Hi. I will soon be backpacking in South America for 3 and a half months. At some point in the middle I will hopefully do a trek in Peru. Do you recommend I pack my boots back home and drag them round with me in my bag, or should I wait 'til I get to Peru and buy them there?
Also, I haven't booked an Inca trail yet, cos Ideally I don't wanna be tied down to a date. Do you reccomend I book an Inca trail, or wait til I'm there (even if that means doing an alternative trek)?
If you intend to hike the classic inca trail anytime between May and September, book at least four months in advance (preferably 5-6 months). At least two (preferably 3-4) for April and October/November. Outside that you can probably expect to get a spot within a few weeks. I have only done the classic trail, and I found that very much worth it, and (based only on descriptions of the alternative treks) wouldn't have wanted to do any other; you really build up to Machu Picchu through a progression of every more impressive inca sites, and don't have to spend the night before Machu Picchu at Aguas Calientes. That said, the landscape is amazing all around, so you'll still have a very good time with any other hike (which can all be booked a couple of weeks in advance without too much trouble), so it's really up to you how much complete flexibility is worth. (But really, you'd still be tying yourself down to a date; so I'd recommend just making a rough plan to be in the region a week beforehand, and if you end up spending more time in other places en route, then you can move up that week to fit in after the inca trail.)
As for hiking shoes; for me, these are my regular footwear. Not something to pack, but something to wear all day long, everywhere. There's loads more hiking to do in South America, and I definitely wouldn't want to do a multi-day hike like the inca trail on shoes which weren't completely worn in, or without being properly trained for long hikes.
If that isn't you, Lima has decent outdoor gear stores, but I can't remember seeing any anywhere else in Peru (quite unlike Chile, where they were everywhere).
One or two people who were with us when we did the four-day Inca trail wore training shoes but they are not ideal especially over the wet parts. Hiking boots are fine although, as Sander has said, hiking shoes with a good grip are sufficient. Make sure they are worn in; the walks are around 10 km each day and the third day is nearer 15 km.
If you plan to climb Huayna (Wayna) Picchu once you arrive, you'll need to book that as soon as possible; only 400 climbers per day are allowed up there and the tickets sell out pretty quickly.
I was very glad of my hiking boots on the Inca Trail, especially on the descent for much-needed ankle support. The descent was the hardest part physically I found and well-worn boots were my best friend. No real outdoor gear shops (in the way we are used to them) to be found in Peru anyway. Agree with Sander - lots to be found in Chile and Argentina.
I always wore my hiking boots on the move from place to place, so never needed to pack them really. It could make for hot feet on occasions but it was never a problem. Have a few pairs of good breathable socks and that helps.
Still have the same boots! They've brought me everywhere. But they are looking like it might be time to retire them
Among the alternative routes there are: Lares Trek, Salkantay Trek, Choquequirao Trek. All good and full routes unique natural beauty. Here -snip- can find more detailed information about the alternative treks to Machu Picchu.
[ Edit: Sorry, no promos please. ]