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September 28, 2010 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Should my wife and I hike the Inca trail when she is around 7 weeks pregnant?

After months of planning, Mrs. Pencroft and I are scheduled to go on our belated Honeymoon to Peru. The purpose of the adventure was to:
1) Hike the Inca Trail
2) See Machu Picchu
3) Make baby

As of yesterday, we found out that we've already succeeded in goal #3. Whoops. (and yay!)

She met with her doctor earlier today (female, of similar age, that has hiked the trail within the last 2 years). Her doctor leaned more towards the side of "there are risks, but you could definitely still do it". The doctor said she would be willing to write a letter of permission, if the trekking company required it.

Mrs. P is 32 years old, of average to above average fitness for her age and this is our first pregnancy. We are both well-travelled and have done similar hikes in southeast asia, although not at altitude.

posted by pencroft to Travel & Transportation (33 answers total)
Best answer: Week 7 was right around the time when the nausea and fatigue hit me the worst. I didn't want to do anything but nap and suck on sour candies for about 4 weeks. I would say there's likely no physical risk to the baby, but your wife may feel like utter crap.
posted by chiababe at 10:57 AM on September 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


My (inexperienced in this area) worry would be about the impact of food-related or bug-borne illnesses - particularly before the second trimester begins. Is this something your doctor is concerned about?
posted by purlgurly at 10:58 AM on September 28, 2010

Someone with more knowledge of the destination should weigh in on the specifics of the trail and altitude, but in general I'd say to be aware that first-trimester symptoms (exhaustion, nausea, depression, etc.) can kick in hard right around week 5-7 of pregnancy. It'd be unfortunate to spend lots of money on a fabulous vacation, only to have your wife not enjoy it or (worse) find it a miserable ordeal. In general, I think low-energy, low-stress activities might be least risky (from an enjoyment standpoint, not a health standpoint) for someone at that point in a pregnancy. But then again, lots of women are just fine through the first trimester, so ymmv.
posted by Bardolph at 10:59 AM on September 28, 2010

Can you make the decision when you get there? Altitude sickness combined with strenuous hiking combined with terrible food on trail combined with early morning sickness (which can be all day sickness) sounds like a terrible idea.

It's not just about hiking, it's a multi-day hike at higher altitude. I did the (harder) Salcantay trek and there's no effing way I could have done it while sick.

There is little correspondence between fitness and altitude sickness.
posted by barnone at 10:59 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: HOORAY for not treating pregnancy as some kind of awful debilitating illness! And hooray for you guys! However...

- I'd check with a travel medicine doc to see about any necessary vaccinations - some of 'em may not be approved for pregnant peeps.

- I'd also check with aforementioned doc - OR an OB/GYN - about the possible effects of high elevations AND/OR travel-centric stomach troubles (giardiasis, etc.) on pregnant peeps. Some ailments which are "no big deal at all" for healthy adults can be a very big deal indeed for fetuses.

- Physically, I was absolutely WIPED OUT during my first trimester, so you may want to plan your trip accordingly. She may feel strapping and robust... but it's also likely she may be operating at half-capacity due to exhaustion. Although a slow amble on the Inca Trail sounds lovely as well!
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:00 AM on September 28, 2010

chliababe said what I would say--I wouldn't worry about her well-being, or the baby's, but about the possibility that she might be exhausted and too sick to hike. She might be fine--some women breeze through the first trimester. In your shoes, I'd be thinking about: are you only ever going to have one chance to go to Peru? If so, how are you going to feel if you get there and aren't able to hike the trail? Is this a vacation that will allow for day-to-day flexibility depending on her energy level? and so on.
posted by not that girl at 11:01 AM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: So, the hike at altitude is just one part of the adventure? I say go and if she's feeling ill, don't do the hike. Or shorten it. I'm in reasonably good shape but in my first tri, I was incredibly tired. Some women have nausea. I did a 30 mile bike ride at 15 weeks. While I tried to train up for it (as I was no longer regularly bike riding), I can't say I was in super biker shape. However, I really had no problem finishing it. By the last five miles, I was really tired and it was about 100 degrees out but I finished with no ill effect.

I was definitely nervous about it and didn't want to poop out but I reserved the right to bail on the ride at any time. It was a supported tour with a sag vehicle so I could have easily gotten help and bailed. However, I felt great!

