The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the most famous and one of the best hikes in all of South America and the planet. There are few routes that can compete with it, as it contains along its route several archaeological sites over 500 years old and mountains that leave you with your mouth open. Everything you need to achieve we tell you in this article: The Complete Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in 2023.
In this comprehensive guide we made for hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you will find everything you need to know to prepare for this world famous and highly demanded trek. In this guide we will discuss historical and contextual information, route descriptions, logistics for the trek and many other useful tips to help you plan your truly epic Inca Trail experience.
How is our experience on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?
We are a group of young professionals in the tourism sector in Cusco, we like adventure and hiking, obviously we like to travel and we have traveled almost every corner of Cusco and Peru. Of the places that we like the most are the mountains and the Andes and within them is among those that we really like is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
We have founded The Explorest, an exclusive adventure travel company that will take you to unique and photographic places and destinations. We are the best operator of treks such as: Inca Trail, Colored Mountain, Ausangate and Palccoyo.
About the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is a hike that we can see the most important features of the past and present of South America, especially the history of the Incas. The hike to Machu Picchu can not be compared to any other adventure in the world. There are very few trails where you can hike and see history along the route at the same time, this makes it a very special hike and a unique experience.
On this adventure, you will continually encounter Inca archaeological sites over 500 years old that are located in unimaginable places, and the best part of this hike is that after crossing paths and steps built by the Incas we will arrive at the Gate of the Sun and see from another perspective the legendary site of Machu Picchu.
And another factor that we like is what we can find along this route and that makes the experience unique, since only 200 people can enter per day, you will start by road almost without vegetation to the high jungle where Machu Picchu is located. You will also see mountains with snow, skies, sunsets and unique sunrises that will leave you with your mouth open. We will also find a lot of flora and fauna such as alpacas, llamas, and if you are lucky you will see spectacled bears, condors and endangered birds.
About Machu Picchu
The archaeological site and wonder of the world of Machu Picchu are located on a mountain ridge 2,000 meters above sea level, in the province of Urubamba and region of Cusco, 50 miles northwest of the city of Cusco (the ancient Inca capital), in southern Peru. It can be reached in different ways, one of them is the 4-day Classic Inca Trail.
Also known as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” and officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are plenty of excellent reasons to visit Machu Picchu at least once. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are plenty of excellent reasons to visit Machu Picchu at least once. This Andean monument, which is the most recognized surviving symbol of the Inca Empire and one of the most important archaeological sites discovered on Earth since 1911, excites even the most seasoned and battle-hardened adventurers. Machu Picchu and Cusco astound with both their natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, thousands of people come from all over the world to explore the site each year, and the ancient site has in turn inspired countless musicians, artists and photographers. The Inca Trail is perfect for anyone who loves adventure, history and Inca culture.
The history of the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail has an extraordinary history. History tells us that the Inca Empire stretched across territories in what is now Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, and the original Trail extended approximately 25,000 miles through these areas.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Inca Trail was used as a key trade route as well as for transportation. However, some parts were also used for ceremonial purposes.
Therefore, there are many fascinating theories about the purpose of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which was built at the height of the Inca Empire.
Researchers believe it served as an annual pilgrimage route in honor of Inti, the Inca Sun God, who is believed to have been born on the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca. The Trail is said to follow the path of the Sun’s rays during certain times of the year, from Lake Titicaca to Machu Picchu.
The construction of the city of Machu Picchu spanned the reigns of two Inca rulers: Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (1438-71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472-93). However, a little more than a hundred years later, the city was mysteriously uninhabited. Historians have debated the reasons for this fact: some argue that the invaders killed the city’s population during the Spanish conquest, and others that the city’s population succumbed to a smallpox epidemic, years before the arrival of the Spaniards.
During and after the Spanish conquest, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu became targets for looting and robbery. It has been reported that Germans Augusto Berns and J.M. von Hassel initially encountered Machu Picchu during the 19th and early 20th centuries, respectively. However, due to the dense forestation that had begun to accumulate around the abandoned city, it made Machu Picchu much less of a target for looters than other more easily accessible sites along the Inca Trail in Peru and surrounding areas. It is also possible that locals kept quiet to save their secret city from aggressive looting campaigns, so that by the 19th century only a few locals and scholars knew of Machu Picchu’s existence.
In 1911, the American scholar and explorer rediscovered Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail in Peru and Hiram Bingham rediscovered Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail in Peru and conducted the first official archaeological investigation there. As an inveterate adventurer (due to his childhood expeditions with his father) and an enthusiastic student of Latin American history, Bingham set out to retrace Spanish trade routes throughout South America. As a professor of history at Yale University, he organized a group of scholars to set out in search of the “lost city”.
Then, on July 24, 1911, a local guide directed Bingham to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Once there, he and his team began to explore and excavate the area, with return trips in 1912, 1914 and 1915 to continue their work. Through the Yale Archaeological Society, the Machu Picchu area and several surrounding sites were excavated and further academic research was conducted. To this day, the area remains a historical treasure, adding much to the Inca Trail experience.
Learn more about the history of Machu Picchu.
How long is the Inca Trail?
The Inca Trail is very extensive as such, it covers all of Peru and reaches Ecuador in the north and Bolivia in the south, but if we talk about the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, it takes from 2 to 4 days to cover.
How to get to the Inca Trail and how to get to Machu Picchu
The great popularity of Machu Picchu makes that nowadays there are different ways to get there, from international flights, trains with different services, buses, trekking, etc. Nowadays, getting to know Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail is easier than ever.
