What to Pack for your Hike to Machu Picchu and Dealing with Altitude Sickness

Getting ready to head to Machu Picchu? Here’s how I packed for Machu Picchu and how to deal with altitude sickness.

We took the Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu. We were in the Andes Mountains the whole time, but came from the opposite side as the traditional Inca Trail. The weather was slightly warmer and also included a lot of humidity and mosquitoes (50s at night, 60s in the morning, 75 degrees Fahrenheit midday). I got bit by so many more mosquitoes on this trek because we didn’t plan ahead and have enough bug spray. Bring a ton of 100% deet bug spray!!! I know it’s bad for the environment, but you won’t be using it for very long. I learned this the hard way. If you want to see our full itinerary, info on the tour group we used, and hear that story, see my previous post.

We were in the mountains, and so we had to be prepared to layer things to wear overnight and take off the next day as it got warmer. Because we were hiking the whole thing, we had to carry our packs the whole time ourselves so we tried hard to pack lightly. We brought smaller packs and took only what we needed. Our larger packs were left at the hotel. The lighter the better. I bought this pack from REI to store all of my things for the four days.

What to Pack

  • Walk shoes or boots
  • Jacket
    • I brought 2 that were made for hiking/athletics and breathable and I could layer them
  • Water bottle (refillable)
  • Head lamp or flashlight
  • Rain jacket (a foldable one that is very light)
  • Sunblock
  • sunglasses
  • 4 pairs of pants to hike in
  • 4 shirts for hikes
  • Swimsuit (we visited waterfalls, river rafted, and went to hot springs)
  • sleep outfit (sleep pants, top)
  • An everything vest, easy to grab stuff during a hike and still keeps you somewhat warm!
    • people made fun of me for getting this, but I loved having it
    • bought on sale from Amazon.com
    • I  looked cool ok?!
  • First Aid Kit stuff – Imodium, Advil, tums, anti-malarial, altitude sickness meds, Band-Aids, Neosporin, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, allergy pills, blister pads
    • serious about those blister pads, wearing the same shoes everyday means rubbing the same spot over and over
  • Go Pro (I have the Hero 3+ and it’s great)
  • Extra battery packs
  • solar charger
    • You’ll most likely not have access to plug ins the whole time, an extra charger is good and this one recharges itself so you don’t have to worry about it running out of charge too. It totally came in handy!)
  • Waterproof cases for all electronics
  • Hiking poles
    • Our guide had poles and we were envious the whole time! You are hiking up and down steep mountains, poles help take the stress off. They are not expensive, light weight, and will really help with your knees.
  • Snacks
    • Pedialyte and propel really help with altitude sickness. You can buy it as little dry packs and add it to water. Plus they add flavor so you don’t get sick of only drinking water!
    • Granola bars – don’t over do it on this one, they will feed you plenty, but at the same time, it’s nice to have a snack while you hike! Mike overdid it and threw a bunch away because they ended up taking up too much space.

Notes on Altitude Sickness

Peru in general has a high altitude. Cusco has a very high altitude. This should be taken seriously and we planned ahead to make sure we were prepared. Since we knew it was a big altitude change, we planned a few days to stay in Cusco and acclimate a little more. I’m so glad we did! We needed that time because it really was different. Here are the things I researched from all different sites that I found were easy enough to do without feeling like I was doing too much. I’ve highlighted the ones that I found most helpful.

I did get pills from my doctor (see below for what kind) and took them when we got to Cusco, however – I forgot them when we actually left for Machu Picchu. I ended up being fine, but I did have to take Aspirin and drink lots of fluids (water and Pedialyte).