How far along will she be by then? I think if she wants to do it and feels good now just keep up her fitness and make sure you have an "out" or alternate plan. Altitude might really be the most complicating factor here, especially if she's already feeling fatigued.
posted by amanda at 11:02 AM on September 28, 2010

Almost everyone in my group experienced some altitude sickness symptoms when hiking the Inca Trail. Like barnone said, it's not about fitness. It's hard to describe the sensation, but it's not pleasant for anyone; I would imagine it would be much less so for someone who is also pregnant. I felt very out of breath and had a really bad headache and I acclimatized in Cusco for several days before starting on the hike. They aren't joking about Dead Woman's Pass.

Are you already signed up for the hike? There are limits to how many people are allowed on the trails at once and so the permits sell out months in advance.
posted by valeries at 11:04 AM on September 28, 2010

Although a slow amble on the Inca Trail sounds lovely as well!

The thing about hiking the Inca Trail is it's like a conveyor belt. You don't generally do it on your own - you go with a guided tour and there is a pre-determined multiday hike. You pretty much have to keep up with the group for the entire trip. Clearly they know how to deal with sick or slow people but will it be enjoyable?

There are lots of other hikes in the area, including parts of the Inca Trail, that don't require going at speed. But I know that part of the appeal is hiking over many days and ending at MP.

If you can make the decision when you get there, you'll know better how she's feeling at that stage of the pregnancy, and how she's dealing with altitude. Then she won't soldier on just because you've already plunked down the cash - she can decide how she's doing right then.
posted by barnone at 11:05 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nrhing what many others have said above. Risk-wise, it’s probably fine, especially if her doctor thinks so. But you need to consider your wife’s enjoyment of the experience. I took a short (preplanned) trip to Boston when I was a few weeks pregnant for the first time. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I would have had I not been pregnant. I never had morning sickness, but I felt queasy and tired most of the time, and the travel just wasn’t enjoyable for me. I was disappointed because I had really been looking forward to the trip. Later in my pregnancy I took another trip and was fine, but early pregnancy can be really tough. You and your wife just can’t know how her body will react, and if it were me, I wouldn’t want to take the trip of a lifetime and risk not enjoying it to its fullest.
posted by yawper at 11:07 AM on September 28, 2010

Last comment - and I'm definitely all for a trip to Peru and not treading pregnant folks like they're sick or invalid. But sometimes pregnancy makes you feel like complete ass, and not being able to eat, smell weird things, sweating like crazy and generally wanting to vomit for weeks on end wouldn't be very fun on the Inca Trail.
posted by barnone at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2010

One other potential concern - how much would health insurance for your wife cost? Would that be an issue?
posted by purlgurly at 11:10 AM on September 28, 2010

Yeah, the Inca Trail doesn't really allow for a "slow amble". What if you took the train to Aguas Calientes and then hiked up to Machu Picchu instead of taking the bus? Or even better, hiked Huayna Picchu?

The problem with the Inca Trail is that there isn't an easy way to get back if she finds she can't complete it.
posted by valeries at 11:11 AM on September 28, 2010

Upon reading barnone's excellent comments, I'm kinda revising my position... one thing I would seriously NOT do when pregnant and traveling is commit to any kind of unchangeable itinerary, or one where you HAVE to keep up with a group (I was unaware this was likely to be "herd a whole passel of people up a mountain" type of situation).

I think that the TWO of you could probably have loads of fun on vacation together no matter WHAT happens, solely because you could change your activities/pace depending on how she feels. However, sticking with a tour group sounds kind of risky... there's no option to lay low, hang out in the tent, read to one another and eat s'mores all day if she's feeling icky.
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:17 AM on September 28, 2010

7 weeks was fatigue central. I had to take 2 hour naps every day, and had a lot of nausea the rest of the time. I also had to pee frequently (especially at night). I was on an overseas vacation at the time, but it was Paris. Traveling was no biggie; but I would be concerned that your wife would be uncomfortable and tired the whole time.
posted by chelseagirl at 11:17 AM on September 28, 2010

Did the incas hike the inca trail when pregnant? Probably. Pregnancy affects everyone differently. I know runners who run (at altitude) into their 8th month. It is hard to say since this is her first pregnancy. It may affect her or it may not... sorry this is not very helpful.
posted by turtlefu at 11:25 AM on September 28, 2010

I concur with the concerns about nausea and fatigue above. However, women often go back to feeling like their old self during the second trimester. Maybe plan the trip when she 16-24 weeks? The fatigue usually (mostly) subsides and the baby belly isn't yet too much to be able to move around with ease.

