesome fellows, in fact. There were a few guys close to our age on our trip, and we spent more than one evening chatting and laughing with them. They showed us some fun card and spoon games in the tents, and I exchanged emails with a few of them at the end of the trek. Happy times!

I actually saw a few people with SLRs on the path, but no tripods. If you must, get the absolute smallest possible.
posted by gushn at 2:26 PM on September 8, 2009

With the porters, will I be able to access the stuff in my pack when we stop at various places along the trail?

When I went, no--definitely not. We packed up our stuff into a small duffel bag every morning, which went into a BIG duffel bag for the porter to carry, and we didn't see it again until we pulled into the final campsite for the night. Your trekking company may vary, but I would plan on keeping your camera with you on the trail if you want it at all during the day. (And you will: there are some really cool sites you see along the trail. I like my pictures from those sites much better than the ones in Machu Picchu, because they're all ethereal with the clouds and lack of people and crazy mountains in the background. My Machu Picchu pictures are cool, but not that different from some random postcard you could pick up in any nearby town, you know?)

My one other tip for you, looking at your itinerary--if you can swing it, definitely stay in Cuzco for a full day after you return from the trek. I was really, really incredibly sore the day after, and I had (stupidly) decided that an 8-hour bus ride would be a PERFECT way to relax after strenuous hiking. A cramped bus + sore and cramping legs = not a happy traveler.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:10 PM on September 8, 2009

Which group are you going with to Manu? I went there in 1997, loved it.

Seconding the suggestion for Diamox.
A long time ago, when I was in college, I took a train ride from Arequipa to Puno to Cusco. It was ~18 hours total. (I don't think you can do this any more.) I felt fine when we got to Cusco, since it's about 4000' lower than the highest elevation the train reached, and decided to take a hike with friends. I still felt OK when we got back to the pension. Then I passed out and spent 3 days in the hospital with altitude sickness.
posted by lukemeister at 9:15 PM on September 9, 2009

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