The Ultimate Travel Guide for Hiking the Inca Trail

Behold the most talked about trek in the world, the epic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. Being able to hike the Classic Inca Trail through the Andes is an attainable adventure for almost everybody. The trail does not require intense training and contains many variations to suit all budgets, time constraints
and fitness levels. Its jam packed with history, culture & adventure. The crown jewel of the majestic Machu Picchu awaits you at end, in its full glory. This is the hike to end all hikes, with challenge and reward dished out in equal measure. You’ll take in hidden Andean valleys, high mountain passes, tropical jungles, and mysterious ruins as you traverse the famous Inca Trail.

 Witness a unique vintage point of the Machu Picchu Citadel from the world famous Sun Gate (2 720m/ 8 924ft). Whereby, the only people privy to this dazzling view are those partaking in the Inca Trail. After hiking through the Trail, feet aching and a bit of a foggy brain, that first exhausted step onto the Sun Gate eliminates all negative thoughts or feelings instantly. Gawk at the panoramic views of Machu Picchu including its surrounding mountain peaks of Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu.

The sheer size of the citadel and the stunning lush mountainous landscape will take your breath away. The challenges you faced and conquered while hiking this trek makes this momentous sighting even more magical. The sense of self satisfaction and accomplishment is unmeasurable and unmatched. Peru certainly knows how to put you through your paces but always remembers to compensate you handsomely for your efforts!

Whether you get to experience one of the 7th Wonders of the World at sunrise or sunset, the surreal way nature unveils the ingenuity behind the construction of this site is mesmerizing.  How the sun shines over the citadel, spilling over like a pot of gold puts everything in perspective. It makes complete sense why the Incas chose this particular location to honor Inti the Sun God, the most sacred and revered God of the Inca Empire. 

What is the Inca Trail?

Conquering the Inca Trail trek is high on the agenda for many visitors to the country, but it’s not something you can just turn up and do. In this comprehensive post, we’ll give you the low-down on all those burning questions, including the hike difficulty, what to pack, when to buy a permit, and what part altitude will play in your adventure.

Taking on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the most iconic experience in Peru, and we salute you for considering including it in your itinerary. This is one of the best hikes in Peru, taking you on adventures beyond your wildest dreams.

We are often asked, “where is the Inca Trail?”, and we always reply with a cheeky grin, “which one?”. The truth is, there are thousands of kilometers of Inca trail snaking out across the continent like an ancient spider casting its gossamer web over the realm. For first-time visitors and hiking enthusiasts, there is, of course, only one Inca Trail: the route that travels through the Sacred Valley and culminates magnificently at Machu Picchu!

With such an epic name, you might expect the classic Inca Trail length to be out of your grasp, especially if you’re not an avid hiker. Yet don’t worry, it’s only 43 km (27 mi) long, which is doable for most people on a four-day tour.

A little History

If you think that sounds tiring, how about following the trail of the Incas in its entirety, which was around 40,233 km (25,000 mi) long? Now that would be an epic walk! The empire once stretched into Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, and Colombia as well as Peru, with roads connecting settlements and trading centers across South America.

The road the famous Inca trail to Machu Picchu is an original path that was constructed to absolute perfection. They built thousands of stairs, supported by retaining walls in some sections to avoid landslides during rainy season. The majority of the trails maintains the original stone and architecture from the Incas. There are other sections that had to be restored, but the esthetic of the architecture has kept its integrity. Priests and high-ranking officials were the only people who had the pleasure of embarking on this divine journey to the holiest site of them all. Inca engineering was the most advanced form of engineering of its time and it still remains a mystery as to how they succeeding in constructing the most structurally sound temples and homes in very unforgiving terrain.

Machu Picchu citadel was built in the 15th century as a royal Incan enclave but was abandoned less than 100 years later when the Spanish came to conquer. The settlement went unoccupied for many years and was eventually covered by the encroaching Amazon Jungle. It was later rediscovered in 1911 when American archaeologist and explorer Hiram Bingham came searching for the illusive Vilcabamba.

