9 tips to Survive the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

I know, I have been on a blog hiatus for a while. The reason? I took a break from Chicago and travelled to Peru, my home country. The objective? Challenge myself by doing my first trek ever: the 4-day Inca Trail to the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas and one of the seven modern wonders of the world. Despite being my fourth time going there, I knew this time would be something special. The Inca Trail (also known as Camino Inca) is the most famous trek in South America and one of the most beautiful treks in the world.



This trail is part of a vast network of stone-paved roads that connected all corners of the Inca empire. Walking the 26 miles of this portion of the trail entails going up and down infinite, narrow and steep stone steps (climbing up and down stairs takes on a whole new meaning!), walking through valleys, mountain passes that can go as high as 4300 meters (14,000 feet) above sea level, precipices, rivers, gorgeous snow peaked mountains, lush cloud forests, tropical vegetation (including orchids) and amazing Inca ruins.


Yes, the trek is challenging, but it is also magical. Walking the trail feels like walking with the Incas through history.


I kept thinking about the time and effort they must have spent to build it and of the harmony with its natural surroundings. This talks volumes about Inca cosmology. Andean people thought that “in order to maintain some sort of peace, they had both to maintain a careful equilibrium between themselves and their environment” . And they definitely followed this principle when building this trail: I was in awe of the beauty of it all!  After arriving in Machu Picchu and hearing the incredible stories from our guide, I felt a strong connection with a part of me that had been submerged by the colonial mentality that is so prevalent in Peruvian society since the arrival of the Spaniards to Peru: my Andean roots.


As we were leaving Machu Picchu, an intense emotion overcame me. It was a great feeling of accomplishment, but also a mixed feeling of nostalgia and rage. I felt the weight of history in my heart right then. It was the end of an incredible journey that challenged me physically, emotionally and spiritually…but the challenge was totally worth it! I would suggest adding this trek to your bucket list, especially if you have Peruvian roots. Sadly, only very few us do it. Here is a nice video that really brings back how I felt walking the trail:.

If you are ready to go, then keep in mind the following tips:

  1. Book in advance. The Peruvian government has limited the access to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu to 500 people per day (including porters), so it is recommended to book at least six months in advance, especially if you are planning on going during the peak season (June-August). I would be careful doing the Inca Trail during the rainy season (November-March) as it can get even more challenging. Also, it is required to be part of a tour group, so you need to contact a travel agency to make arrangements. Hiring a good one will make your experience a pleasant one. I took this tour with Peru Experience, and the service was great. They took care of everything. Our guide, Jose Sotelo, was excellent and enhanced our experience with his love and deep knowledge of Andean culture.
  2. Arrive to Qosqo (The Quechua word for Cusco) at least 2 days before starting the trail to get used to the altitude. Once you get to Qosqo, you should take it easy, very easy. Drink lots of muña tea (the Andean mint) or coca leaf tea to help you acclimatize (don’t worry, coca leaves are legal in Peru. Chewing the leaves or drinking the tea does not have narcotic effects, but will help with altitude sickness. In fact, the coca plant was sacred during Inca times and is still widely consumed in the Andes. Our hotel offered it for free along with coffee in the lobby.) You may also get sorojchi pills for the altitude.
  3. Bring a book that will help you immerse into Andean culture. I brought Los Comentarios Reales by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, a 16th century chronicle of The Incan Empire written by the child of a noble Spaniard and an Incan princess (he is considered the first Peruvian ever because of his Inca and Spaniard blood).
  4. Bring money to buy snacks and water (or to use the toilet) along the road. I was surprised to find people living along the trail during the first segment of the trip (there is even a small cemetery that we passed. And no, it is not a cemetery for Inca Trail trekkers). Save some cash for the third night to tip the porters and the cook. Tips are optional, but it is expected to tip if you are happy with the service.  By the way, I have the utmost admiration for the porters. These guys had to walk the same trail but with huge bundles on their backs and had everything ready for us ahead of time. You should also tip the guide at the end of the trip.
  5. Buy a portable charger for the road for any necessary batteries and charge them up before you start the trek. I forgot to bring one so I could not take as many pics as I would have liked.
  6. Pack lightly. Yes, I know, it is hard for some of us to wear the same clothes twice in a row. But trust me, you will be thankful you did. When packing, keep in mind the following:
  • Bring a day backpack . There is no need for a big camping backpack. The porters will carry everything for you except your clothes, water, and necessities. Bring a headlight or a lamp/flashlight.
  • Bring repellent, sunblock, water, long underwear, toilet paper, wipes, soap, and a towel.
  • Toilets during the trek are not the best. Avoid them if you can and use the “Inca bathroom” for number one.
  • Bring rainproof gear, particularly during the rainy season. The second night is the coldest, so bring a fleece sweater, hat, gloves and long undies. You will also need some of these for the second day, when you reach the highest pass of the trek. Remember to wear layers as temperature changes frequently