Depending on your preferred means of transportation to Peru, there are different options to get to Cuzco. Most visitors pass through Lima, the capital of Peru. After arriving in Lima, you can take a short connecting flight (1 hour) or a longer bus ride to Cusco (24 hours).
Once in Cuzco we can choose to visit Machu Picchu by hiking the famous 4-day classic Inca Trail and we will be rewarded by its magnificent beauty. Its structural feats and the vast natural environment that surrounds it.
How long does it take to get to Machu Picchu?
There are several hiking routes along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. However, the classic Inca Trail route is a 4-day hike, and there is another route that is only 2 days, but the latter will take a train that will drop you very close to the lost city of the Incas. The short 2-day Inca Trail starts at kilometer 104 of the trail and it only takes one day to reach Machu Picchu.
Classic route to get to Machu Picchu
If you want to visit Machu Picchu but don’t want to hike the Inca Trail, you can take a train from near Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, a town at the base of Machu Picchu, in just under four hours. The most luxurious option is the unrivaled Hiram Bingham Train, which descends through the Urubamba gorge amid spectacular mountain vegetation and cloud-covered forests. The train itself is almost a time capsule, beautifully decorated with rich polished woods, fine fabrics and historic furniture. Large windows provide excellent views on both sides (and above) the train. You will find it difficult to get off the train at the end of this journey. In addition, there are two other PeruRail train options to Machu Picchu: the iconic and modern Vistadome train , and the affordable Expedition train.
From Aguas Calientes to the entrance area to the citadel, you can take a 15-minute bus ride, or you can walk up the hill (approximately 45 minutes). Don’t forget to book Inca Trail permits for your visit well in advance of your trip. You can find more information about the permit process for Machu Picchu at the end of this guide.
Traveling from Cuzco to the Inca Trail
Having experienced some of what Cusco has to offer, it is time to turn our attention to the Classic Inca Trail trek. To hike this route to Machu Picchu, the government of Peru requires that you hire an authorized guide service or tour company with the necessary permits to take hikers on the trip, which is below in our section on permits.
The company you choose usually arranges road transportation from Cuzco to the start of the trek, with pick-ups usually occurring early in the day (around 6:00 AM local time).
The most popular place to start the trek is known as Kilometer 82, which is the start of the Classic Inca Trail route. Once you arrive at this place, you will usually carry out an equipment check, fill your water containers and make sure everyone is fully prepared to begin the trek.
Inca Trail hiking trails – an overview
There are several options of routes to do, you can choose the one that suits you best depending on the days and difficulty of the route you want, it will also depend on the availability of these routes. Three trekking options are described below, followed by more detailed information about the 4-day Classic Inca Trail trek.
Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 2 days
If you are short on time, you can reach Machu Picchu in a single day (starting early, of course!). To do this, you will take the train from Cusco to a spot on the trail known as Kilometer 104. From there, you will walk about 15 km (9 miles) through the Sun Gate to the Machu Picchu sanctuary. This is a great option if you want to see Machu Picchu and experience a short section of the Inca Trail on the first day and Machu Picchu on the second day.
Vilcabamba Traverse Route (1 – 2 weeks trekking)
At 65 miles long, it is considered one of the most challenging ways to reach Machu Picchu. The trail begins in the village of Cachora and then follows a mile-deep canyon to the ruins of Choquequirao, or “Cradle of Gold”. Continuing along the original route of the Inca Trail and then through a series of remote villages, the Vilcabamba Trail emulates the same trek that Hiram Bingham himself did when he rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911.
The Salkantay trek route (4 to 8 day trek)
This route is the best alternative if there is no space on the classic Inca Trail, it allows you to sleep in domes, which are ideal for sleeping and stargazing at night. This route requires hikers to be in good physical condition, the Salkantay Trek (sometimes known as The Lodge Trek) runs along the Salkantay Trail through the Cordillera Vilcabamba, but allows you to rest for the night in lodges with all the services spaced along the route. The trail reaches 4,000 meters of altitude before reaching Machu Picchu.
The classic route of the Inca Trail (2 to 4 day hike)
The Classic Inca Trail Trek is the most popular of the four options presented in this post. It begins at a point on the trail known as Kilometer 82, in the town of Piscacucho. During the hike, adventurers travel 26 miles in total and reach a maximum altitude of 13,776 feet above sea level.
Inca jungle trek (3 to 5 day hike)
The Inca Jungle route has a part of the Inca trail on its second day, this hike includes adventures in biking, rafting, zipline until arriving to Machu Picchu.
Lares trail (3 to 7 day hike)
Lares trail is also considered an Inca trek, passing through several Andean villages and mountains, this trek joins it with the short 2-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Classic Inca Trail Trek 4-day itinerary to Machu Picchu
We are going to talk about an itinerary of the classic 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu by The Explorest, our partner website for booking and reserving exclusive packages.
Before starting the trek
One of the tips that you will find in almost every blog is about altitude, and it is something you should take into account, it is advisable to spend a couple of days in Cusco before starting the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu. This time spent in Cusco or Sacred Valley of the Incas will increase your chances of achieving your adventure. In Cusco, you will have the opportunity to do walking tours and visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in this historic capital of the Inca Empire, such as the city tour, museums, streets full of history. In the evening, enjoy the local food and visit the different restaurants and the food will be the best, as Peru is one of the best countries to eat and has more than 3000 thousand types of potatoes.
1 day before starting the hike
One day before leaving to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the guide who will accompany you all the way will give you a previous information about the route and the days. This way you will be prepared to start your adventure.
