Learn how to hike the Inca Trail with celiac disease - everything you need to know about this ancient path, gluten-free food, and the amazing experience that awaits!
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Hiking the Inca Trail in January of 2019 was our first excursion in our round the world travels. Prior to our departure, Dylan and I had spent months researching reputable tour companies, supplies, medicine, and reading other travelers' accounts of their experiences. While we knew we were up for the challenge we were left with one concern: gluten-free food.
While most tour companies had suggestions for what to bring for snacks, I had bigger worries. What was I going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? How would I eat safely and gluten-free when the trekking company provided all the meals? There were only so many gluten-free snacks I could pack in my backpack.
Thankfully, Alpaca Expeditions saved the day and provided me with a wonderful and safe experience hiking the Inca Trail gluten-free! In this post, I'm sharing all the details on how YOU can hike the Inca Trail with celiac disease. Keep reading to learn about why we chose Alpaca Expeditions, and how you can make this bucket list experience happen for yourself.
Hike The Inca Trail With Celiac Disease
NOTE & DISCLAIMER
Everyone’s experience with celiac disease is different. My experience is not your experience. This is a guide – a list of suggestions to point you in the right direction. Be sure to speak to your trekking company prior to your trip about your diet to be sure your needs are met. This post is not sponsored - simply a heartfelt recommendation.
This guide was originally written and published online for Gluten-Free Living. I have updated and condensed the information here to include the most accurate and up to date information for celiac travelers.
- Hike The Inca Trail With Celiac Disease
- About The Inca Trail Trek
- Our Tour Company: Alpaca Expeditions
- Gluten-Free Dining Card: Spanish
- What To Bring on the Inca Trail
- Gluten-Free Food on the Inca Trail
- Final Thoughts On Hiking the Inca Trail With Celiac
- Looking for more gluten-free travel posts?
About The Inca Trail Trek
The Inca Trail trek has recently become one of the most popular excursions in South America. It tends to be a four to five-day walking route (roughly 25 miles) all the way to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Machu Picchu. Anyone interested in hiking the Inca Trail must have a guide - independent hiking stopped back in 2001, but only 500 people are allowed on the trail per day. The Peruvian government has strict rules and regulations about hiking the trail, but most companies will handle the paperwork for you.
If you plan to hike the Inca Trail with celiac disease, be sure to plan months in advance in order to secure your trail passes and contact a trekking company that can accommodate your diet. The high season is typically June through September, but be wary if you visit in the rainy season of December-January. Our trek was in early January, and we were very lucky with the weather.
Hiking the trek requires some stamina, but you don't need to be a bodybuilder! We didn't have any issues with the physical demands of the trek. Yes, it was definitely difficult at times, like Day 2 when we reached Dead Woman's Pass at roughly 14,000 feet! But all of our efforts, our dirty clothes, sweaty bodies, and exhaustion were worth it when we reached Machu Picchu on the morning of Day 4 for views like this:
To get a better idea of what the Inca Trail is really like (including battling altitude sickness, the hiking difficulty, not showering for 4 days, and having the most incredible experience), read my reflections here.
Our Tour Company: Alpaca Expeditions
There are numerous tour groups and companies that offer Inca Trail treks (typically 4 days and 3 nights). A friend from my childhood shared about her experience with Alpaca Expeditions on Instagram and had nothing but great things to say. We chose Alpaca Expeditions and can not recommend them enough.
Dedication to Gluten-Free Giests
After further research, I discovered their chefs are specifically trained in food allergies and they accommodate dietary restrictions - especially anyone who is gluten-free. I read through forums on TripAdvisor and discovered multiple people who did the Inca Trail with gluten allergies or celiac disease - and they all recommended Alpaca. When I saw they are also the #1 recommended trekking company for hiking the Inca Trail, I knew they were the real deal!
Dedication to their Porters
In addition to their training about preparing safe gluten-free food, they also are loyal and dedicated to their porters. The company was founded by a former porter and committed to providing for the local Quechua people and their families. Many companies do NOT treat their porters well or pay them appropriate wages, and we wanted to make sure that the company we used was known for helping their community.
Top Quality Experience
Alpaca Expeditions provides a top-quality experience for their guests. In addition to offering sleeping pads, pillows, comfortable tents, dining tents, and a bathroom tent, they also provide filtered water, three meals a day, snacks, and an incredible staff. Our guides Jose and Filio were friendly, brilliant, and absolutely hilarious. We loved every chance to speak with them, learn from them, and hike with them.
There are other trekking companies that offer accommodations for food allergies and dietary restrictions. However, I do not know about their reputation or their commitment to their porters. In addition to choosing Alpaca Expeditions for their great gluten-free choices, we also chose them because they care deeply for their staff and encourage women to be porters too! This was important to Dylan and me when making our decision. Make sure to do your research.