7.Once you start trekking, be aware of how you walk. The steeper the slope, the slower and shorter your steps should be. When going down, keep your weight in the front half of your feet. Don’t place all your weight on them. Walk as if you were stepping on eggs and step down sideways when the steps are narrow. Remember to breathe slowly, deeply and steadily all the time.
8. This trail can be challenging for people who are afraid of heights. You will pass a lot of cliffs through while going down narrow roads that have steep steps (which makes me wonder: were the Incas giants? Did they have long legs that were fit for these high steps? Did they just like the challenge?). The third day was the hardest day for me because of that. We descended thousands of steps along these narrow roads next to precipices. My knees were in pain, and I felt exhausted. I was ready to quit and take the next bus to Machu Picchu out of my fear of heights. If you feel like that: don’t quit! Keep going. Take an ibuprofen for the pain, rest and pat yourself on the back for having survived a day of hard trekking. Let me tell you: by the fourth day I was a trooper! We did the last day of the trek to Machu Picchu in less time than what it normally takes.

9. Try to learn some words in Quechua and talk to the porters (ask your guide or click here for some words). It will enhance your experience and the porters will appreciate your interest in their culture.


Let’s Dance at the Chicago Cultural Center

As winter takes hold, swing into the new year with Winter Dance 2013 on January 4, 5, and 6 at the Chicago Cultural Center. It’s Winter’s version of SummerDance! Winter Dance will bring people of all ages and skill levels together in the Yates Gallery with free, introductory one-hour dance lessons by professional instructors followed by music and dancing. The diverse musical lineup showcases popular dance styles.

Friday, January 4, 2013
Swing Band: The Flat Cats
Dance Studio: Big City Swing – East Coast Swing

Saturday, January 5, 2013
Salsa Band: Carpacho y Su Super Combo
Dance Studio: Latin Rhythms – Salsa

Sunday, January 6, 2013
Ballroom Band: Teddy Lee Orchestra
Dance Studio: Fox Trot

Also at the CCC: Wired Fridays with Chicago Djs

Wired Fridays is a series of LunchBreak concerts featuring DJs and electronic music. From ambient to dance, the world of DJs and soundscape artists will be uncovered each Friday through May. The LunchBreak Series will also continue to feature music of all genres on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Click here for more information.

January 7-13: Free Dance Lessons with the American Rhythm Center

The American Rhythm Center (ARC), located in the Fine Arts Building on 410 S. Michigan Ave, 3rd Floor, is a collaborative, nonprofit space providing dance and movement/fitness classes to the public. A free week of dance classes is being offered at the ARC starting Monday, January 7. The ARC will host a “Tour the ARC” promotion, allowing the public to take one (1) free class from each of the different organizations from 1/7-1/13. The ARC is host to a variety of dance styles from Bollywood to hip hop to Chicago-style footwork to tap and contemporary jazz to NIA (a mind/body awareness movement class) to flamenco! Click here for more information.

Check out the American Rhythm Center website at www.arcchicago.org. The center opened this past October as a program of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) and is supported by  a partnership among seven (7) Chicago dance companies and arts organizations, including the Giordano Dance, Kalapriya, Cerqua Rivera, and Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, to offer classes for the first time to the public. 

