Published on March 31st, 2014 | by Geckos Tales Team
A beginner’s guide to trekking in the Americas
Read time: a bit over 3 minutes
The landscapes of South and Central America are what experts would refer to as “diverse”. For a start, they’re covered with countless remnants and relics of ancient civilisations. Then there’s the thick rainforest, soaring volcanoes, mind-melting mountains, lakes, rivers, salt pans – the list goes on.
And then of course, you’ve got the locals, the cuisine and the culture. We reckon one of the best ways to take it all in is to strap on some hiking boots and hit the road (or dirt path). But for the most part, it won’t be easy going (but it will be freakin’ awesome). Here are some pointers for your next trek in Central or South America – whether it’s the Inca Trail or Patagonia you’re tackling, take heed and god speed.
Before you leave
Don’t stress too much about being uber-fit. Obviously, the fitter you are the more you will enjoy it, but at the end of the day you just need to be able to walk for hours on end. There’ll likely be lots of stairs and inclines, so prepare by doing anything to strengthen your glutes and quads (giggedy). Cross trainers are good, as is any form of general cardio. Not rocket science.A few day walks with your boots and packs before you set off will help break in your gear and get you used to it. Some 6+ hour walks will also get you used to being on your feet for long stretches.
On the trek
Take your time
It’s not a race. Those who do try and rush to get there first miss out on all the good scenery, usually end up getting injured along the way (perhaps resulting in getting porter-run back to camp) and are prone to suffering the most from altitude. It’s not a fast walk or power walk. After all, the hiking is the whole reason you’re here, right? Take your time.
Water is the key to preventing acute mountain sickness (if you’re on a mountain. If you’re not on a mountain, keeping hydrated is still a worthwhile pursuit). You should be upping your litres in the months leading up to the trek. If you’re not urinating frequently or if your urine is yellow on the trek, you’re not drinking enough.
A note on Diamox
Make sure you tell the leader if you take Diamox. Don’t bother until you get over 3500-4000m, unless of course you start feeling symptoms. Panadol and aspirin are handy to take for headaches – but NOTHING with codeine in it as that can be dangerous at altitude.
Packing and clothing
Two pairs of shorts and one pair of pants.
Two to three t-shirts.
Good socks. They may be pricey, but they’re worth it.
Liners (Coolmax etc) to blister-proof your feet. They’re also easy to wash and hang on your backpack to dry as you trek, meaning you can get more wear out of your socks.
Two fleece – a lighter one (100gram) and heavier (300gram).
A beanie (to sleep in if you really feel the cold).
A Gore-Tex jacket or water-proof.
Boots. Mid to full ankle boots are best. Either Gore-Tex or leather, although leather isn’t really necessary.
Some comfortable footwear, such as Crocs. After all day in your boots the last thing you want to do is put your feet in sneakers and tie up those laces.
UV lip care/zinc and UV sunglasses (wrap around) and a peaked cap – very important for the sun glare when you begin getting into the higher altitudes.
Walking poles are really useful to have, especially if anyone has any knee or ankle issues. I prefer to use one, especially for the downhill sections.
Food and drink
Snacks – You might want to bring some snacks/gels/protein bars with you, particularly for the longer trek days.
Water – We highly recommend a bladder (eg. Camelbak) to keep hydrated.
It’s good to bring some sachets of Hydralyte or Gatorade powder to assist with hydration and also can make the water taste better.
If you really want to drink, we strongly advise against alcohol over 3000m.