Day 1 of the Classic Inca Trail trek begins at a place called KM 82 on the Ollantaytambo – Aguas Calientes train route, which is approximately 2 to 3 hours from Cusco. The first day’s hike starts relatively flat, and is a great way to warm up your body for the adventure. You will break for lunch at Q’oriwayrachina and prepare to cross the Urubamba River at the village of Q’ente, with the option to visit the archaeological site of Wayna Q’ente (which translates from Quechua as “ancient village of hummingbirds”).
In the evening of this first day, you will camp very close to the ruins of Llaqtapata, overlooking a spectacular backdrop of terraces and mystical mountains. If you are lucky, you may have the option to see Andean condors flying.
The second day we will continue climbing through the Cusichaca valley until we reach the town of Huayllabamba (which translated from Quechua means “grassy plain”). Then the route takes us close to the beautiful and narrow Andean rivers. Finally we will arrive to our second stop to spend the night in the place known as Llulluchapampa which is located about 3,800 meters above sea level.
The third day of the Inca Trail tour to Machu Picchu will be a challenging day and you will be in the middle of Andean mountains that will accompany you to enjoy. This day you will reach the Warmiwañusqua pass (or “Dead Woman”) located at 13,692 feet above sea level, this point has several spots to take good pictures and videos, so take some time to explore and look for the best places for your memories. We will then descend to the Pacaymayo River and then our route will continue uphill to the ruins of Runkuraqay. From here, the trail passes through a high cloud forest as the scenery becomes increasingly beautiful and breathtaking.
Then we arrive to Sayacmarca, which translated from Quechua means: “Sayac” = standing and “marca” = village: “steep village”, located at about 12,551 feet above sea level. From this point we can see the Aobamba valley and other mountains such as Salkantay, Pumasilo.
Following the path of the Inca trail full of stones until you reach Phuyupatamarka (translated is “place of clouds or village with clouds”), in this place you will rest and spend the third night. If you continue with a lot of strength you will be able to explore some archaeological sites.
The fourth day will begin early in the morning, descending about 1,000 feet down a combination of trail and irregular staircase made up of 1,500 steps carved into the granite by the Incas. The Willkanota or Vilcanota River will come into view, and the lush jungle grows again around you as birdsong and butterfly wings fill the air, eventually joined by the sound of the river and train as you approach the train tracks (leading to Aguas Calientes). Continuing on the trail will lead us to the ruins of Winay Wayna (Forever Young). Once at this archaeological site we are very close to the citadel of Machu Picchu. Many tourists take some time in Wiñay Wayna to gain and recover energy before starting the last stretch of the Inca trail to reach the requested city of the Incas.
Then we continue along a stone path, the original Inca trail, until we reach a series of very steep stairs located at the foot of the Sun Gate or Inti Punku.
Take some time to enjoy the view of Machu Picchu that Int Punku gives you, it is an extraordinary sight that can only be visited by those who make the Inca Trail.
From this point you have 2 options, the first one is to visit Machu Picchu and do the guided tour and the second one is to pass by a side and go down in a bus or walking to Aguas Calientes where you will spend the night in a hotel and visit the Inca citadel the next day.
The day after the Inca Trail in Aguas Calientes
For many people, this day is special because they have been waiting for several years to get to know this place, we are talking about the end of the Inca Trail which is Machu Picchu. Many people choose to climb Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountain which are the 2 highest mountains surrounding Machu Picchu.
Aguas Calientes is a small town that has everything necessary for tourists, it has a train station, many restaurants of different categories, handicraft stores and many hotels.
Hotels and lodging in Aguas Calientes
There are hundreds of hotels from the most basic to the most expensive, such as the 5 star Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Santuary Lodge of Machu Picchu, among others. The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel is recognized as one of the Unique Lodges of the World by National Geographic. If you are looking for a unique luxury stay in a cloud forest after hiking the Inca Trail and/or exploring Machu Picchu, this is it. It is almost a 12-acre private nature reserve, with terraced hills, waterfalls, over 200 species of birds and almost 400 species of orchids.
Restaurants in Aguas Calientes
In restaurants we can find many of different prices and tastes, with a single search on the internet or Tripadvisor and we can begin to see which we can choose.
We have tried Full House Machu Picchu several times and we think it is one of the best places to eat in Aguas Calientes, plus it has an incredible view of the river.
How long does it take to hike the Inca Trail?
The classic Inca Trail trek is the most popular route to Machu Picchu. Depending on your preferences and the trek itinerary, this route can take between three and five days. The hike covers 26 miles and begins in the village of Piscacucho.
The classic Inca Trail Itinerary has a duration of four days, which is the only number of days offered by authorized tour operators.
Below, we provide more details on what to expect on each day of the 4-day Classic Inca Trail trek.
Additional treks in Machu Picchu
Arriving at Machu Picchu we have several options for adventure lovers and hikers, if you only thought the Inca Trail ends there, we have other hikes that may interest you. If you are looking to do more hiking once you get to Machu Picchu, there are two popular options for short (but incredibly beautiful) hikes: Huayna Picchu and Cerro Machu Picchu (Machu Picchu Mountain). Both require different entrance tickets than Machu Picchu and getting up early to ascend, the best way to book and purchase entrance tickets for these two places is to work with your tour operator and be assured of admission.
Huayna Picchu is the most popular hike and it is for this reason that they sell out very quickly, but if permits are sold out, Machu Picchu mountain is also a great option. Below, we detail each of the hikes.
