Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is by far the best way to experience the magic of Peru’s culture. Our Inca Trail experiences provide everything you need to fully enjoy this amazing trekking experience. All the details are planned ahead of your arrival, including Inca Trail permits, camping gear, amazing dinners in the middle of the Andes, passes and guided activities along the way and upon arrival the Machu Picchu sanctuary.
4 Best Inca Trail Hikes
Inca Trail Hikes Travel Guide
Inca Trail Hikes Information
Tucked away in the majestic Andes Mountains in Peru, the Inca Trail is one of the most famous hiking paths in the world. Drawing adventurers, wanderers, and soul-seekers alike from around the world, it spans 26 miles (40 kilometers) and ends at the magnificent Machu Picchu, one of the most awe-inspiring and mysterious sites on Earth.
Laid out by the Incas over 500 years ago, the trail winds its way through breathtaking scenery of pastoral Peruvian countryside, deep mist-shrouded valleys surrounded by soaring snow-capped mountains, dense cloud forests, and ancient ruins. Much of the ancient narrow path is still in its original form, showcasing the engineering skills of the Incas, and meanders through two mountain passes over 13,000 feet. The hike then winds down and ends at the glorious archaeological site of Machu Picchu, also known as ‘The Lost City of the Incas.’
There are several routes to follow that culminate at the incredible Machu Picchu, including the Classic Inca Trail trek, which is the most popular. Alternative treks are the breathtaking Salkantay trek, which is for experienced hikers and ventures even higher into the Andes, and Lares, Choquequirao or Cachiccata.
Permits for the Inca Trail are very limited, and it is best to book your spot months in advance. Most treks involve four full days of hiking and several days of acclimatization to the high altitude beforehand.
Inspired to experience the beauty of the Andes and walk in the footsteps of one of the greatest civilizations on Earth? Here is some essential information to help you plan and prepare from how to get a permit to what to pack.
Booking an Inca Trail Tour
So, you have decided you want to do the famous hike but have no idea where to start. Below you will find everything you might want to know before you go!
Inca Trail Permits – What Are They and Do I Need One?
The Inca Trail is extremely popular, and it is essential to reserve your place by purchasing a permit. Daily passes are only sold to approved tour providers, who buy them in advance, and spaces are few. Permits are limited to 500 people per day, which split between tourists and accompanying guides and porters.
If you are joining a guided tour, the tour operator will organize the hiking permits for you. If you are hiking with a guide, you can book your permit through a reputable agency. Bear in mind, however, hiking permits for the hike can sell out months ahead of time, so plan well in advance of your trek.
Do I Need a Guide?
In short, yes. In 2002, Peru’s Ministry of Culture placed a daily restriction of 500 hikers per day on the trail to preserve the integrity of the ancient path with every hiker requiring a permit. This restriction also states that no person can hike without a guide.
Joining a tour operator will take a lot of the hassle out of planning as they will take care of all the details, such as buying a permit for the trek, organizing transportation to and from the trail, and hiring excellent guides and porters. When choosing a company, it’s worth doing some research and weighing up the available options, such as what is included, how many guides they offer, do they rent gear out, and how much the porters carry. Be sure to go with a company that looks after their porters – these men are the backbone of the journey and work very hard to make it an experience you will never forget.
Best Time of Year to Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?
The weather plays a significant role in your experience and can make or break the trip, so deciding on the best time of year to do the hike is essential. Peru has a dry and wet season, and it is possible to explore the trek in both seasons. The most popular time is during the dry season, which runs from May to October and sees the least amount of rain. However, with good weather come more tourists, so this time of year is very busy.
The wet season, which runs from November to April, may have more rain, but there are far fewer tourists around, and you can experience the spectacular beauty without the crowds. These are pros and cons for both seasons:
Dry Season (May – October)
The dry season sees very little rain, vast blue cloudless skies, and hot, dry days with cold nights.
Good weather gathers crowds, and the dry season, which coincides with the high tourism season in Peru, sees the Inca Trail at full capacity each day with high traffic along the paths and full camps. Tours tend to fill up quickly in the high season, so if you are planning on hikingl during this time, be sure to book your spot well in advance (at least six months). During the day, temperatures are very pleasant, dropping significantly when the sun goes down.
Wet Season (November – April)
Due to inclement weather and high chances of rain every day, there are fewer tourists doing the hikeil, as well at Machu Picchu. Tours are slightly cheaper and can be booked a few weeks before the departure date, as they are rarely full. Rainy days bring warmer evenings, and temperatures at night are not as cold as during the dry season.
If you don’t mind the rain, then this is the season for you to hike in. It generally tends to rain every day, making hiking conditions slightly more precarious. Bear in mind that the Inca Trail closes for maintenance during February.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Options
Classic Inca Trail (Four Days, Three Nights)
Your four-day hike to the magnificent Machu Picchu begins at the famous trailhead known as Kilometer 82, which is situated halfway between the towns of Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes. The next three days will see you winding your way along the narrow ancient path, passing spectacular natural scenery and historical sites such as Dead Woman’s Pass. Highlights along the way include the small farming settlement of Wayllabamba, the picturesque Valley of Llulluchapampa, spectacular ancient ruins at Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, and Phuyupatamarca, and the complex terrace system at Huiñay Huayna. The fourth and last day of the Inca Trail hike will have you arriving at the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu to see the sun ascend over the misty ruins, followed by a morning of exploring the famous archeological site.