January 11: Rumba Reggae Party with my band Nu Bambu 

We are taking over the stage of Underground Wonder Bar once more for some live and original Chicago Rumba-Reggae music.  Nu Bambu will perform at 8pm. $5 Cover and good drink specials. Get ready to dance and have a great time! RSVP here

January 20: Join Chicago Urbanite at the Peruvian Young Professional Network

3856 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60613

Socialize and mix business with pleasure at this fun Peruvian Young Professionals Networking event. Make new friends, expand your list of business contacts and learn about Peruvian culture. We will celebrating the Anniversary of the City of Lima. Admission includes complimentary appetizers, one drink, a special performance of traditional music from Lima by Peruvian Tenor Javier Bernardo (member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago), and a mini class of marinera limeña, a traditional dance from Lima. $10 in advance/$15 at the door. It is recommended to buy tickets in advance. Limited space available. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

January 25: Afro-Latino Drum Circle and Concert with Chota Madre 

1000 N. Milwaukee Ave (top floor), Chicago, Illinois 60642

Join us for a drum circle session and concert with Chota Madre, the only Ecuadorian band outside of Ecuador that promotes Afro-Ecuadorian bomba music. They will be visiting Chicago for the first time and will share their cultural movement with us. Bomba was born and flourished from the cultural exchange between the indigenous, mestizo and African communities living in proximity in the Carchi and Imbabura provinces of Ecuador. Bomba is characterized by the percussion bomba drum, handmade by the African descendants living in the area. Together the requinto guitar, the guiro, and male and female voices transmit color, feeling and passion to the people. It is suggested to bring a percussion instrument or anything that can be used as a percussion instrument such as cans, buckets, pipes, etc. You can also bring any other musical instrument.
One need not possess or purchase a drum or be a musician to participate. The participants make up the music as they go along, using their listening and playing skills to make musical connections and express themselves in any way that feels right. Participation is voluntary and often includes drumming, singing or chanting, dancing, and listening. $7. Click here for more information.

Afro-Peruvian Dance Flashmob Video

I always liked the idea of being part of a dance flashmob. So last week, when I saw a video of TACA Airlines doing a dance flashmob with live music on a plane, I said to myself: If they can do it, we can do it here too!

I decided to do a flashmob that would pay tribute to the Day of Peruvian Criolla Music (Día de la Canción Criolla), which is celebrated in Peru every October 31st. With less than one week to organize it, I reached out to my network of friends in the dance and music community. And they responded! People from Peru and other nationalities like Serbia, Romania, Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the United States, all collaborated. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and joy of all who participated. For many, it was their first time learning about Afro-Peruvian rhythms. It showed again the power of music and dance to unite us all.

So, here are the results of our collaboration. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did. In fact, we liked it so much that we are thinking of repeating it very soon.  If you want to join us and be part of future dance flashmobs,  just leave a comment here.

Be part of an Afro-Peruvian percussion and dance flash mob in Chicago

Wanna learn a little of Afro-Peruvian dance? Then come to a FREE mini dance flash mob rehearsal tomorrow Sunday October 28 at Africaribe Cultural Center (2547 W Division) between 11am and 1pm. Easy steps and tons of fun. We will do the dance flash mob at a place nearby immediately after rehearsal.
If you can, bring the following:
Casual, comfortable, street clothes (bright-colored tops are preferred)
An empty glass bottle and a metal spoon to be used as musical instrument.

Hope to see you there!

Update on PAMS Medical Mission to Peru

Niña Bonita II, Peru

Hi everyone,
I want to let you know that you can now donate online for the medical mission to Peru this Summer.

Peruvian, USA doctors and other volunteers from Illinois will give free medical care to people in Peru who have no access to doctors or health care.

You can now donate online at www.ILpams.com

If you can, please go to www.ILpams.com today and give a little something. Even just $5 will help, you can give as little or as much as you’d like.i

You can use a credit/debit card or even Paypal. Please know it is a secure transaction with Paypal servers. IL PAMS is a registered non-profit organization, so your donation is tax-deductible.

The medical missions are going to Cuzco and Huaytara.

Please spread the word as well!  And for those who attended the fundraising event for Huaytara Mission 2012 and have already donated, thank you!

Thank you on behalf of the Illinois Peruvian American Medical Society

Hungry Kids, Peru

Hola a todos,

Ya pueden donar por internet para las misiones al Peru este verano.
Medicos peruanos y de los Estados Unidos junto con otros voluntarios daran servicio medico a los pobladores del Peru que no tienen acceso a servicios de salud.
Puedes donar por internet a www.ILpams.com. Hazlo hoy si puedes. Puedes ayudar con mucho o poco, dona 5$ si deseas.
Aceptamos tarjetas de credito/debito y Paypal. Esta es una transaccion segura con servidores de Paypal. La PAMS (Peruvian American Society) es una organizacion sin fines de lucro, asi que tu donacion es deducible de impuestos.