Huayna Picchu or Wayna Picchu
Known as Wayna Picchu or Huayna Picchu (translated from Quechua is young mountain ), is the mountain that surrounds the Urubamba river and rises prominently above the citadel of Machu Picchu and provides the backdrop against which the rest of the mysterious city is set. The Incas built an original trail up the slope of Huayna Picchu and constructed temples and terraces on its summit, which is about 2,000 meters above sea level. The hike up here takes about an hour up and another hour down, a total of 2 hours round trip. It can be done faster, but it is best to take your time to enjoy it and please don’t run, the trail is very narrow.
Because of its beauty, it is believed that this mountain historically housed the daily offerings and prayers of the high priests to the Inca gods, and many ancient temples were nestled along its ridges. It is said that every morning, before dawn, a high priest would head to Machu Picchu with a small group to signal the arrival of the new day.
The Temple of the Moon, one of the three main temples in the Machu Picchu area, is nestled into the mountainside and is at a lower altitude than Machu Picchu. Next to the Temple of the Moon is the Great Cavern, another sacred temple of fine masonry.
Machu Picchu Mountain (or Montaña Machu Picchu)
Machu Picchu Mountain is the highest mountain behind the Inca citadel, which means “Old Mountain” in the Quechua language. This incredible excursion takes approximately 4 hours round trip, starting at the citadel of Machu Picchu, walking through the Inca Trail hidden under the forest, and reaching the top of this impressive mountain.
Along the way, you will find yourself surrounded by a variety of flowers and wildlife, including orchids, begonias, ferns and beautiful hummingbirds, while enjoying the exceptional view of the citadel of Machu Picchu, the Urubamba River flowing below, and all the sacred mountains surrounding Machu Picchu.
The Machu Picchu mountain has a special meaning for the Incas. Below this mountain, two rivers from the most sacred mountains of the Incas come together in a confluence. From the south runs the Urubamba River that rises in the Ausangate area, and from the west comes the Aobamba River that rises in the Salkantay Mountain. For this reason, the Machu Picchu mountain becomes a monument of worship to the sacred waters.
From the top you can contemplate a 360° panoramic view of the citadel of Machu Picchu and its surroundings.
Reaching the top of this mountain requires moderate climbing ability, as there are parts where it is very steep, but it is not considered dangerous. The hiking trail is well maintained; it is a paved path with many steps, although it zigzags in places.
Experiencing this hike for yourself offers an insight into why the Incas selected this mountain as the place to build the citadel of Machu Picchu.
Many tourists who climbed both Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain consider the latter to have a very beautiful view, but in terms of Inca engineering, Huayna Picchu is the better option.
Key sites in Machu Picchu you must see
To tour and visit the main sites of Machu Picchu will take us about 2 to 3 hours. There are days when this wonder can be very crowded, there are about 2500 tickets sold per day. However, from 2021 we can no longer visit all the important sites of Machu Picchu, as it has different tickets for some sites, for example, with the entrance of Huayna Picchu we can no longer visit Machu Picchu, for this we will have to buy another ticket.
We will talk about the type of tickets later, but if you want to see it, see our article of: Types of entrance to Machu Picchu, where we explain in detail each of the entrances.
The Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is considered one of the most beautiful and mystical places of the Inca Empire and is located between the mountains of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.
Walking among the ancient walls, gates, paths and stairways gives a unique feeling to this archaeological site, which will transport you back many centuries. Spanish conquerors never reached Machu Picchu. Below, we will explain some of the highlights of this sanctuary that you should be aware of. The guide can visit these places in different order and this will not affect your experience of getting to know this place.
Intipunku or sun gate
Intipunku was once an integral part of the city’s defenses, preventing attacks from penetrating Machu Picchu, it is a place of control for those who traveled the Inca Trail. Today watching the sunrise from Intipunku is one of the most spectacular views you will experience on your Inca Trail trip to Machu Picchu.
Intihuatana or the “place where the sun is tied” is one of the best known and most protected Inca sites. This stone, a polished and carved monolith, is located in one of the three windows of the Machu Picchu temple. Its importance is evident both from its location and its four carved vertices, which indicate the four cardinal points of the site. Many who have visited the Intihuatana have claimed to experience a strange aura or energy when in the presence of the stone.
Main Plaza of Machu Picchu
The Sacred Plaza contains three important Inca buildings: the Main Temple, the Temple of the Three Windows and the House of the Priest. The Sacred Plaza also clearly illustrates the skillful and magnificent feats of engineering and architecture performed by the Incas. It is located in the middle of Machu Picchu.
From this part of Machu Picchu the most famous photos of Machu Picchu are taken, it is a perfect viewpoint to appreciate the beauty of this Inca citadel.
Also translated as “the house of orAlso translated as “the house of ornaments”, the Incas used this room to store their ornaments. The building is also the most beautiful man-made building in Machu Picchu. The Incas used large quantities of stone to create the three magnificent walls and also carved the interior space and entrance stones with intricate carvings.
It is the main temple to see in Machu Picchu, located at the highest point and position in the city. Centered on the Sacred Plaza, the location of this temple holds a great history.
importance to the Incas, as the plaza also includes two of the city’s great temples. The temple itself has a magnificent structural design, in keeping with the architectural styles of the time.
Often located at the front of a temple, there are several clear areas reserved for ceremonial baths located throughout the city. Utilizing the hilly terrain to channel fresh water over the walls and into the bathing areas, these baths were and still are an area of socialization and community.
