Inca Trail Ultimate Travel Guide to Machu Picchu 2024
The Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the most famous hiking routes in South America. Walk in the footsteps of our Inca ancestors to the most enigmatic ancient building in Peru, Machu Picchu, and dare to discover the mystery hidden among its temples. Ranked among the 10 best trails in the world by many travel magazines in the last few years.
Live the experience of your life by hiking through this marvelous Inca path crossing the Andes mountain towards the mystic Machu Picchu; immerse yourself in the deep history of the Incas by visiting some archaeological sites along this fantastic four-day adventure; and be amazed by the fascinating biodiversity, landscape, and well-preserved trail that reaches Machu Picchu through the exclusive Sun Gate.
If you are planning to embark on this fascinating trekking adventure, you will need to know a few things to keep in mind and prepare very well. In the following article, we will give you an overview of what to expect on the Inca Trail and give you the best hiking advice for an experience of a lifetime.
What is the Inca Trail?
According to Inca history, hundreds of years ago, during the Inca empire, the Incas built thousands of kilometers of trails connecting various Inca sites around South America. These trails extended from the north of Colombia to Chile, connecting other countries such as Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.
Nowadays, we have registered that more than 45,233 km (28,106 miles) stretched into South America, and part of this was connecting to Machu Picchu. The Classic Inca Trail runs through the Andes Peruvian mountains, and more of the trail is well-preserved, showing the ancient engineering, which for many historians was one of the best Inca buildings. This section of trail was built as a pilgrimage route to honor the Inca Sun God, Inti, and today you can enjoy your own spiritual crusade to the most famous ancient site in the world.
Why the Classic Inca Trail is so famous?
Completing the Inca Trail hike has become one of the most coveted adventures for hiking lovers, and many travelers have it on their bucket lists. There are several reasons why the Inca Trail is famous around the world:
- It is the only route that reaches directly to Machu Picchu.
- It crosses the Andes Mountains and gets to the rain forest.
- You get to visit some archaeological sites on the route.
- The trail gets to Machu Picchu exclusively through the Sun Gate, with unique views.
- You hike along the original trail that the Incas built hundreds of years ago.
- The trail is well-preserved, and only 200 tourists are allowed to hike per day.
- It has the most incredible landscape, with different ecosystems.
- It is one of the most challenging hikes in the entire world.
Archaeological sites along the Inca Trail
Hiking along the Inca Trail, you will visit some important and wonderful Inca sites that have been conserved for many years.
Salapunku: Located just next to the beginning of the trail at Km 82, many hikers see this archaeological site from the other side of the river. This site shows clearly how much magnificence the Incas were building on the edge of the river.
Kanabamba: Used by the Incas as a resting place during their peregrination.
LLactapata: This is one of the biggest Inca sites on the Inca Trail; it contains some important sectors, including farming terraces, religious temples, and an urban area.
Runkurakay: Available to see on day three, it has a semicircular shape and was used as a lookout point to control the travelers during the Inca period.
Sayakmarka: Which means dominating town or standing town, was used to control access to the forest valleys. It has some religious temples as well.
Conchamarka: A building below Sayakmarka probably was the area for some farming because it has some terraces around.
Phuyupatamarca: It means «Town over the Clouds.» It is nestled in the top of the mountain with a spectacular panoramic view of the valley and Machu Picchu mountain.
Intipata: It was used for agriculture purposes because it has many terraces perfectly adapted to the shape of the mountain and was meant to support travelers and the Machu Picchu people.
Wiñanwayna: Located nestled next to the last campsite, hiding in the valley. It was an important Inca site for travelers because it provided a resting point with some religious temples.
Intipunku: well known as the Sun Gate for many travelers. The main entrance to Machu Picchu offers breathtaking views of Machu Picchu for everyone who hikes through the Inca Trail.
Machu Picchu: The most iconic Inca building, nowadays the new Seven World Wonder, was built by the Incas in the 15th century and rediscovered by Hiram Bimgham in 1911.
When to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu
A good plan to hike on the Inca Trail is to know when is the best time to hike on this trail. Well, Cusco has two seasons totally marked, and the best season to hike this trail is the dry season, which is from May to October, where the days are often sunny but the temperature could descend easily during the night. However, the views are spectacular, there are no clouds at all, and the campsite is dry.