Short Inca Trail (Two Days, One Night)
The shorter version of the trek is an excellent option to see and experience the famous hike for those who are short on time or didn’t manage to get a permit to hike the full trail. This two-day tour features one full day of hiking and one day of exploring the iconic ruins of Machu Picchu. On the first day, you will catch a train from Ollantaytambo to Km 104 and hike through Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate and onto the town of Aguas Calientes. The second day allows you to spend the day exploring Machu Picchu before returning to Ollantaytambo or Cusco by train.
Preparing for the Inca Trail
The trek isn’t a walk in the park, and while guided tours are designed for all levels from leisure hikers to seasoned adventurers, you will need to get your body physically prepared for multiple days of hiking, being at a higher altitude, and climbing stairs. Being fit will help you adjust to the higher altitude faster and enjoy the hike even more!
How Should I Prepare for the Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu?
The best way to prepare your body for the hike is to hit the stairs and do some cross-training. The hike has a lot of stairs, and you want to strengthen your quadricep muscles for the up and your knees for the down. Head for the stair machine at the gym or find some stairs at home, in the office, or at your local stadium on which to practice.
Hiking in the hills or mountains with your pack on will help acclimatize you for the Inca Trail, and cross-training with other sports like running, cycling, and swimming is excellent for all-round fitness.
How Fit Do I Need to Be?
The Inca Trail is a physically challenging hike, but by no means only for very experienced hikers or super-fit people. Having a good level of fitness will make the hike more comfortable and enjoyable, however, if you are someone who does not do a lot of exercise and could benefit from getting a bit fitter, this is a great way to challenge yourself. Set some goals, start exercising, and in no time, you will be on the road to Peru.
How to Manage Risk Altitude Sickness?
Altitude affects everybody differently, and there is no way to predict how your body will react from day to day. Mild altitude symptoms can range from fatigue and light-headedness to headaches and nausea and are mostly felt in the first couple of days at altitude. Porters on the trail have oxygen available for those hikers feeling the effects of altitude.
The best way to prepare your body for the higher altitudes is to arrive at least three days before the journey begins and do some mild activities such as walking or jogging in Cusco or teh Sacred Valley. Your body will start to acclimatize to the higher altitude and be better prepared for the hike. It will also give you a good indication of how you will feel on the walk and adjust accordingly.
Severe altitude sickness is rare and generally occurs as a result of a pre-existing condition that is aggravated by the altitude. It is vital to have a full medical check before doing the hike and get the thumbs-up from your doctor that you are safe hiking at higher elevations.
Highlights of the Inca Trail
Wayllabamba is the first overnight camp on day one for most groups doing the hike. Resting at an elevation of 9,840 feet (3,000 meters), Wayllabamba, which means “grassy plain” in Quechua, has Incan terraces dating back hundreds of years winding through the surrounding mountainside and boasts breathtaking views of the dramatic Andean peaks. The small farming community has a permanent settlement of about 400 inhabitants living in huts, some of which are built on the foundations on Inca buildings. From here, the trek to Machu Picchu turns west and begins to climb along a tributary of the Kusichaka (Cusichaca) River. Pack animals and trekking poles with metal tips are not allowed on the remainder of the path due to previously causing damage.
The Valley of Llulluchapampa
The picturesque Valley of Llulluchapampa is the scene of the second day’s morning hike and features dense humid woodlands, rushing streams, and spectacular views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks. The valley is also home to one of the largest ancient sites on the trail, which features complex terrace systems and hundreds of housing structures thought to be a ceremonial area and the community cemetery. Resting at an elevation of 9,186 feet (2,800 meters) above sea level, the ancient site was discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1912 and is believed to have been of vital astrological importance.
Runkurakay (or Runkuracay)
The ancient ruins of Runkurakay (or Runkuracay) are one of the archaeological gems seen on the third day of the hike. The ruins consist of unique oval structures, also known as ‘egg huts’ that highlight the incredible engineering and technological genius of the Incas. Known as ‘tambos,’ these huts provided a resting place for Incan travelers and their animals against a backdrop of magical views of the Valley of Paqaymayo and the surrounding Vilcabamba and Pumasillo mountain ranges.
Resting at an elevation of about 11,800 feet (3,600 meters), Sayacmarca, meaning ‘dominant town’ in Quechua, is a set of ancient ruins with a mystical air about them. Set on a high cliff at a fork in an old Incan road with panoramic views of the surrounding terrain, Hiram Bingham discovered the dramatic Sayacmarca while walking along the pathway from Macchu Picchu. It is believed the ancient city was built by the Colla, a major enemy of the Incas, and later captured by the Incas during their conquest of the area. Lush subtropical forests filled with hummingbirds and butterflies surround the ruins.
Tucked deep into a steep cliffside at a staggering 10,498 feet (3,200 meters) above sea level and often shrouded in blankets of dense, white clouds, Phuyupatamarca is a spectacular archeological site also known as “La Ciudad entre la Niebla” or the “The City above the Clouds.” The relatively intact ruins are believed to have been used for religious ceremonies and have five large stone baths that fill with water during the rainy season. Phuyupatamarca is an awe-inspiring sight for hikers passing by.
Huiñay Huayna (Wiñay Wayna)
Huiñay Huayna (Wiñay Wayna in Quechua) is an ancient site featuring a complex system of Incan terraces or ‘ardenes’ once used for farming. Built into a precipitous hillside with breathtaking views over the Urubamba River, Huiñay Huayna also features several ancient temples, houses and other structures connected by ornate staircases that trekkers say are some of the most beautiful along the trail. Wiñay Wayna is also home to the last overnight campsite for hikers before they reach Machu Picchu.