The Royal Tomb and the Temple of the Three Windows
The Royal Tomb and the three windows located inside are a symbolic reference to the Inca emperors who ruled the city. Although there are many competing theories and research papers that have tried to shed light on the reasoning behind the three windows located in the tomb, many scholars do not agree on the reason for their significance.
Also known as the Central Plaza, this plain of flat, green grass contrasts beautifully with the surrounding stone walls, seeming to take on the appearance of an island in the middle of the “sea” of slate-gray stone. It is a wonderful place to visit if you are an animal lover, as llamas and other animals can often be seen grazing through these beautiful pastures. At the lowest point of the plaza is the Prison Group, a series of passageways and cells that plunge under the stone and into different areas of the city.
With the long corridors and tiny stone rooms, the feeling is one of claustrophobia and discomfort, hence the sinister name.
Temple of the Condor
It is one of the most beautiful examples of the impressive stonework for which the Incas are famous. The name of the Temple of the Condor is due to the natural formation of the rock on which it is located, which resembles an Andean condor in flight. This stone, eroded over the centuries, was considered an important symbol for the Inca people, as it represented the “spirit and higher levels of consciousness”.
Temple of the Sun
Located behind an enclosed urbanized section of Machu Picchu, this temple is a truly impressive feat of Inca design and structural engineering.
Chosen for its high altitude, the temple is located here to showcase its celestial attributes: the higher the structure, the closer its connection to the Sun. This location was also considered important when performing astrological experiments and religious procedures. With its circle of sacred stones and spectacular design, this temple is a stunning example of how man-made Inca structures were perfectly complemented by their impressive natural backdrops.
Llamas and alpacas
Believe it or not, inside the Inca citadel there are several llamas and alpacas that are walking and grazing, they are very friendly, if you have the option you can take pictures with one of them, they are free so there is no additional cost to be taken.
This following places are not inside of Machu Picchu citadel, but if you have the opportunity to see, don’t miss it.
Manuel Chávez Ballón Site Museum
Like Machu Picchu’s smaller and better kept artifacts, the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary features a huge variety of different Inca treasures and smaller sculptures. Located next to the ‘Puente Ruinas’ train station, this museum and research building is distributed in seven different sections, chronologically telling the story of the different inhabitants within the sites around Machu Picchu.
This archaeological site is located more than 9,000 feet above sea level, the name of this Inca site translates from Quechua as “the place of the clouds”. Shrouded in thick atmospheric fog and clouds during the rainy season, this site is a must-see when hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu because of its breathtaking views over the rest of the mountains. This beautiful area contains terraces, baths and fountains with circulating fresh water.
Equipment for Inca Trail Trek
There are two critical areas of preparation that one must take into account if one wishes to successfully complete this hike: these are equipment and fitness. And below we will explain each of them.
Here we will give you an overview of what your equipment list for the Inca Trail should look like, we have a whole blog dedicated to this.
Hikers will need to add the proper equipment to their Inca Trail packing list to complete the trek to Machu Picchu successfully and without complications. This includes proper footwear, clothing for the lower body, clothing for the upper body, protection for the face and head, and outerwear to protect from cold, wind, wind, mosquitoes and all the other things that can occur along the route.
First of all, you will need a backpack to carry any equipment or clothing you will be using for each day’s trek, as well as a duffel bag containing your personal belongings, extra clothing, sleeping bag, etc.
It is also important to note that the night before you start your Inca Trail trek, meet with your guide and he/she will explain the things you need to know for the journey ahead. You should carefully check what you are packing, this is a very common practice for experienced adventurers and trekkers, to know if you have everything you need.
How many kilos can I carry?
Depending on the number of hikers, the Peruvian government requires a specific number of porters, guides and other staff (the ratios are there to help hikers and prevent workers from being taken advantage of). The guide will weigh the duffel bag at the Cusco hotel to make sure it is under the maximum weight limits, which are usually about 17 pounds. The rest of your gear will go in your backpack. If you can, keep your backpack under 15 pounds, and you should only carry the essentials. If you have extra clothing beyond what you need for your hike in your backpack and duffel bags, most hotels will usually allow you to leave it under lock and key for when you finish the hike and return to the hotel.
Finally, an additional and essential piece of equipment is trekking poles. Some people love trekking poles, and others don’t use them at all. There are countless sections along the route that have stairs that the poles will help you with your knees.
Trekking poles provide a tremendous amount of support on these and other challenging stretches, and their use can sometimes make your hike much easier and, therefore, much more enjoyable.
Training and preparation for Inca Trail Trek
You should prepare yourself many months in advance so that the difficulty of the Inca Trail will be easier, the more prepared you are, the less effort it will take.
Hiking the Inca Trail is moderately difficult, and it is important for hikers to have adequate physical preparation. Some sections of the route are more difficult than others, involving steep ascents, high altitude and long days on the trail.
Although for some the distance covered each day is a challenge, proper physical preparation will allow travelers to enjoy the hike to the fullest.
When hiking the Classic Inca Trail route, the altitude must be taken into account. It is important to keep in mind that this hike is not easy, and it is certainly not a hike you can take without proper physical preparation. To remind you, you will be hiking up to 14,000 feet in elevation, and there are days where you will be on the trail, hiking for up to 12 hours.
The entire Inca Trail route has no hotels, only campsites.
What physical condition is necessary to walk the Inca Trail?
The altitude and its effects can challenge even the fittest traveler, so we strongly recommend that you complete a detailed training plan three to five months before arriving in Peru. This training plan should include, but is not limited to, day hikes of at least 8 to 10 miles, cardiovascular training, familiarization with multi-day hikes and camping, and stair or hill training. If you have the opportunity to train at higher altitudes, we highly recommend this preparation as well, although this may not be an option depending on where you live.
