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Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

What to expect and how to plan for the journey of a lifetime in Peru.

 

Thousands of visitors hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru every year—an unforgettable experience for the person who loves challenges, relishes personal moments of victory and values the journey as much as the destination. I had the pleasure of taking this hike earlier this year. Here are some highlights, tips and recommendations, based on my experience.

About the Inca Trail

To regulate and maintain trail conditions, all hikers must travel with a guide, and only 500 people are allowed on the trail daily. Expect to pay around $350 per person for the four-day hike, depending on which tour company you choose. The money goes toward restoring the trail and maintaining the campgrounds, which have running water and porcelain squat toilets. It also covers entrance fees on the trail and to Machu Picchu, camping supplies, food and guide fees, though tips for guides and porters are extra.

Guided treks leave year-round, though the trail is closed the entire month of February every year for restoration and maintenance. The rainy season runs December through April, but be prepared for rain at any time. Regardless of when you choose to hike, book well in advance.

Tour Companies

Hiking with a company that supported the local community was important to me. I did extensive research and talked with former Inca Trail hikers before choosing Llama Path. The company properly outfits its porters with good shoes and appropriate clothing and intentionally keeps groups to a minimal size.

Our group consisted of six hikers, two guides and 11 porters, one of who also served as the chef. The group size made it easy to ask questions and receive personal history, geography and cultural lessons from our guides as we hiked.

Other tour companies to consider:

  • Andean Treks—A local company with guided hikes on several trails throughout the area. www.andeantreks.com
  • Peru Treks—Locally owned and environmentally conscious with experienced guides. www.perutreks.com

 

What to Expect

We hit the trail by 8 a.m. every day after eating a professionally prepared breakfast. No need to break camp or wash dishes—the porters took care of that. After three to five hours on the trail, groups stopped for lunch, which was both vegetarian and omnivore-friendly (you specify a meal preference when you sign up). The lunch spread, as with dinner, consisted of fruit and vegetables, a main course and hearty side dishes.

After lunch, we hiked for another three or four hours before arriving in a tent city. We relaxed to a popcorn and tea snack followed by dinner. After a filling meal and casual conversation about the day’s events with newfound friends, we retired around 10 p.m. to our two-person, nylon tents.

Hiking the Inca Trail is more than a hike. It’s an experience of exotic flora, breathtaking beauty, camaraderie with people from around the world and challenging footwork—all elevated by the altitude of the Andes.

Here’s a sample itinerary:

  • Day One: Approximately eight hours of hiking. We began at kilometer 82, the Inca Trail’s classic starting point. Hiking conditions are rugged and dusty with wide paths. Expect a gentle climb, with views of ruins across the Andean mountainside. We acclimated to the altitude in Cusco before hiking, but still rested frequently, if for no other reason than to appreciate the dozens of brilliantly colored orchids, marvel at the hummingbirds and feel the mist of the cloud forest.
  • Day Two: Approximately 10 hours of hiking. We covered a lot of ground and exerted a lot of energy on our way up Dead Woman’s Pass, which tops out at 13,800 feet. Much of the trek consisted of uneven and steep stones, and hiking poles helped in the climb up to the pass and down the other side. As we reached the second peak of the day, a light rain set in and painted a rainbow between the mountains. Wet and exhausted, I was proud to call day two a mini Everest-sized achievement.
  • Day Three: Approximately six hours of hiking. We enjoyed a shorter hike with time to poke around the ruins along the trail, long since overgrown with moss and wildflowers. Despite the continuous rain, we waited for the right light to hit the flowers and grasses for the perfect photographs. We listened as our guide explained the medicinal purposes of plants and the history of Incans who walked this same path hundreds of years ago. We chatted with fellow hikers, suggesting other adventures our new like-minded friends would enjoy. Near the third-night’s campsite is Wiñay Wayna, an oversized ruin clinging to the mountainside. Hikers have this entire site to themselves.
  • Day Four: Approximately two hours of hiking. We got up early and raced to the checkpoint, then hiked quickly to reach the Sun Gate, which marks the end of the Inca Trail and is the first point from which Machu Picchu is visible. For us, the rain continued to fall and fog clouded the view, but as I stood at the Sun Gate I was overcome by my journey. The rain and my sunburn were only minor annoyances in comparison to what I had learned, achieved and experienced. I would hike the Inca Trail again even if I never got to see Machu Picchu.

Destinations: Peru

Themes: Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Hiking, Camping


User Comments

I own a hiking tour company (www.wildlandtrekking.com) and we're thinking of extending down into Central and South America, so I was glad to find this article to do some research. Thank you!

Get a fresh perspective on Machu Picchu vacation travel by reading different points of view on Machu Picchu, Peru lodging and activities.This upscale hotel, tucked into lush gardens near the train station, has real flavor and is easily the best place to stay if you can't get into the fancy hotel next to the ruins.==

Great article Joanna, so informative! I'm hoping to travel to Machu Picchu with Karikuy ( ) later this year - I know you're familiar with them, too!

thanks for posting! we are hoping to use llamapath in November!

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