Gluten-Free Dining Card: Spanish
While most trekking guides speak English, the porters and chefs primarily speak Spanish or Quechua. In Cusco, where you will stay and acclimate before your trek, speaking Spanish is key- especially when dining as a celiac. Thankfully, my knowledge of Spanish helped immensely, but that's not the case for everyone else. And that's where gluten-free restaurant cards made by Jodi of Legal Nomads come in!
This gluten-free dining card, translated by a local, will help you communicate safely and effectively in Spanish about your needs as a celiac. In addition to using this card in restaurants in Cusco, you can present it to your trekking company staff. Let them read through your dietary requirements and make sure every single one of your needs is met appropriately. As a Spanish teacher, I can tell you that this card will make a big difference in your communication. Google Translate is not a reliable option (it never is!) and this card uses words that Peruvians will recognize.
Becoming a confident celiac traveler means having the right tools and tricks up your sleeve for safe dining - and a restaurant card is one of them! I've purchased them myself for traveling in Montreal. Get your celiac dining card in Spanish to be 100% ready for your Inca Trail experience in Peru!
What To Bring on the Inca Trail
Alpaca Expeditions (or your trekking company) will provide you with a specific, itemized packing list. It will include everything you should have with you to be prepared for this trek - clothing, rain gear, medicine, first aid, toiletries, etc. And as a celiac, we know the first rule for gluten-free travel is to bring snacks!
At the local supermarkets, I stocked up on dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate. Small markets and minimarts surround the central area of Cusco were the best places to find gluten-free food. There weren't many specific gluten-free brands, but items that I could rely on to be naturally gluten-free. I would also recommend if you are traveling just to Peru for the Inca Trail experience, bring snacks with you from home. Unfortunately, my snacks were fairly limited to a few Larabars that I ate within our first week in Cusco - and we had six more months of travel to go!
Gluten-Free Food on the Inca Trail
Our group had so much fun bonding, chatting, and playing games in our dining tent every day. We quickly became close to people we just met! To this day, I still keep in touch with many of them. Our experience was more fun being able to share it with fellow travelers and hikers who I now call friends.
Everyone in our group commented that the food was one of the best aspects of the trek. And as the only person in our small group with a special diet, I was treated like a QUEEN.
After speaking to multiple representatives before my trek via email and in the Cusco trekking office to ensure they understood my celiac diagnosis, I was thrilled with the food I was given and had zero issues. Truthfully, I barely touched the snacks that I brought because I was overwhelmed with the amount of food. For each meal, I had so many choices and could barely button my pants - I was that full!
I received separate, special plates (for me only!) of gluten-free meals multiple times a day.
Here are some of the delicious gluten-free items I enjoyed while hiking the Inca Trail with Alpaca Expeditions:
Gluten-free pancakes with dulce de leche, eggs, bread, cookies, rice porridge, fruit, coca tea, muña tea, and more!
Popcorn, juice, tea, coffee, fresh fruit,
Lunch & Dinner
Soup, vegetables, sandwiches, potatoes, chicken, rice, corn, freshly squeezed juices, plantains, gluten-free cake!
On our final night together, before our 3:00 AM wakeup to arrive at Machu Picchu before the rush of tourists, the chef, Sergio, announced he had a surprise. Our group was savoring every moment of our last meal together when he arrived with an enormous cake! While everyone clapped and cheered, I felt my heart sink that I wouldn’t be able to indulge in the celebration.
A few minutes later, the chef reappeared, carrying an individual cake, with mangos, whipped cream, jello, strawberries, kiwi, and a side of roasted plantains - just for me. I almost cried with happiness! I was so touched by this simple act of gluten-free kindness, and the cake was delicious. This is the type of inclusion and wonderful treatment I received on the Inca Trail from Alpaca Expeditions - they truly are amazing.
Final Thoughts On Hiking the Inca Trail With Celiac
I can't say enough good things about Alpaca Expeditions and my experience hiking the Inca Trail with celiac disease. I never went hungry, had an abundance of safe gluten-free food, was treated kindly and respectfully by the chef and staff, and had no issues. I was impressed by the commitment of the entire team from Alpaca Expeditions and extremely touched that I was included in our final evening celebrations with my very own gluten-free cake.
If you are planning to hike the Inca Trail with celiac disease, make sure you do proper research about your trekking company to see if they can provide for your needs. Most companies are catching on about the importance of accommodating food restrictions - but Alpaca Expeditions, in my opinion, knocks it out of the park.
For more information about hiking the Inca Trail with celiac disease, visit Alpaca Expeditions to learn more about their treks and their specific page about food/meals on the treks. They also offer expeditions and treks to other regions and mountains in Peru!
Thank you, Jose, Filio, Sergio, our porters, and all the staff at Alpaca Expeditions for providing me with a safe Inca Trail trek and delicious gluten-free food!
Looking for more gluten-free travel posts?
Have you ever hiked the Inca Trail with celiac disease?
What was your experience like?
Let me know in the comments below!