Why is the Inca Trail so popular?

Completing the classic Machu Picchu hike has become one of the most coveted adventures in the world, and many travelers have it at the top of their bucket list. So, why do Inca Trail hiking tours trump other fabulous treks? The rich history, the challenge that’s not off reach and the many ruins you get to explore along the way. Lastly, you can´t forget you trekking through the longest mountain range n the world, the picturesque Andes Mountains. The Inca Trail is that once in a lifetime experience, that is on many people´s bucket lists. So why not check it off while you can.

Did you Know?

You can get stamps in your passport for each completed day of your Inca Trail hike.
Some people believe that explorer Hiram Bingham, who ventured along the Inca Trails to Machu Picchu all those years ago, inspired the character Indiana Jones.
The classic Inca Trail hike length is four days, but you can opt for shorter or longer versions if you prefer.
If you’re into running and feel invincible you can take part in the Inca Trail marathon which is one of the toughest in the world.
At 4,215m (13,828 ft) the ominously named Dead Woman’s Pass is the Inca Trail highest point, which is almost 1,800m (5,905 ft) taller than Machu Picchu!

Inca Trail Itineraries

The first thing trekkers want to know about the Inca Trail is how long the route takes. Four days is the norm for classic Inca Trail tours, but other options are available. Those who like a real challenge can attempt the 3-day Inca Trail hike, but we highly recommend adding on the additional day so you can properly enjoy the experience along the way!

Have a look at the Inca Trail map further down the page for a visual overview of the route.

The 4 days Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Itinerary

Most people who trek the Inca Trail opt for the original four-day trip. This gives you enough time to take in your surroundings without feeling like you’re constantly racing against the clock.

If you’re unsure how long to spend on the Inca Trail – 4 days is what we’d recommend. Here’s what to expect in a nutshell:

  • Day One: These Inca Trail treks depart from Kilometre 82 of the railway line between Cusco and Machu Picchu, not far from Ollantaytambo. Today is a bit of a warmup day, with a steep section at the end as you hike to your overnight camp. Distance: 12km (7.5 mi).
  • Day Two: Your first full day on the trail is the most difficult, ascending through cloud forests up to a couple of high passes, before heading downhill to the campsite. The views are incredible, especially from Dead Woman’s Pass (4 200m). Distance: 16km (10 mi).
  • Day Three: This is the most scenic section of the trail, with a bit of undulating terrain and lots of different landscapes to enjoy. Highlights include the tropical forests, little-visited Inca ruins, and waterfalls. Distance: 10km (6.2 mi).
  • Day Four: After a very early start, you’ll pass through the checkpoint where all Inca Trail hikes end, before enjoying the final two-hour walk to the Sun Gate (known locally as Inti Punku). Then it’s time for Machu Picchu, where you’ll have a few hours to explore before heading to Aguas Calientes by bus. You then board the trail to Ollantaytambo before taking private transportation back to your hotel in Cusco. Distance: 6km (3.7 mi).

The relaxed 5-day Inca Trail Itinerary

For walkers who want more time to hike the Inca Trail, the 5-day trek is a great option. You’ll explore off the beaten tourist track and avoid the crowds, plus you’ll have longer to visit the archaeological sites along the way. This is a more relaxed Inca Trail route, giving you lots of opportunities for breaks and photos.

If you’re looking for Inca Trail hike tours that allow you to trek at a slower pace, discover remote ruins, and even spend your last night in a hotel, then this is the trip for you!

Get more details on our 5-day Inca Trail trek including the full itinerary.

