So the title might have given it away but I would 100% consider myself a first time trekker...at least for a serious trek like Machu Picchu that is. Aside from casual fall hikes and growing up as a kid in boy scouts I haven't had a serious adventure like this yet in my life. So why not, right? So without further adue here are my first-hand tips from my first trek abroad with Choose a Challenge
Set a pace that works for you while on your trek. my ideal pace was literally stepping no more than one whole foot in front of me at a time:
Don’t worry about the pace set by the person(s) directly in front of you because they're not the ones who might be sore later on from rushing up the mountain. Our guides already set a manageable steady pace so if you ever need to get back on track just pick your head up and readjust back to their tempo.
Conserve your energy
This goes hand in hand with baby steps, but often I would find myself taking longer strides or speeding up my pace along the trail without noticing. When I realized this, I would literally tell myself in my head, "Mike, shut it down and get back to your pace so you don’t tire yourself out." The best way to look at it is this is a marathon, not a sprint, so even during the easy parts dont push yourself when its not neccesary.
Don’t be a hero
Are you starting to sense a pattern here? I thought so.
If you feel yourself being pushed a little too hard by the conditions, pace of the group or are feeling the effects of the high altitude don't be shy to ask for a break. You have multiple days of trekking ahead so don't act like a hero, it's not worh it. I would often encourage my fellow trekkers to shout out when they wanted to take a 5-minute break to rest, reapply sunscreen or mosquito repellent, etc.
POLES, POLES, POLES
We here at Choose a Challenge definitely recommend getting yourself a pair of hiking poles for your trek. They take away the brunt of the force on your knees when stepping along your route. I did the entire Machu Picchu trail without poles until the last day and I can tell you that there's definitely a difference with them, trust me. When stepping down from big steps simply just stick your pole ahead of you on the ground and put all of your weight on each pole as you step. BOTTOMLINE: highly recomend picking up a pair
The snacks provided to you by your guides are great, but it's always nice to have a little taste of home after a long day of trekking or along your route. My advice would be to have one good sugary snack and one filling one as well (I paired trail mix and Swedish Fish personally)
Get Good Boots
I remember a time where I was convinced just taking my construction boots up with me on the mountain was a good idea.
Then I started to think about it more and I got progressively more nervous as it got closer to my departure day. The limited flexibility while stepping and the unnecessarily high ankle support was enough for me to bite the bullet and buy a new pair. So I ended up getting a pair of boots (actually made for hiking) for a pretty reasonable price too, and BOY WAS THAT A GREAT DECISION looking back. We walked 56.6 MILES from Day one all the way to Machu Picchu and I don't even want to think about the additional hurdles I would have had to jump over had I just stuck with my regular pair of boots. Getting boots with good tread, that are weatherproof, and flexible as well made my trek that much more comfortable. It also pays off to wear your boots to the airport on day one so that way you don't have to pack them in your checked bag if they're too bulky
PRO TIP: Try and be a pal and leave your boots outside the tent after a long day of trekking if possible to be courteous to your tentmate (usually there's a covered area just outside of your tent entrance you can keep them in so they won't get ruined.)
Day Pack: Pack the essentials when you leave
This includes at least one change of clothes, cell phone charger, your toothbrush and toothpaste. We recommend this because in the odd chance your baggage gets mixed up by the airline, having these things to get by for the short time won't leave you stranded.
Day Pack: Bring your money
This one I learned from personal experience. Periodically throughout your daily trekking route, you'll find rest stops with local vendors selling things like Gatorade, water, snacks, and access to their bathroom facilities. For all of these items (including the bathroom), you'll need to pay. One day I left my money in another bag and had to wait until I reached our next campsite to grab new water and use the restroom. Don't let yourself get into this position, and pack some money in with your daypack.
Day Pack: Think ahead when packing
This applies to every single day on your trek. You'll encounter different things on different days so knowing what to bring and leave in your other bag is important. You’ll get roughly 30 minutes from the time you wake up before breakfast to pack your things. Think about factors like what the weather might be that day and pack those layers & items. You don't want to be left out in the cold or sweating because it was chilly in the AM but the sun is now beaming. This goes for potential extra batteries for cameras/phones, snacks, etc. too. You can always ask your guides on a daily basis what you'll need ahead of time if you have any questions. If you're reading this and planning to pack your daypack soon before your trek, you can refer to our "Packing your daypack 101" article here
Brush up on the local language
It definitely helps to know a little bit of the language of the country you're visiting. You’ll most likely have interactions with other people there on a daily basis, for ex. haggling with vendors at the market, or reading menus & ordering food when you’re out to dinner without your guides there. This is all a part of experiencing another culture. You can always ask your guides when they're with you about how to say a few key words, but make the effort to spend 5-10 minutes a day leading up to your trip using a language learning app such as Duolingo.
Researching activities to do
Nothing is worse than not knowing what to do in the middle of a bustling city like Cusco.
Solution: Use Google and Make a plan
I'd line up 2-3 places you want to check out on your free day and that others have recommended online. Sites like trip advisor are great for this with reviews and lists filled with possible ideas. If you're doing the Machu Picchu trek, I personally recommend places like Jack's cafe and the Museo Del Cafe for food and Mama Africa or Paddy's Pub if you're looking to grab a drink.
Take altitude sickness medication before boarding or when you land
This may sound like a precaution but you'd be surprised how fast the altitude can hit you once you start walking around, especially in Cusco on the Machu Picchu trip (11,000+ ft). We always recommend seeing your primary doctor before taking on one of our trips and we highly recommend getting a prescription for Diamox, which is used to help combat altitude sickness. On most of our trips you'll be ascending on back to back days so taking these with you could end up saving your trip (and your stomach). If you're not sure when to take them, feel free to ask our guide as they will know best.