  • Frequent small meals of easily digested carbohydrates, drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol and additional salt will all help to protect you against developing altitude sickness.
  • Mild cases of altitude sickness can usually be treated with rest, limited physical activity for a few days, plenty of fluids and painkillers if need be.
  • Stay hydrated. Pedialyte and propel really help with altitude sickness. You can buy it as little dry packs and add it to water.
  • Some hotels provide oxygen tanks
    • ask your hotel before you book if you really want one
    • we didn’t find this necessary, but it is possible
  • Start out slowly, pace yourself and remember to listen to your body until you perfect a comfortable stride.
  • Acclimatize yourself to the elevation by staying a couple of nights at higher altitudes before starting your trip to allow your body time to adjust.
  • Ascend slowly and carefully when symptoms of altitude sickness present themselves.
  • Be aware of your body’s temperature as perspiration can sap your energy. Wear light-colored clothes during summer months and dark-colored clothes during winter months to absorb or repel sunlight.
  • Learn pressure breathing, a technique that overcomes nausea. Purse your lips and exhale fully to allow the carbon dioxide in your lungs to escape, and force oxygen into your lungs.
  • Always take extra precautions when it comes to basic hygiene you are more susceptible to bacteria and viruses in a new environment than in your usual habitat.
  • Take antioxidant vitamins such as A, C, and E to help minimize the effects of high altitudes.
  • Take prophylaxis medications. Before you go on a journey where you will ascend to high altitudes, get some medication to help. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to get prophylaxis medications before you leave. Discuss your past medical history and explain that you are going up to elevations greater than 8,000 to 9,000 ft. Make sure you’re not allergic, and get a prescription for acetazolamide from your doctor.
  • Purchase coca leaves. Though this is an illegal substance in the US, domestic people living in Central and South America use this to prevent mountain sickness. If you are traveling to these areas, you may purchase the leaves and either chew on it or make tea.
    • They are everywhere in Cusco. Hotels have them, grocery stores have them, corner stores and convenience stores too. We drank them daily.

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What did I miss? Anything you packed that should have been on my list? Let me know!

Don’t forget to look at my entire guide for two weeks in Peru!

  • sarah

    Hope to get to do this sometime in the near future! Love it

    • meghanramsey1@gmail.com

      Thanks Sarah! Hope you guys get to go, it’s awesome!

  • These tips are super helpful, cause I’m planning a trip to South-America for next summer. Btw, you totally pulled off the vest. Looking good;)

    • meghanramsey1@gmail.com

      Hahaha thank you! I tried to rock it. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  • That looks crazy! I have a question about the GoPro though. I updated mine and can’t seem to make it work anymore. I hope you never have that problem especially in he middle of an adventure like that!

    • meghanramsey1@gmail.com

      Oh wow! I didn’t know that could happen. It will definitely by on my radar.

  • Thank you for the comprehensive list of things to bring as well as the tips! It’s a dream of mine to hike Machu Picchu. 🙂

    • meghanramsey1@gmail.com

      Glad you liked it! You should definitely go to Machu Picchu! It’s amazing! 🙂 Best of luck with your travels!

  • Great post! I really want to see Machu Picchu in the near future so I’ll definitely keep this in mind 🙂

    • meghanramsey1@gmail.com

      Thanks Anna! You should definitely go – it’s amazing!

  • These are some great tips, thanks for sharing 🙂 I especially appreciate the notes regarding altitude sickness – I have worried about this as I’ve experienced altitude sickness when I was at Cruz Loma in Ecuador. Hoping to do Machu Picchu in the near future, so I will be bookmarking this blog post! Happy travels 🙂

    • meghanramsey1@gmail.com

      Thank you! You definitely have to be careful of altitude. Hope you have better luck on future trips to high altitudes!

  • Great post! I intend on visiting Machu Picchu one day. Thank for the tips!

    • meghanramsey1@gmail.com

      Thanks Kelly! Hope you are able to visit – Machu Picchu is amazing!

  • Machu Picchu is definitely on my travel list! And once I decide to go I will take your packing list into consideration for sure 🙂

    • meghanramsey1@gmail.com

      Thank you! Glad I could help!

  • that is super helpful, saved it for later! We are planing to include Peru and the Machu Picchu to our World Trip next year and your article here comes in really handy!

    • meghanramsey1@gmail.com

      So glad I could help Lena! Good luck and safe travels!

  • Sheena

    I wish I read this 3 years ago before I went to Peru! I didn’t get altitude sickness at Machu Picchu but I did on the Santa Cruz trek in Huaraz – I didn’t believe it was a real thing before but omg I was hit hard! It was worth it though, the scenery was amazing, even if I spent 4 days on a donkey!

    • meghanramsey1@gmail.com

      Yes! I have felt altitude in Colorado, USA so I knew I had to prepare for Peru. I was definitely hit by it too! Sounds like a rough but awesome trip. I wish we had made it to Huaraz – it sounds awesome!

  • You sure did look cool in your everything vest! Great tips for altitude, when I slept at altitude once, I got a horrible recurring dream. Great pic of Machu Picchu with the Llama photo bomb!

  • I’ve done numerous high altitude treks – knowing your body well is the key. At times you perform ok while at times you will be stunned how your body shifts and can’t perform well at high altitude. These are good guidelines but the more you do high altitude trek the more you will learn more what works best for you.