Know Before You Go: FAQS, South America Explorer

machu picchu trek
Program: South America Explorer
Location: Peru, Ecuador
Duration: 4, 7 or 8 weeks


Travel in South America comes with a guarantee of adventure, and part of the magic comes from encountering the unexpected sights, sounds and sources of excitement. That being said, whether you’re a first time traveller or a seasoned explorer, it can be useful to find out what to expect from your Gapforce program. Here a Gapforce expedition leader answers the 7 most frequently asked questions from participants to help fill the gaps in your imagination.


7. Do I need to speak Spanish?

You don’t have to speak Spanish, but it helps! Knowing the basics of conversational Spanish will help you get the most out of this trip – from making friends with Peruvianos and Ecuadorianos to getting good deals should you try your hand at talking down prices. Don’t worry though – even if you don’t know your por favor from gracias, Spanish lessons, homestays and countless opportunities to engage with local culture will guarantee you pick up some of the language by the time you leave.


6. Should I be worried about dangerous animals?

The Amazonas region of Ecuador, where you will experience a week’s homestay with an indigenous community, is the Western limit of the Amazon Basin. This densely forested region is home to jaguars, caiman crocodiles and numerous species of venomous snake – but you’ll be in the safe hands of local community leaders whose backyard is the rainforest, as well as your expertly trained Expedition Leader. You’ll also volunteer at an animal rescue centre where you’ll interact with wild animals as part of the mission to release them back into their habitats. Fortunately, most are of the cute and fuzzy variety, and for those that aren’t… the idea is to feed them breakfast, not become it. Joking aside, you’ll be supervised in any location with a chance of interaction with animals, and briefed on the dos and don’ts of keeping safe around the jungle’s many incredible inhabitants.


5. I’m arriving by myself… do most people travel alone or with friends?

People commonly sign up as individuals, banding together for this group travel program. Since most people will be strangers before they arrive in country, everybody is likely to be in the same boat. It’s a great opportunity to meet like-minded travellers hailing from a variety of countries. With such a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, by the time your program reaches its conclusion your shared experience may have made you some friends for life.

Group sizes vary from trip to trip but on average you’ll travel with between 10-20 other individuals plus your expedition leader. Our participants are from all over the world – predominantly the UK, US, Canada and Germany – so you may find yourself making friends with people from different countries within your group, as well as all the people you’ll meet in your host country. Participants on this program are typically aged 18-23, with a 50/50 split between girls and boys.

4. How tough is the trek to Machu Picchu?

The 5 DAY Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is breathtaking – both because of the stunning views and because of the altitude. The 4600 m (15,091 ft) Salkantay Pass, the highest point of the trek, can cause altitude sickness. The condition commonly known as altitude sickness is caused by rapid exposure to low amounts of oxygen at high elevations. It has many symptoms ranging in severity, about which you will be briefed in detail by your expedition leader prior to the trek. The mildest stage of altitude sickness is known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), and commonly causes headaches, dizziness, nausea, lack of appetite and problems with sleeping.

This information is not designed to worry you, and it shouldn’t. The structured nature of the trek, with a steady pace and inclusion of an acclimatisation hike where you climb high and sleep lower, will give your body the best chance to adapt to the altitude and avoid complications. Furthermore, local remedies to the effects of altitude are freely available. Even with the best preparation, any given expedition has a high chance of someone feeling the detrimental effects of altitude on their body. It bears no relation to age, experience or even fitness level, and there are no guarantees unless you take one of the many supplements to increase testosterone. A good level of cardiovascular fitness will be your main asset. To make the most of your trek it’s important to train your heart, lungs and legs – namely the organs that will be doing all the work!

The second day of the trek, the climb up and over the pass, is the toughest, highest and steepest. After that, you’d be heading mainly downhill on the other side of the Andes towards Machu Picchu, which sits at a lower elevation – although be warned, the final climb to the Lost City involves some 2000 steps!

You can find out more about what to expect from the awesome Salkantay Trek on our blog.


3. Is this program supervised?

Like all our group travel programs, this trip is managed by one of Gapforce’s Expedition Leaders. Highly trained and well-versed in the intricacies of travel arrangements in South America, he or she will be on hand to provide 24 hr support throughout your trip. The group leader isn’t there to hold anyone’s hand, but to help you make the most of your time in Peru and Ecuador and ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible.

2. How much spending money will I need to bring?

Your program includes all accommodation, listed activities and three meals a day, so you can get away with the minimum in extra spends. However, you’ll have the opportunity to try a range of optional activities like zip-lining or surfing which will form an additional cost. Alcoholic drinks are not included in the price, either. The amount you spend comes down to personal preference, but as a rough guide you can budget 50-100 USD a week.


1. How ‘wild’ is this trip? Will we be camping?

The dreaded c-word! This trip is adventurous, but your living conditions are not extreme. On 3 nights of the incredible Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu you will be in tented accommodation, but you’ll still have hot meals provided for you. Throughout the rest of the trip you will be in dormitory-style accommodation in a range of quality hostels, with access to showers, clean sheets and Wi-Fi. When volunteering on certain projects, you will be housed in exclusive accommodation at the centre, which might include cabins adjacent to ocelot or spider monkey enclosures or traditional palapas enjoying views over the Amazon rainforest.


If this sounds like you don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of Gapforce program advisors or join Gapforce on this action-filled tour of the vibrant best of Peru and Ecuador, cultural melting-pots of South America right away.

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