Good luck!
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 11:28 AM on September 28, 2010

Be flexible. I went on camping trip in Yosemite early in my first pregnancy, and sometimes I was up for long, long bike rides through the valley and fairly strenuous hikes, provided there were enough snacks, and sometimes I could barely walk over to the breakfast table and would have paid cash money to get someone to bring me a bottle to pee in so I could just stay in my sleeping bag.

Since this is not really the kind of thing where she can say "eh, today I just want to read my book", I would probably take another look at your plan.
posted by padraigin at 11:29 AM on September 28, 2010

One additional consideration: although I don't want to kill the joy at all, it's also worth noting that the pregnancy won't really be out of the woods vis-a-vis miscarriages until Week 13 or so. Your wife's hiking won't affect the likelihood of this happening, but if something should go wrong, it's a long way to be from home during what can be a very painful, distressing and scary experience. If you do go, definitely make sure the tour has a plan for emergencies and that the nearby medical facilities are up to snuff.
posted by Bardolph at 11:33 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

If for some reason you guys decide that she's not up to the full 4-day trek, there are apparently a number of alternative Inca Trail treks out there. Though some of them involve horseback or mountain bike segments, which might be less safe than the all-hiking itinerary.

What if you took the train to Aguas Calientes and then hiked up to Machu Picchu instead of taking the bus? Or even better, hiked Huayna Picchu?

I hiked up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes a few months ago. As a healthy and fit 29-year-old, I'd say it's not to be underestimated. It's basically one long very steep (and damp, and humid) staircase. And if you want to beat the crowds to Machu Picchu, it'll also be dark. I'm not sure how it compares to the Inca Trail, but if I wasn't feeling well I definitely wouldn't be up for the Aguas Calientes hike.

Huayna Picchu was fine, though similarly steep - as long as her sense of balance is OK, she should be fine. It wasn't an endurance test the way the initial climb up to the ruins was.

If your doctor is not concerned about travel-related illnesses, I wouldn't worry about it. The Sacred Valley area is not a malarial hotspot, by the way.

All in all, I would not cancel the trip to Peru. Maybe choose not to do the Inca Trail, but there's lots more to do in that part of the world than just the Inca Trail.
posted by Sara C. at 11:40 AM on September 28, 2010

Did the incas hike the inca trail when pregnant?

Obviously. But their bodies were acclimated to high altitudes and mountain hiking unlike someone who is presumably from low country (otherwise they wouldn't be asking.) It doesn't do anyone any favours to pretend that pregnancy is symptom-free and without effects.

She might be feeling OK in general but too sick to do a strenuous hike. Or she might feel OK for one day hike but like ass on day 2 or 3. There's no real way to know beforehand.

Congrats on your little Picchu!
posted by barnone at 11:44 AM on September 28, 2010

I'll second the claim that the Inka Trail is like a conveyor belt. Also, I've heard that because it's so heavily trafficked, it is also one of the dirtiest places in the Andes, and therefore one of the likeliest places to come down with a bout of food poisoning in Peru.

If you're set on the trail, then ignore this next bit. If your aim is simply to do a multi-day hike through gorgeous Inka sites, there are a lot of lesser known trails that also take you past incredible, and rarely-visited, ruins. You'll have to hire horses and a guide, but you can set your own pace and make a more leisurely progress, and perhaps avoid the overcrowding, poor sanitation, and increased likelihood of illness. If you want a recommendation for someone in Ollantaytambo who puts tours like this together, me-mail me! Or I can ask the archaeologist sitting in my living room for some tips. :)
posted by artemisia at 11:49 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think my first concern would be the altitude. The Inca Trail is between 9k-14k feet above sea level, which is no joke. And there is really no telling who will end up with soroche; I've had no problems in the Himalayas, but somehow the Andes totally kicked my ass. (this is especially embarrassing to me as I'm quechua. goddamn mountains.)

Is there maybe anywhere closer to home you guys can test out your altitude tolerance beforehand?
posted by elizardbits at 11:57 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Fantastic answers everyone. Thank you!

To answer a few questions:

1) We've paid a deposit (50%) for the trek itself, but we can decide up to 48 hours before if we want to actually do it.

2) The only thing that is non-refundable on the trip is the airline tickets into and out of peru (we're there for 12 days total, with the inca trail being the only thing we had planned).

3) We've contacted the tour company (perutreks.com) and they have been unbelievably helpful. They assured us that, if she decides to join, the guides will make sure someone escorts us at the appropriate pace. Seriously, that company lives up to all they hype thus far.

Of all the great advice here, I would say Mrs. P has most underestimated the "feeling fatigued" part, because she feels fantastic right now.

