Get fit for trekking holidays across South America

by on 16th May, 2014

Celebrating at Punta Union pass, Santa Cruz Trek, Peru

Get hiking fit for trekking holidays

This week Andean Trails looks at how to get fit for your trekking holiday in South America, with a top joke at the end to boot!


Getting trek in South America

Your mind’s eye pictures the open path, yourself as a mountain goat eating up the miles, gamboling in the Andes, stopping to admire views before demolishing another high pass.

You’ve booked the dream trip, be it the Inca Trail, Paine W or the Huayhuash, one of many of South America’s fine hikes.

For some, the reality features blisters, aching legs and the occasional unwelcome rash. Treks at high altitude bring extra demands, too.

Despite investing plenty of time and dreams into trips and treks, some people don’t get into shape or train, or think about conditions.

Not only is pre holiday walking a missed chance to explore your beautiful homeland surroundings (and make new friends), but your hike may turn into a long few days of only longing to see the final camp and jumping on and off emergency horses.

Make the most of your hike by giving yourself plenty of time to get into shape, and following our basic, easy and enjoyable guide to getting ready for a trek.


lares-lodges-trek-pack horse peru

Lares lodges trek, Peru.




Go walking: This sounds obvious, and it is. Some people are very good and fit cyclists, or swimmers, but walking users different muscles.

You’ll need to build up strength and stamina as well as your aerobic fitness, particularly if going on a high altitude hike, where the demands on your body are greater.

If you’ve never done any walking before, start with a few gentle short walks (as short as 20 mins) preferably with some inclines and declines.

Small changes such as walking to work, taking a walk at lunchtime or missing the tube ride/bus ride and walking, can make all the difference. Make it part of your routine. For those that like targets, get a pedometer. Social? Join a walking group.

You want to build up slowly, about 10% more each week. Set a target of being able to walk 2-3 hours a good few months before your holiday.

The aim is to be able to walk 6-8 hours in one day, with ascents and descents built in. South America’s paths are full of ups and downs.

Many of our treks last four days or longer, so your body must get used to getting up and going every day. Build up to a walking weekend away, with full day walks for 2-3 consecutive days at least.

If you are going on a two-week trek, it’s good to think about taking a long weekend/full week of walking, with walks every day, to replicate the routine you’ll encounter on holiday.

No countryside nearby? Put your rucksack on and walk up and down staircases while listening to some tunes. Or walk from one neighbourhood/town to another, and catch a train/bus home.

(NOTE: For all hikes, always plan routes, take maps, research the weather and area and let someone know where you are going).


Sierra Nevada Trek Map Conguillio Chile

Sierra Nevada Trek, Conguillio, Chile


Go camping: Many people can walk the walk but are not used to camping. Most treks involve several nights under canvass, and some at high altitude in which conditions can be cold at night.

Camping and sleeping mats/bags can give some people restless nights and without a good night’s sleep, even the fittest can feel tired the next day.

Invest in a good thermarest and sleeping bag and set off and camp. If you want home comforts, camping at a designated campsite is fine as it gets you used to the smaller space of a tent and sleeping al fresco.



Campsite Soraya, Salkantay, Peru.


Wear your kit: Holiday time can mean new kit time for many. Great – but break it all in, especially boots.

Be kind to your feet and buy some good walking boots with plenty of ankle support. Wear them on walks as much as you can before you depart.

Same with rucksacks, jackets, everything – get to know your kit, and its limits – it’s no fun to break boots in on a trek, or discover your jacket is not waterproof during an Andean downpour.

Carry a rucksack weighing approx. 5-7 kgs (11-13 lb) in which you should have a water bottle, some food, toilet paper and other personal effects, to get used to it.

If you plan to walk with sticks, then practice walking with them – odd as it seems, some people are less stable walking with sticks than with them, especially if they’ve not practised.


Eat well: A good, balanced diet is essential. Also try out some of the food you will no doubt encounter on treks, ideally while you do practice walks/camping trips at home.

Try powdered milk instead of fresh milk in hot drinks; packet soups; pasta dishes.

When out walking, try different snacks to help keep your energy up. You probably won’t get bananas, but you will get chocolate bars, biscuits, sweets. Find some you like and take a supply with you – not all snacks in South America are to everyone’s liking.

At high altitude, it’s hard to breathe, and carrying extra weight can make the trek harder, so being in good shape is a good state to be in.


Hit the gym: As well as walking, you can go to the gym to strengthen muscles. Note that walking is more important than the gym.

Always ask a professional trainer for advice, but some good exercises include:

Lunges; dead lifts; squats; and step machine.


Be positive: Walking is an incredibly rewarding and satisfying activity. If you get some soreness, stiffness or a blister – go with it. Forgetting the minor aches and sprains and enjoying the wonderful scenery is a great way to stay fresh and focused.

Chances are, most other people have a few niggles too, but a smile, a song and a joke go a long way.

OK, here’s one for you.


Q. What did the Scotsman do when he found a trumpet growing in his garden?

A. He rooted it oot!

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