Popular Trek Tours to Machu Picchu Through the Inca Trail
In the last year, tourism increased and became the most important activity in Cusco, and the authorities opened more routes to reach Machu Picchu. Let’s see below the most popular Inca Trail treks that lead to the Seven Wonders.
Classic Inca Trail 4 Days / 3 Nights
This Classic Inca Trail 4-Day is the most well-known route to Machu Picchu. To join this trek tour, you must book your ticket months in advance due to the limited spots with a licensed Inca Trail operator. This tour starts in Cusco, or Sacred Valley, followed by a drive to Km. 82, located in the town of Piskacucho. It is here that the adventure of the Inca Trail begins.
Highlights of the tour
- Step back in the time hiking along the Inca Trail
- Spend nights in the mountains away of the phone connection
- Discover the Inca ruins and history behind them
- Enjoy the incredible Peruvian food prepared by our professional cook
- Appreciate the stunning view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate
Short Inca Trail 2 Day / 1 Night
If you are limited on time but want to reach Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate, We have a great option for you: the Short Inca Trail 2 Day to Machu Picchu begins with a pick-up in Cusco, drive to Ollantaytambo, and a ride on the train until Km 104, where the hike starts.
Hike 9 km, visiting some Inca sites such as Chachabamba, Wiñanwayna, the Sun Gate, and reach Machu Picchu in the afternoon.
Have a Tour of Machu Picchu on the second day in the morning and avoid the crowds. return to Cusco via the Vistadome train service.
Highlights of the tour
- Discover the reach biodiversity of the high tropical jungle
- Explore the incredible Inca sites hidden among the tropical forest
- Hike on the best section of the Classic Inca Trail
- Enjoy the breathtaking panoramic view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate
- Explore Machu Picchu twice
One Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Explore the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu hiking through our One Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It starts in Cusco and drives to Ollantaytambo, where you’ll board the train toward Km 104 to start hiking on the Inca Trail towards Machu Picchu. The trail takes you through some stunning scenery, and you’ll see some important Inca sites on the way, such as Wiñaywayna and Sungate.
Visit Machu Picchu in the afternoon when the crowds have already left, and take the guided tour, visiting the most important temples.
After Machu Picchu, you will board the train back to Ollantaytambo and follow the bus to Cusco.
Highlights of the tour
- Hike the Inca Trail in one Day tour
- Explore the fascinating landscape in the Inca Trail
- Reach Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate
- Be amazed by the Inca Culture and history
- Explore Machu Picchu in the afternoon away of the crowds
Inca Trail Machu Picchu FAQs
Before reaching out with the general inquiry, we recommend you read this the following frequently asked questions to see if you can find the answers you are looking for.
Where is the Inca Trail?
The Inca Trail is located in Peru, specifically in the Cusco region, near the Sacred Valley of the Incas, is surrounded by wonderful landscapes, and leads to the most incredible Inca building, Machu Picchu.
Where does the Inca Trail start?
This famous Classic Inca Trail starts at km 82, located in Piscacucho town near Ollantaytambo, at an altitude of 2,800 meters. And the Short Inca Trail starts at km 104 along the railway to Aguas Calientes town.
How long is the Inca Trail?
The Popular Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is 4 days and 3 nights of hiking. It is a lengthy and challenging hike, but the rewards are incredible. It covers 42 km (26 miles) from km 82 to Machu Picchu.
The Short 2-Day Inca Trail and the One-Day Inca Trail cover 9 km (5.5 miles) from km 104 to Machu Picchu.
How high is the Inca Trail?
Knowing the elevation of any trail is very important, and The Classic Inca Trail 4-Day reaches 4,215 meters (13,800 feet) at the Dead Woman’s Pass, and the overage campsite elevation is 3300 meters (10,000 feet).
At the Short Inca Trail, 2-Day Inca Trail, and 1-Day Inca Trail, the highest point is 2,650m (8,690ft).
When is the best time to hike the Inca Trail?
The best time to hike the Inca Trail in any of its versions is from May to October, as this period is considered the dry season in Cusco.
How to book the Inca Trail?
Asumming that you are planning to hike on the Inca Trail in the next few months or years, you should keep in mind the following details:
- The Inca Trail is the most famous trek destination in Peru, so we highly recommend booking your tour in advance (minimum 3 months).
- This Inca Trail is open from March to January, with limited tickets per day; only 200 tourist tickets are allowed every day.