Las misiones este año iran a Cuzco y Huaytara.

Por favor pasa la voz. Y a los que estuvieron presentes en el evento pro-fondos Mision de Huaytara, muchas gracias por su colaboracion.

Gracias en nombre de la PAMS

The Afrodiaspora of Susana Baca

A delightful musical journey through the diaspora of the African community in the Americas was experienced last Saturday evening at Susana Baca’s concert at Mayne Stage. The celebrated Afro-Peruvian music singer came to Chicago to present her latest album titled Afrodiaspora. This album celebrates the African presence in the Americas through a compilation of songs that go from New Orleans to Peru. This compilation is the result of Susana’s numerous trips to different parts of this continent. During these trips, she found that the music of these countries had something in common: the sound of African rhythms.A barefooted Susana in a long flowing white dress took the stage and got our entire attention with her soft movements and ethereal voice. She was the perfect guide to embark us on this musical journey in time and space. What a wonderful journey we had! We heard from Colombian Cumbia, to Flamenco mixed with Tango and Panalivio, and Funk from New Orleans mixed with Peruvian Festejo. My favorite song from this album is Yana Runa, a beautiful mix of Afro Peruvian and Andean rhythms. Susana, as a good travel guide, took the time to explain the story behind each of the songs she interpreted. She explained, for example, that the song titled Ay mi Palomita (which actually belongs to a previous album), is a song that the Black Slaves and Peruvian Indians used to sing during the sugar cane harvest in the Northern Coast Region of Peru.Susana has recently been named the Minister of Culture of Peru. She is the first Afro-Peruvian woman appointed to that post. Fernando Hoyle, her tour manager, says that she is trying to be “una ministra cantante” (a singer minister), and hopefully keep touring while she is fulfilling her government duties. I hope she is able to do it. Susana radiates so much light and soul during her live performances that I never get tired to go to her concerts. It is always a pleasure to see her perform. If you have not had the chance to see her live, here is a sample of her performance at Mayne Stage:
To listen to the songs of Susana Baca’s new album Afrodiaspora, and to buy the CD, visit susanabaca.com

Pisco and Food Tasting at Between Lounge tomorrow!

If you are looking for an interesting event to attend tomorrow evening, you should go to Between (1324 N Milwaukee). This is a Peruvian Cafe and Lounge located in Wicker Park that boasts to  be the only Peruvian Pisco lounge in the city. If this is not enough reason for  you to check this place,  I must add the fabulous cuisine of its Chef  Jose Victorio, and the gracious hosting of its owner Carl Anderson.

Tomorrow at 8pm, Between will be offering a PERUVIAN PISCO TASTING / PAIRING. Taste (6) Piscos with Food Courses, learn about Pisco, pairing with food and creating cocktail recipes. Make your own Pisco Sour, the national cocktail of Peru. Ticket costs $30, BUT if you call and say you’re from Chicago Urbanite it’s $15 – limited seating – CALL FOR RESERVATIONS at (312) 493-9442


Chicago World Music Events for the weekend of June 17-19

Hello there!

Here is your world music  itinerary for this weekend in Chicago. Click on the links below or on the calendar link in the right column of this page for more information. I hope you can attend one or more of these events. And if you do, please share your comments/pics/videos with me. I would love to hear about your experiences exploring the city. Thanks!

June 17:

Peace Fest Chicago

Los Vicios de Papa and Middle Eastern Musicians at a Celebration of Freedom

Rudresh Mahanthappa & The Indo-Pak Coalition

Luciano Antonio CD Release

LA NOCHE: live afro-latin music and dance

Greek Night with Sounds of Greece

June 18:

Peace Fest Chicago

Puerto Rican Parade in downtown Chicago

Peace and healing arts festival

Afro-Peruvian music and dance at Kurrulao-Afro Culture Festival: Peruvian Folk Dance Center will perform Afro-Peruvian music and Dance at this festival at 4pm. There will also be dance performances from other countries. Here is the schedule:

Kurrulao Festival

Pineapple Haifa Students show

Rudresh Mahanthappa & The Indo-Pak Coalition

June 19:

Peace Fest Chicago

Rudresh Mahanthappa & The Indo-Pak Coalition

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