Participants can expect to hike between 4 and 8 miles per day, with occasional inclines and altitudes up to 15,000 feet above sea level. The trail is well marked and defined, but the ground can be uneven. As you hike you will encounter rock, gravel, and dirt, without too much grass.
So a training every week with walking and running outings of about 5 miles can be a good option, the Inca Trail is classified by several travelers as moderate difficulty.
Altitude considerations on the Inca Trail
Altitude is a serious problem to face when in Cusco. As much as Cusco, Machu Picchu and its surrounding cities vary in how high above sea level they are. For starters, Cusco is 11,152 feet above sea level. Because most visitors must travel through this city to reach all Inca Trail tours and Machu Picchu, many hikers spend 1 ½ to 2 days beforehand to acclimatize and mitigate the chances of altitude sickness.
Some do it in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which is at a much lower altitude than Cusco. If you do the classic 4-day trek, the maximum altitude you are likely to reach is 4,000 meters. Altitude sickness can affect all adventurers, regardless of their physical condition, and if you don’t take the time to get used to the change, it can have a very detrimental impact on the whole trip.
Machu Picchu is at 7,972 feet altitude, so most people who have hiked the Inca Trail for several days do not feel the altitude when they get there, as long as they have had plenty of rest and stayed hydrated during their trip. From the citadel of Machu Picchu, the two peaks you can choose to climb are Huayna Picchu, at 2,500 meters altitude, and Machu Picchu Mountain, at 3,000 meters altitude.
Some hikers find it helpful to take medication to cope with altitude and possible headaches. We encourage you to talk to your doctor beforehand to see if this is something you can do.
Logistics and other considerations for the Inca Trail
Peruvian food is one of the richest foods in the world, Peru has won in recent years many awards, Peruvian cuisine has almost always been first in all of Latin America. According to “The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants”, in the ranking of the 5 best Latin American restaurants in 2022, 3 are Peruvian.
Extraordinary meals are available in Lima and Cuzco, but what surprises many hikers on Inca Trail tours is the quality of the food provided by their guides. Most Peruvian guides are talented cooks and use organic ingredients, resulting in fantastic, hearty meals.
Peruvian seasoning is unique and every Peruvian is prepared to cook something, food is an art in Peru and everyone learns from a young age to cook delicious food.
Putting aside Peruvian gastronomy and continuing with the food we find on the Inca Trail, evening meals are usually taken in a group tent, which has a cover to protect you from the elements. In addition to most meals, many tour operators provide a snack each day to take on the trail. You will likely be given coca leaves to chew, which can help reduce the effects of altitude sickness.
There are multiple water sources along the Inca Trail, such as streams or rivers. Most tour companies use a pump filtration system, boil the water, or combine both methods to purify the water during the trek. Normally, you will be provided with drinking water three times a day: at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is essential that you fill your water containers whenever you have the opportunity, because the trek can be strenuous and temperatures can be high during the day.
We have seen several hikers on the Inca Trail run out of water early because they underestimate the amount of water they will need. We recommend that you have a minimum of 2 liters of water for the morning and afternoon hikes. Depending on your personal preference, you can use 32 fluid ounce (1 liter) Nalgene bottles or reservoir-type water systems (such as Camelbak). It’s also a good idea to have salt or electrolyte tablets to add to your water. In addition, if you are the type of person who likes to be extra prepared, the following items are popular choices for personal backup:
- Personal Straw Filter.
- Water purification bottle.
- Ultraviolet light sterilization system.
- Water purification tablets.
Most tour operators and guide companies that are employed on an Inca Trail trek will provide tents. Typically, three-person tents are used for one or two people. We recommend that you check with the company beforehand, as being comfortable each night on the trail can make a big difference in your overall experience of the trip. Depending on their level of service, porters may also set up and take down their tents each day. This is a very nice touch when companies provide it, and allows you to focus on the trekking experience and gives you time to get to know the other travelers, obviously if you go on a shared tour.
In addition to tents, many travel suppliers include a sleeping pad (such as a sleeping pad). The pad will provide additional padding under your sleeping bag and a softer barrier between you and the ground. We recommend that you carry an extra pad, as two can provide more optimal padding than one.
It is also advisable to wear hiking pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect your skin, especially if you burn easily. You don’t want sunburn to ruin your hike, and exposure to heat can affect your stamina and health.
We are very sorry, but there is no signal along the Inca Trail, it is a remote route and there will be no opportunity to charge your device, unless you bring a portable or solar charger.
Inca trail operators do carry satellite phones or communication radios for use in case of emergency.
If you are bringing your phone to take pictures, we recommend that you bring your extra charger.
You may be thinking, “how do you go to the bathroom on the Inca Trail?”. Well, that’s a very good question. First of all, there are several places along the trail that have toilets. The trail maintenance staff keep these toilets clean, many tourists prefer the portable toilets that the travel agencies carry, these are installed at each campsite and can be used for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also at nights.
During daily stretches of hiking, there are also places in nature that are available for relieving yourself. Women can use urine funnels or similar products that facilitate relief “on the fly,” although it is essential that you practice using them before the hike so that you are comfortable with them and have overcome the “learning curve” associated with urine funnels. It is also important to note that you are required to carry all solid waste outside, as you are not allowed to leave human waste along or around the Inca Trail. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to use the camp toilets for regular defecation!