- Inca Trail tickets can be booked only through licensed tour operators like Vidal Expeditions E.I.R.L.
How Challenging is the Inca Trail?
The answer to that will depend on what kind of fitness person you are. The Inca Trail is considered moderately difficult; however, there will be many factors (elevations, food, weather, and more) that can affect even the most fit person. We highly recommend being in Cusco for a few days with the purpose of acclimating to the altitude. Doing some exercise a few weeks before hiking on this trail will help you a lot.
Can you hike the Inca Trail without a guide?
No, because according to Peruvian government regulation, to hike on the Inca Trail, you need an authorized tour operator, a licensed tour guide, and a team of personal workers (cooks and porters) who will organize everything for your adventure to Machu Picchu.
How to do the Inca Trail?
Well, before you book your flight tickets, you should check the availability for the date you are planning to hike on the Inca Trail. Below we will show you what can be the great way to book your Inca Trail tour.
Follow the 10 steps
1. Check the availability. Ask your tour operator if they have any spots left for the date you are planning.
2. See if the airline has some tickets available.
3. Get more information from your tour operator about when exactly starts the trek, when it will finish and where.
4. See what is included. Read carefully what is included in your tour and what is not included.
5. Terms and Conditions Read the terms and conditions of the tour operator and the booking policy.
6. Make sure this is the right tour for you. Before making the prepayment, think twice and see if it is the right tour or program that you will follow during your journey.
7. Send your booking details
8. Book your flight tickets.
9. Make the prepayment for your tour.
10. Prepare for it. Prepare at home for your trekking adventure on the Inca Trail.
What to pack for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?
In this article, we will give you the best tips on what you need to pack to hike the classic Inca Trail, which takes 4 days and 3 nights.
In case you participate in the shorter or more extended version of this trek, you only need to divide the number of clothes you must pack with you by the number of days you’ll spend on the road.
Passport: We know it’s obvious, but people really do forget this number one item, even though it belongs at the top of any Inca Trail checklist.
Estra Cash: Money is always important for any trek tour, and we recommend bringing some soles.
Inca Trail Clothes
As mentioned above, on the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, the weather is unpredictable, and rain can occur even in the driest months of the year, like June or July. It would be best if you were always prepared for all seasons.
- A waterproof and windproof jacket: It is essential for the Inca Trail due to the unpredictable weather conditions.
- A fleece: This is suitable for the Inca Trail as it provides warmth and insulation during the coldest time.
- A scarf: It is a very important item to protect your face from the cold wind at the highest spots.
- Gloves: Waterproof gloves are well recommended.
- Beanie: A wool beanie will protect you from the cold early in the morning and in the evening.
- A base layer: You will need a base layer for the cold night; it must be lightweight.
- Sun hut or cap: Bring a sun hut; at some points on the Inca Trail, the sun is very strong.
- Warm socks: You should have a pair of thick hiking socks to wear with your trekking boots (wool socks are well recommended).
- Sunglasses: Protecting your eyes is important; make sure your sunglasses have UV protection.
- Trekking shoes: Hiking boots are essential for these terrain conditions; you must get a rubber sole with ankle support.
- Undergarments: Bring around 4 or 5 undergarments; you should bring an extra set as you might need more than 1 in a day.
- Moisture-wicking t-shirts: Long-sleeve shirts are recommended for this trek; they must be lightweight and quick-drying.
- Long-sleeve shirt: These are important along the trail; you will find some mosquitoes and sun.
- Quick-dry hiking pants: Bring 2 or 3 hiking trousers; for ladies, leggings are also widely used.
- Mosquitoes spry: You must see some mosquitoes on the Inca Trail; during the dry season, they are more frequent.
- Sunscreen lotion: Bring water-resistant sunscreen and lip balms.
- Wet wipes: Pack wet wipes, tissues, toilet paper, and hand gels to disinfect your hands during the trek.
- Toothbrush: Bring your set of dental care for the 4-day trek.
- Day backpack: A 30- to 40-liter backpack is a great choice for the Inca Trail, enough to carry your items for the day.
- Sleeping Bag: It should be light and have temperatures rated around -10 C (14 F). You can rent from us; we provide warm-down sleeping bags with liners.
- Trekking poles: These help to protect your uncles and get better balance.
- Water container: 2 liters is well recommended.