The Short but Sweet 2-day Inca Trail Itinerary

Don’t have time for the full adventure? Then a 2-day Inca Trail hike is just the ticket. This is a rewarding yet undaunting way to hike to Machu Picchu in just a day. You’ll get a taste of the classic Inca Trail and visit ancient archaeological sites as well as pass through the famous Sun Gate. On this itinerary, one day will be spent trekking, while the other will be enjoyed at the citadel. Hiking Huayna Picchu, the iconic peak looming over the ruins, is often a great way to end your trip.

If you fancy doing a short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, we have you covered!

When is the Best Time to Hike the Inca Trail?

There are two main seasons in Peru – wet and dry. One has clear benefits when it comes to trekking the Inca Trail routes, but the other shouldn’t be dismissed as there are positives to visiting at all times of the year.

The Dry Season: May-August

There’s no question that these are the best months to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Although nights are cold, the days tend to be mild, there’s little rain, and the skies are sunny. On the flip side, this is high season, meaning busy trails, crowded campsites, and hordes of tourists swanning around Machu Picchu at the end of your trek, especially during July and August. Permits need to be booked well in advance for hiking in this period.

The Rainy Season: December-March

Many people think that the wet season is not the best time to hike the Inca Trail, and some feel it’s dangerous for a Machu Picchu trek. It’s true, trekking and camping in the rain isn’t much fun, and the paths can become slippery after a downpour, especially in December and January. Yet if you go fully prepared for whatever the weather the Gods throw at you (sometimes sun instead of rain!), then you could find a lot of value in travelling at this time of year.

Permits are easier to get hold of at short notice, and tours tend to be cheaper too. Nights are warmer, the paths are quieter, and Machu Picchu is almost deserted – you’d never get the citadel to yourself during the dry season!

The Shoulder Seasons: April, October, and November

Savvy travelers prefer to enjoy the best of both worlds with an Inca Trail hike during the shoulder seasons. The weather can be unsettled (on Saturday you could be basking in the sunshine while on Monday there could be heavy showers), but there are usually lots of great walking days to be had. The trails are relatively quiet, yet you won’t have the deluges of the wet season to contend with. Come after the rains in April and enjoy lush green landscapes for enviable photos!

The Inca Trail February Closure

Note that the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance in February, but Machu Picchu remains open throughout, which makes this a great time to visit the citadel on a day trip without the crowds!

How to book the Inca Trail

While it’s possible to make last-minute bookings for many Peru tours, Inca Trail treks are the exception. Reservations need to be finalized months in advance, particularly during the high season. The key is planning ahead. We recommend book 4 to 6 months in advance to hike during the dry season and booking 2-3 months in advance do hike during the rainy season.

Inca Trail Permits

You need a permit to hike the Inca Trail. These are issued in your name and linked to your passport number and specific travel dates, which means they’re non-transferable once purchased. If you need to renew your passport before your trip, make sure you do this before booking your permit! If you change your passport, keep the old one and bring it with you to Peru. You can also do the change with your tour operator, you will need to send them a copy of both old and new passports and the change is done at a fee.

Permits for 2023 are already on sale and are selling fast!

Can you hike the Inca Trail without a guide?

In short, no. The route is strictly controlled so you need to travel with an authorized tour company. Do check operator credentials carefully before booking, as not all are permitted to take hikers on the Inca Trail! Book with a reputable local travel agency to ensure your holiday goes without a hitch. Orange Nation is fully licensed and has extensive experience hiking the Inca Trail and providing tours to Machu Picchu.

How much does the Inca Trail cost?

The iconic Machu Picchu hike cost varies greatly between operators, but it’s important to realize that in this arena, you get what you pay for. Always be wary of cheap tours and ask what the fee includes to ensure the field team are being fairly treated.

Prices typically include things like the Inca Trail permits, camping gear, meals while trekking, entrance tickets into Machu Picchu, bus tickets, train tickets and private to and from Cusco. All staff at Orange Nation get a competitive salary and are treated fairly. tent, foam mattress, meals, round-trip transport from Cusco, trekking staff, and entry to Machu Picchu. Our team is the secret to the many treks we have completed successfully.