There are no showers along the Inca Trail trek. However, there are some options to consider if you want to wash every day. Many tour operators provide bowls of hot water with soap that you can use to wash yourself in the mornings and after each day’s hike in the evenings. Some operators also carry a small tent with showers along the route. If this is of interest to you, you can pay extra to have it included on the route.
The guides fill buckets of water that are then heated. The heated water is connected to the shower and pumped through the shower head to mimic a normal shower. Biodegradable camp soaps are recommended if showering is desired.
Mosquitoes will appear as the vegetation and the jungle looms, so we advise you to carry bug spray or insect repellent. On the sections of the trail that go through the rainforest the bugs tend to increase. Like a sunburn, too many bug bites can degrade your experience, so plan and pack accordingly.
Temperatures along the Inca Trail Trek
The Inca Trail is similar to other higher altitude mountain areas around the world. During the day, temperatures can exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit; however, at night, they can drop below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Be prepared for the full range of temperatures and wear layers of clothing to help manage the changes.
On an Inca Trail trek, you will be on the trail between 7 and 12 hours per day. Most of the trail is very exposed to the sun, and it can be hot during the day. We recommend that you prepare for sun exposure. For starters, you should wear sunscreen every day and carry a bottle in your backpack to reapply periodically throughout the day. We also recommend a hat, preferably one that covers the neck, which can be very susceptible to sunburn. In addition, many of our hikers wear scarves to protect their face and neck.
Inca Trail Permits
One of the most frequent questions we hear from hikers is: “Do you need a permit to do the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?” The short answer is YES, there is no way to do the Inca Trail on your own.
In the list of necessities that every traveler must take into account when organizing their trip, one of the most important – but also one of the least exciting and often overlooked – is obtaining permits to hike the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Because the Peruvian government protects the historic landmark for its natural and historic importance, only 500 people are allowed on the Classic Inca Trail trail each day starting at kilometer 82. About 300 of these will be porters, guides and other staff, leaving room for 200 hikers to join the trail per day.
Due to the worldwide popularity of this trek, permits must be purchased before leaving for Peru, sometimes many months before the trek begins. These permits for Inca Trail reservations used to go on sale in January of each year.
Permits and COVID-19 pandemic
In early March 2020, the Inca Trail was closed. Throughout the year 2021, the Peruvian government did not allow the issuance of permits. By 2022, the Inca Trail will be reopened again, remember that every year the Inca Trail is closed in February for maintenance.
It is important to note that in previous years, once on sale permits for April and May have sold out completely within a few days, and in some years permits for June, July and August have sold out as early as mid-February. So it pays to plan and choose dates at least six to nine months in advance. Once you have decided on the dates you would like to go you should contact your tour operator so that they can help you get the permits to hike the Inca Trail.
How to book the Inca Trail permit?
If you are traveling in a group, it is essential that your group or group book Inca Trail permits in a contiguous “block” at the same time.
Please also note that the permit system is carefully structured to prevent abuse by individuals and organizations.
Travel companies and tour operators are not allowed to buy Inca Trail permits in bulk for resale at a later date. To obtain a permit, you will need to provide your full name, date of birth, passport details (passport number, country of issue, date of issue and expiration date) and the dates you wish to hike the Trail. Once the permit application is submitted, it usually takes between 24 and 72 hours to get a response from the Peruvian permit authority (through the Peruvian Ministry of Culture). This means that until you receive a satisfactory confirmation, you should not book flights or hotels in Peru.
Also, please note that you will be required to pay a security deposit when you initially book the permit. If the permit is not obtained for any reason, this deposit may be refunded. Once the permit has been obtained and paid for, the deposit is no longer refundable.
Another fundamental thing to know is that once you have obtained your permit, you cannot change the dates of your trip. If you can no longer do the trip as planned for any reason, you will lose the deposit and the permit will not be used. Unfortunately, you cannot transfer the Inca Trail permit to a friend or family member.
If you obtain a new passport after obtaining a permit, you must contact your tour operator to resubmit the new identification information to the Peruvian permit authority. Make sure that the passport you bring to Peru matches the permit information, otherwise, you will not be allowed to begin your Inca Trail trek. If you have changed your passport, it would be wise to bring both your old and new passport to Peru. There are multiple permit checks along the trail, and the agents are thorough.
Porters on the Inca Trail
The Peruvian government regulates the Inca Trail and for this reason you can not carry more than 15 pounds in your backpack. To carry more things there are the porters, which are people who carry your things, but they are not allowed to carry more than 15 kilos, this way you do not let tour operators abuse these people.
If you are able to tip, the porters are people who come from the Andean communities of Cusco and they will be very grateful for the tips.
Passports and visas to visit Peru
When planning your dream trip to hike the Inca Trail, it is critical that you make sure your passport is valid for the duration of your planned travel dates, as well as for six months thereafter. Do not assume it is up to date, only to find out closer to departure that it needs to be renewed. Many countries now require this additional six months of validity, including Peru.
Depending on your country of origin, you may need to obtain a visa to enter Peru. To find out more, contact the responsible government office to see if you need one in advance. Currently, visitors from the United States do not need to obtain a visa in advance.
When to hike the Inca Trail / When to visit Machu Picchu
If you have been wondering when is the best time to do the Inca Trail, don’t despair, here: In the complete guide to do the Inca Trail we have all the information you need.
