Exploring the Sacred Valley Beyond the Inca Trail

Trail running is one of the best ways to experience a region in Peru's Andean highlands known as the Sacred Valley, once the heart of the Incan Empire, encompasses fertile farmland, Spanish colonial villages, the town of Cusco and of course, the ancient city of Machu Picchu.

“There is so much variety every day we spend in the Sacred Valley; no two runs are on the same trail or travel to the same place,” says  Nicolas Ramirez, guide for the Peru’s Sacred Valley Trail Running + Wellness Retreat for women, hosted by Run Wild Retreats + Wellness. “For example, one day we go Pisac, where we will have a picnic lunch and see go to the salt pans where people have been mining salt for hundreds of years. Another day, we’ll run to Ollantaytambo, home to a massive Inca fortress with large stone terraces on a hillside. We'll also visit major sites within the complex like the huge Sun Temple and the Princess Baths fountain.”

We recommend arriving a day or two before the retreat begins in order to acclimate before the retreat starts. You’re run pace will still be affected by the high elevation, but the extra sleep and rest you’ll enjoy after your travel to Peru will help you adjust and feel better throughout the retreat.

The retreat’s guided group runs are relatively short in terms of miles (four to 8 miles) in order to account for the elevation, which is generally between. The first run is an easy, relaxed “shake-out” meant to help you get a feel for how your body is adapting to the elevation. 

From there, the run distances and difficulty increases a little over the course of the week, as the trails we run will present some steep pitches, loose rocks and occasional exposure to heights. There are carefully timed rest days—plus the option to skip any run if you’re not up for it—will help you sustain the daily exercise even if you don’t typically run on consecutive days at home.  

We recommend approaching each day’s run not as a workout or a goal, but really, as an opportunity to travel through this ancient landscape on foot instead of always in a vehicle. Following ancient trails used by the Inca and modern-day locals, we’ll steer clear of popular routes heavily trafficked by trekking groups so that we can find the peace and serenity inherent to the Sacred Valley’s heritage and storied landscape.

Our Top Peru Trail Running Tips

  • Wear trail-running shoes. Running shoes designed for trails feature a knobbier outsole than road shoes that will give you better traction on lose, gravely trails. You’ll feel more secure and nimble on the trails. Shoes with a waterproof membrane are not necessary, and will just feel heavy on your feet.  

  • Bring a hydration pack that allows you to carry water you can sip on throughout the run. Even when the air temperature is cool, the air at this elevation is very dry and will cause you to dehydrate rapidly, even if your skin is dry (without sweat). Aim to carry at least 1.5L of water for each run, even on days we’re only covering around 5 miles.
  • Use electrolytes. Use electrolytes, either in your hydration pack or in a separate water bottle to help your body better absorb the water and maintain healthy hydration levels. We recommend Acli-Mate, which was specially formulated in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
  • Even very fit runners should be prepared to run at a much slower pace, so adjust your expectations accordingly. We budget plenty of time for each day’s run, so there’s hurry to run faster than what feels good to you. Some days, our run pace may be not much faster than that of a brisk hiker.
    • Run-walk method isn’t just for beginners! Knowing when to hike instead of run is the secret to efficient trail running, so we’ll use that approach daily. The amount of hiking vs walking will depend on the topography, meaning we’ll hike uphill sections as needed, and run flats and downhills.
    • We recommend leaving your smart watch or other GPS-enabled device off (or at home!). Make more space for a mindful running experience by leaving your beeping, distracting devices at home. Running without measuring your pace and distance is incredibly liberating and helps you be more present on the trail. This is your chance to try a new way of running without any pressure to perform at a certain level!

    Our Top Peru Wellness Travel Tips

    • Sleeping at high elevation can be difficult for some people, and yet is crucial for your rest and recovery throughout the retreat. Being hydrated is one of the best ways to support better sleep, so make it a goal to drink plain and electrolyte water all day long; not just at bedtime.
    • Some hotels offer supplemental oxygen directly into your room to aid with sleeping.
    • If you’re not accustomed to sleep aids, non-drug supplements such as a magnesium supplement (vitamin or drink powder) can help significantly, as can small doses of melatonin. Over the counter or prescription drugs may also help, so please consult with your doctor before your trip to learn his or her recommendations.
    • Limit or avoid drinking alcohol, which has a much more profound effect on the body than at sea level and disrupt sleep cycles as your liver works harder to process the alcohol.
    • Drinking coca tea is a very effective local remedy for easing minor altitude sickness symptoms.
  • You’ll be tempted by the incredible cuisine in Peru that features a wide variety of regional flavors and fresh produce, though be wary of eating a lot of heavy food before bed, as this may also disrupt your sleep.

    For more information about the next Peru Sacred Valley Trail Running + Wellness Retreat for women, click here: https://trips.runwildretreats.com/t/run-wild-retreats/peru-2024
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