Hiking the Inca Trail

Brian Morgan

The distances involved in hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu are not that great. The entire 4-day trail hike is only 25 miles (40 km). However, the altitude can cause problems in the strongest hikers. For this reason all Adventure Life trips involving this hike spend a number of days at high altitude in order to acclimatize. The Machu Picchu Pilgrimage 10 Day tour spends nearly 3 days before beginning the hike and the Inca Pathways 14 Day tour spends nearly 6 days at altitude. NOTE: Many tour operators have Inca Trail tours that last only 7 or 8 days. This does NOT allow enough time to acclimatize to the altitude and clients will have greater difficulties on the trail.

It is generally accepted that anyone who is accustomed to hiking and camping (i.e. walking for several hours and then sleeping in tents) can hike the Inca Trail. For those less initiated in the arts of camping, a few weekend trips near home are strongly suggested to get accustomed to life in the great outdoors. Hiking the Inca Trail should be a highlight of a trip, and travelers should have an idea of what they are getting themselves into before setting out. We have had nearly all ages on our high altitude treks, from 8 to 75. The right state of mind and several weekend day hikes near home can make all the difference!

Trip Details
The appeal of this particular trek is the stunning combination of Inca ruins, magnificent mountains, exotic vegetation and extraordinary ecological variety. The trail goes over high passes with unforgettable views, through cloud forest, and finally into subtropical vegetation. Over 250 species of orchid have been counted in the Machu Pichu Historic Sanctuary, as well as numerous rare birds, animals, reptiles. Several species on this hike are also considered to be in danger of extinction. Peter Frost (author of exploring Cusco) recently reported seeing a pair of spectacled bears.

DAY 1: (7.8 miles or 12.5 km)


  • This first day is relatively easy walking ~ 5-7 hours.

  • We take a bus from Ollantaytambo to Kilometer 82 (9000 ft or 2750 m) where we begin the trek at about 10:00 AM.

  • Hike the first 3 miles (5 km) along the south bank of the River Urubamba to our lunch spot, near the ruins of Llactapata (8692 ft or 2650 m).

  • After lunch, continue south along the river Cusichaca, climbing gently. Camp at Huayllabamba (9691 ft or 2954 m).

DAY 2: (5.1 miles or 8.3 km)


  • This is the most difficult day. After climbing Warmiwañusca (Dead Woman's) pass on the morning of the second day, the rest of the hike is relatively easy.

  • Begin hiking about 7:00 AM and hike ~ 5 1/2 hours to our lunch spot. The trail follows the River Llullucha, climbing steeply nearly 4000 feet (1200 m) through forests and plains to Warmiwañusca pass (13,776 ft or 4200m). Lunch is provided shortly after the pass.

  • It’s another 1½ hours of easy walking to our camp at Pacaymayo (11,833 ft or 3607m), near to Runkuraqay, where we'll cook dinner.

DAY 3: (4.5 miles or 7.3 km)


  • On the third day, the trail climbs gently up two passes.

  • Depart ~ 7:00 AM and hike about an hour to the rounded ruins of Runkuracay (12,470 ft or 3800 m). Continue up the second pass and back down to the ruins of Sayacmarca (11,742 ft or 3580 m). These ruins offer spectacular views in nearly every direction.

  • From here, climb gently up the third and final pass through lush cloudforest to the ruins of Phuyupatamarca ("Cloud-Level Town").

  • Camp at Phuyupatamarca (11,930 ft or 3640 m) or continue downhill to the ruins of Winay Wayna. This will be up to the discretion of your Tour Leader and the Peruvian National Park Service. Your Tour Leader will notify you locally of your camping itinerary.

DAY 4: (6.9 miles or 11 km)


  • This day is mostly downhill along steep, stone steps.

  • Have an early breakfast and hike the remaining 6.9 miles (approx 5-7 hours) to Machu Picchu.

  • Arrive at Machu Picchu (7875 ft or 2400 m) in the afternoon for a guided tour. Hikers camping at Winay Wayna on Day 3 will reach the ruins in the early morning instead.

  • Short bus trip to Aguas Calientes for a hot shower in our hotel. All travelers will have the opportunity to return to Machu Picchu before dawn on the following day to watch the sunrise.

NOTE: The exact locations where you will have lunch and camp is subject to change depending weather conditions, current Inca Trail regulations and the abilities of the group.