Travel Insurance is a must

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a serious undertaking, and while everything is put in place to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, things can go wrong in the wilderness. This is why you must have adequate insurance for your Inca Trail bookings. Check with your provider to ensure that high altitude trekking is covered, as this may be an optional extra on some policies.

How difficult is the Inca Trail?

The Inca Trail hike is a moderate hike, with a few steep inclines along the way. It’s easier than you might expect, but you do need to be reasonably fit. There are few factors to consider. Firstly, the hike is 42 Km long, which means you will be hiking everyday for a considerable amount of time. Also, you get an undulating terrain for the majority of the hike, which can be hard on the knees. You should also expect to come across steep inclines and high altitudes, for obvious reasons this is no east feat. The trail is made of over 70 000 step and walking up steps is far more challenging than taking on a gradual climb on flat ground.

Finally, the most important challenge to be aware of is the altitude. Not everyone will get altitude sickness and there is no concrete science to figure out how this ultimately affects each individual. Some individuals suffer the most extreme symptoms of altitude sickness, whereas other can feel virtually nothing. Some symptoms can include difficulty breathing, nausea, headaches and loss of appetite.

Something else that can have an impact on the experience is the group dynamic, and the different ages and abilities of trekking individuals. So, its important to trek at your own speed and remember trekking is a personal journey and not a race or competition.

What is the Inca Trail like?

You know that saying, that it’s about the journey as much as the destination? Well, in this case, it’s true, even though exploring Machu Picchu is a pretty awesome prize at the end. The journey, however, is magi cal. There is so much too see, soo much to explore and the mountainous landscape is absolutely breathtaking. The comradeship you feel with fellow hikers and the self accomplishment and pride you feel at the end is like nothing on earth.

Microclimates and terrain

The Inca Trail trekking adventure takes you on a journey through several different landscapes, some of which you perhaps weren’t expecting here in the heart of Peru. You’ll begin in the fertile Sacred Valley and end in lush cloud forests that resonate with birdsong, encountering everything from snow-dusted Andean peaks to alpine tundra in between.

Underfoot, much of the path is paved, with stone steps to negotiate along the way, some of which appear to have been built by giants! The steep sections can be punishing on the knees, but the views make it all worthwhile, especially when you get to the top of the high passes.

As you’re trekking the Inca Trail, you’ll come across a wide variety of flora and fauna, including birds, vizcachas (a chinchilla-like rodent), lots of cacti like the prickly pear, and carpets of orchids in season.

Inca Sites

One of the highlights of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is that you’ll get to see lots of archaeological sites that are only accessible on foot. Many of these ancient Incan ruins are well off the beaten tourist trail, so chances are you’ll have them all to yourselves.

Llactapata is the star of the show on the first day, while the beautiful Inca house at Runkurakay features on day three. Meanwhile, the noble Inca town of Sayakmarka is one of the most stunning stops on the entire trail.

Finally, the steeply terraced site at Wiñay Wayna is one for the photographers and is the most preserved site of them all. It’s conveniently located right below your night 3 campsite.

Visiting Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu lies at the very end of the Inca Trail. Peru always saves the best for last! The anticipation builds on day four of your trek as you wake you wake up at the crack of dawn and walk the last few miles down to Inti Punku, the Sun Gate. After posing for photos, you can finally tour Machu Picchu with your guide.

If you’re also sneaking in a jaunt up Machu Picchu Mountain (good on you!), this needs to be done before you explore the citadel. However, those who want to hike Huayna Picchu must visit the ruins first as you can’t re-enter the site afterwards.

There are four different walking circuits at Machu Picchu, each taking in selected landmarks around the complex. Some sights – like the Intihuatana and Temple of the Condor – can only be accessed on certain routes. Therefore, if you want to do the place justice, we recommend adding an extra day for a second visit to Machu Picchu so you can see the bits you missed the first time. If you choose to come back for an extra day, double check that you purchase a circuit that is different from your Classic Inca Trail circuit.