I think we'll end up going to Peru, and then staying in Cusco for 3 or 4 days before we start the trek. If she's feeling good, we'll go for it.

Thanks for all the great advice!
posted by pencroft at 12:03 PM on September 28, 2010

With the blessing of your physician in hand, I say go for it. However, could you plan alternative arrangements in case your wife is truly feeling terrible at that point? Check out some awesome spas and low-impact sightseeing in Peru to look forward to, or maybe just a luxury hotel.
posted by fermezporte at 12:08 PM on September 28, 2010

But Sara C - if you don't think she can do those shorter hikes, how in the world could she do the Inca Trail? It's not less challenging. "One long very steep (and damp, and humid) staircase" describes it well - and then do that over and over again for four days after sleeping in a tent in the freezing cold and peeing in a really dirty outhouse which is really just a hole in the ground with three inches of excrement surrounding it. At least with those shorter hikes, she can choose an easier route (bus) if she's not feeling well that day.

Go to Peru. Do the Gringo Trail - Lima, Arequipa, Puno-Lake Titicaca, Cusco-Sacred Valley. Take the train to Machu Picchu. Spend several days in the jungle - Posada Amazonas was great with good food and comfortable lodging and informative guides. There's plenty of hiking and active adventure type stuff in Peru without doing the 4 day trek.
posted by valeries at 12:11 PM on September 28, 2010

Cuzco is amazing and has tons of things to see and do - I intended to spend a 3 or 4 days and decided to stick around for almost three weeks! So even if you opt out of the trek, you will still have an amazing trip.

Also keep in mind that the altitude in and around Cuzco will probably inspire some fatigue even if she's been feeling great so far. You should definitely plan, at minimum, to spend the recommended day or two acclimating to the effects of the altitude.
posted by Sara C. at 12:13 PM on September 28, 2010

if you don't think she can do those shorter hikes, how in the world could she do the Inca Trail?

I don't know why you're addressing this to me, or what you got out of my post...?

I'm not saying she should do the Inca Trail and not do the Aguas Calientes hike. Just that said "short" hike is not to be underestimated. I didn't do the Inca Trail, myself, so cannot weigh in on it one way or the other*. But if I would not recommend the Aguas Calientes schlep to someone who was feeling under the weather and thought that trek would be an easy equivalent.

*And if the Inca Trail is equivalent to the Aguas Calientes thing, but all day for all four days, I officially have no regrets about skipping it.
posted by Sara C. at 12:19 PM on September 28, 2010

Sara C - we're in agreement about the "shorter" hikes. Sorry - thought you were saying to do the Inca Trail because the shorter hikes are hard. I just can't imagine doing that hike while pregnant, no matter how fit.
posted by valeries at 12:27 PM on September 28, 2010

Isn't Peru a Malaria zone? Maybe the higher altitudes aren't as they would be cooler/less tropical... The risk of contracting malaria alone would give me pause. There isn't a malaria vaccine. I would say bring plenty of skeeter dope and read up on malaria prevention.

Also - get some travel insurance that includes medical evac back to the US. You do NOT want to be hospitalized there.
posted by thatguyjeff at 9:21 AM on September 29, 2010

Let us know how it goes! And congratulations!
posted by amanda at 10:27 AM on September 29, 2010

Isn't Peru a Malaria zone? Maybe the higher altitudes aren't as they would be cooler/less tropical... The risk of contracting malaria alone would give me pause. There isn't a malaria vaccine. I would say bring plenty of skeeter dope and read up on malaria prevention.

The part of Peru the OP mentions visiting is not a malarial zone. I believe the only part of Peru that ever sees malaria is some parts of the jungle. But most tourists to Peru don't spend enough time in the jungle (if they go at all) to merit any precautions beyond covering up and packing bug spray with DEET.

I went at a very different time of year from the OP and wife, but I didn't see a single mosquito the whole month I was in the country.
posted by Sara C. at 2:41 PM on September 29, 2010

Response by poster: Update! We did end up going to Peru, sans Inca trail hike. We took the unbelievably memorable Hiram Bingham train on the way up. Complete with an open-air observation car, live music, and free drinks (for me). Quite the opposite experience than hiking, but fantastic none the less.

Other than the horrific experience of her contracting food poisoning (see my other question), it was a great way to see Machu Picchu. The altitude actually affected me more than her. I had a headache for the entire time in Cusco.

Thanks for all the input! I guess we'll do the trail someday with the kid(s) :)
posted by pencroft at 3:06 PM on October 21, 2010

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