The most popular time to hike the Inca Trail is between April and September. With the rainy season in Peru having ended, most tourists and travelers will have planned their trip during these months. The trail itself is open for 11 months of the year, but all tours are closed in February for environmental and archaeological maintenance. The Huayna Picchu and Cerro Machu Picchu mountains, which are part of the Machu Picchu sanctuary, are temporarily closed each year for maintenance and safety, which occurs when there is a lot of rain.
January and March
During these months the Inca Trail treks are relatively uncrowded, wet and certainly fun if you like a bit of a challenge. Fewer tourists and fewer queues on arrival can mean that traveling to Machu Picchu and the surrounding area in the winter season has its advantages.
Because Machu Picchu is considered a sanctuary of the Inca emperor Pachacutec (1438- 1472), hiking at this time of year can highlight the quiet beauty for which this site was created.
Lovely and mild, April is an excellent time for a tour of the Machu Picchu Inca Trail due to the firmer ground and clearer weather. Photography can also be quite fortuitous in April if you want to capture some high quality images of Machu Picchu and the surrounding forests.
With great weather for hiking the Inca Trail and reasonably dry, May is also a good time to visit Machu Picchu. However, be aware of booking and travel costs, as May is the start of the peak travel season for university students. Flights and accommodation can be somewhat expensive if you do not plan well.
June, July, August and September
Weather-wise, these are the most popular months for hiking the Inca Trail and/or visiting Machu Picchu. With dry weather, very little rain and cooler nights, hiking during these months is usually more comfortable than at other times of the year. Disadvantages may include the challenge of securing lodging and permit reservations for the trail, as they will be scarce.
With cooler temperatures, this is a good time to hike the Inca Trail. Although cooler than many of the other months, October is reasonably dry and falls outside of the vacation periods, making it a great time to hike in Peru in general. The off-season offers select hotels and quieter travel and dining experiences.
November and December
November and December present surprisingly good weather for hiking the Inca Trail, with minimal rainfall. Just before the winter vacations, the queues and attractions in and around Machu Picchu are busy but not crowded.
In addition, hotels near Machu Picchu and transportation remain reasonably quiet.
Recommendations for hiking the Inca Trail Trek
The Inca Trail is a safe route, however, it is advisable to follow some recommendations to have a trouble-free adventure:
- To reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness, try to spend at least two days in the city of Cusco before trekking the Inca Trail. This will help you get used to the mountainous geography of the Andes.
- Carry only what is necessary for the hike (a backpack of 15 kilos maximum). The heavier the backpack, the more physical effort you will experience on the hike.
- Do not walk with headphones on. It is always advisable to have all your senses on the road.
- Follow the instructions and advice of the tour guide who accompanies you. The Inca Trail follows the paths built by the Incas to reach Machu Picchu. Taking a detour on an unauthorized route can be risky.
- Accelerate on the sections near the rocks. Rockfall can be dangerous, especially during the rainy season in January or March (in February the Inca Trail is closed to the public).
- Do not drink alcohol or use drugs on camping nights. Hangovers can cause many physical problems on this demanding trek.
- Don’t risk your life taking photos in dangerous places like cliffs.
- The Inca Trail is a hike with many stairs, long walks, streams, paths through the vegetation where there are loose branches, rocks, etc. And even if the trail is well maintained, there can always be an obstacle. Although all agencies include a first aid kit, it is a good idea to carry disinfectants, bandages, cotton, gauze, etc.
- When you buy the Inca Trail tour, you have to be 100% sure that you will do the trek. Remember that once you have purchased the trip, no travel agency will allow you to cancel or change your trip.
- During the hike, if you are lucky, you may see wild animals in their natural habitat, such as the spectacled bear. If you do, keep a safe distance and take the best photos possible.
- The Inca Trail is recommended for young people who enjoy hiking routes. However, this hike is also an option for older adults or even children. Older adults should be in good physical condition and children should enjoy hiking.
- Finally, don’t forget that the Inca Trail is considered one of the best trekking routes on the planet. The first panoramic view of Machu Picchu is incredible. Don’t forget to enjoy the hike.
Inca Trail Faqs
The Classic Inca Trail 4 Days begins at a point on the trail known as Kilometer 82, in the town of Piscacucho.
You’ll complete the hike on the 4th day as you arrive at Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate in time to watch the sun rise over the misty citadel.
Most people say it is necessary to be in relatively good physical condition to walk the Inca Trail. It is not that the walk itself is extremely difficult (although technically it is more difficult than the Lares Inca Trail), but rather it is about making sure to take the best precautions to prepare for the altitude.
The most popular time to walk the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is during the dry season that runs from May to October, when the rains in the Amazon basin are at their lowest point and you will be able to take full advantage of Peru’s blue sky days.
The wet season is at its peak between January and March, so with fewer hikers about it’s a great time to keep the trail in world class condition.
The restriction stipulated that no one can hike the trail without an authorized company and a tour guide.
The unique way to buy an Inca Trail permit is with an authorized tour agency, the tour agency is responsible to buy the permits for you.
You can do other alternatives treks like Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek or Inca Jungle Trek.
You have to be physically prepared, it is recommended to walk medium to long distances for more than 5 miles.
Inca Trail permits for every the next year go on sale on October on the current year. For 2024 the permits go on sale on October 2023.
Permits can’t be purchase by your self, the only authorized is a travel company.
The showers we can find are classic, the water is cold and how to bathe is a challenge.
There you have it, an introduction to what you need to know to hike the Inca Trail and visit Machu Picchu. We hope this guide has given you an informative and useful idea of what to expect as you plan your unique adventure in Peru. If you have any further questions about the trek to or visit the iconic citadel of Machu Picchu, do not hesitate to contact us.