Campsites and facilities on the trail

When you hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you’ll be sleeping in tents at designated campsites. Going back to basics is part of the adventure after all! Our tents are four-season and comfortably sleep two people, with lots of room to spread out. You’ll have a complimentary foam mattress and camping pillow. If you wish to upgrade, you can rent yourself the even more comfortable Therma rest for insulation off the ground. Also included is a cozy sleeping bag to keep you warm during the toasty nights.

There are toilet facilities at each camp, but they’re not always the cleanest. This is why we take our own toilet tent so you can sit on your throne in relative comfort! Some camps have cold showers too if you’re feeling brave! Otherwise, we will provide a small basin with a cloth along with your morning cupa tea. Its a good idea though to bring a pack of baby wipes.

It probably won’t be the best sleep you’ve ever had, but it’ll be one of the most memorable!

What are the meals like?

You need to keep your energy levels topped up when hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which is why getting the food right is so important. Luckily, you’ll have your very own team chef in tow, who will rustle up some surprisingly tasty meals considering the remote location. There’s nothing better than tucking into a delicious hot dish after a long day on the trail!

How to prepare for the Inca Trail

To get the most out of walking the Inca Trail, the key is in the preparation. Research the topography and culture of the region to enhance your experience. Do plenty of physical exercise to get you in good shape for all those ups and downs.

Get fit

While this isn’t the toughest trek in Peru, it’s not a walk in the park either. There are lots of steep ascents and stone steps that will put those boots, and those thighs, to the test. This is why it’s important to have a decent level of fitness before attempting the epic Inca Trail walk. The fitter you are, the more enjoyable the experience will be.

In the run-up to your trip, try and do lots of aerobic exercises like running or a stair master. If time permits take some day hikes in the hills. You’ll thank yourself for all the effort later!

Get inspired!

  • Want to get those excitement levels soaring before your trip? Venture into the pages of a few good books to set the scene for your expedition.
  • Turn Right at Machu Picchu, by Mark Adams
  • The White Rock, by Hugh Thomson
  • The Serpent, the Puma, and the Condor, by Gayle Marie
  • The Last Days of the Incas, Kim MacQuarrie
  • The Machu Picchu Guidebook, by Ruth M. Wright and Alfredo Zegarra

Acclimatize to the altitude

Before you hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu it’s imperative that you properly acclimatize to avoid altitude sickness. Anyone can be affected by this debilitating and potentially deadly illness, regardless of age or fitness level.

The Inca Trail altitude varies from day to day. But you can expect to reach maximum elevations of 4,215m (13,828 ft), which is considerably higher than Cusco! We recommend spending a few days acclimatizing in Cusco or the Sacred Valley before starting the trek.

Local remedies to combat altitude sickness include chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea, and of course, taking on plenty of water to stay hydrated. If you prefer, you can also purchase preventative medicine from your doctor before your trip.

Pack the essentials

Having the right kit is crucial for anyone hiking to Machu Picchu. Tours include camping equipment and food, so it’s just your personal gear that you need to think about. Pack light, because you only have 7kg to play with, and that includes your sleeping bag!

Here are some of the essentials:

  • Passport (you’ll need this at the checkpoints)
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Fleece jacket, hiking trousers and shirts, thermal layers
  • Walking boots and socks
  • Change of clothes for camp
  • Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat
  • Head lamp or flashlight
  • Mosquito spray
  • Toiletry bag, including Band-Aids and moleskin for blister protection
  • Anti-bacterial hand gel
  • Spare camera batteries or a portable power pack

Do I need to carry my own stuff?

No! Everything is transported by porters on Machu Picchu hike tours. You just carry a small daypack for your essentials like sunscreen, water, and snacks. You are given a 7kg duffel bag at briefing, for everything you’ll need overnight, including a sleeping bag. This will be carried for you and won’t be available until you reach camp.

Its important to be aware of the fact that there are bag restrictions in Machu Picchu. 25 liters is the current limit.

How much money should you bring?

Most trekkers tip their guide, porters and cooks on the last day of the Inca Trail. However, tipping is not obligatory and is not included in the trek pricing.

Most importantly, you should always tip your conscious. You should tip only if you feel the team have provided an excellent service and deserve a tip. Below we provide only recommendations and guidelines as to what constitutes a fair tip. It is also easier to tip with local currency in low denomination (nuevo soles).

Suggested tipping guide:

Tipping is usually done by pooling tips from all member of the group for the porters , assistant chefs, and head chef.

  • Chef: 120 to 150 soles
  • Assistant Chef: 100 soles
  • Porters: 80 soles each
  • *** all tipping to trail guides is based on your personal appreciation . Consider the length of trek and the quality of service provided by your guide.

For larger groups, expect to pay a little more. If you’re not comfortable with the tipping experience, you can pre-pay gratuities at the time of booking instead.

Trekking Tips on the Trail

Here are a few pointers to help you on your way.

  • Don’t be afraid to walk at your own pace, this isn’t a race
  • Do acclimatize properly before hiking the Inca Trail
  • Hiking poles aren’t just for older trekkers, they’re real knee savers on the steep downhill sections
  • You do not to bring hiking poles, you can easily rent a pair from tour operator
  • Wear in your boots before embarking on your Inca Trail experience
  • Take candy bars or energy bars for when you need an energy boost

Porter welfare on the Inca Trail and other ethical practices

The welfare of our trekking team on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu hike is super important to us. We strive to ensure that Indigenous communities benefit from our tourism activities, which is why all of our porters are hired from local villages.

We provide all the equipment needed by the staff team, as well as their meals and permits on the trail. They receive a fair wage as well as a consistent source of employment, which is rare in the Andean highlands.

How to get there?

It’s a bit easier to do the Inca Trail Machu Picchu hike now than it was in Hiram Bingham’s day! Cusco is the jumping-off point, which is great news as you’ll probably want to visit the city anyway. You can easily travel from Lima to Cusco by plane or bus. If you’re a student, do check for discounts to cut down your transport costs!

Most Inca Trail holidays begin in the imperial city of Cusco. After, a short drive to the Ollantaytambo region to reach the start of the hike. Afterwards, you’ll return by train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo, before enjoying a private car transfer back to Cusco.

Alternatives to the Inca Trail

If you decide this classic Machu Picchu trek isn’t for you, or find that permits are already sold, there are lots of alternative adventures to enjoy. There’s everything from single-day hikes to epic 15-day journeys. Other alternatives include the Salkantay trek, the mighty Ausangate circuit, and the photogenic Rainbow Mountain experience. There’s so much more to the Andes than just Machu Picchu hiking tours!

It’s time to conquer the most epic trail in the world: The Inca Trail Hike

So now you’re all set to plan your own Inca Trail holiday! Hopefully, this post has answered all your questions, but if we’ve left anything out, please don’t hesitate to ask! We’d love nothing more than to put together a Machu Picchu Inca Trail tour for you, it’s our favourite subject after all.

People go on an Inca Trail hike in search of something special, yet what they discover along the way is so much more than spectacular views and new friends. Undertaking this epic trek is a chance to learn more about yourself, as you achieve things you might have secretly thought you’d never be capable of! You will arrive on the Machu Picchu hiking trail for a challenge with added scenery, but you’ll leave with new-found confidence and a treasure trove of memories that will last a lifetime.


The Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu

Behold the most talked about trek in the world, the epic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. Being able to hike the Classic Inca Trail through the Andes is an attainable adventure for almost everybody. The trail does not require intense training and ...

by Orange Nation

March 13, 2023

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