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Hiking to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail

Hiking the Inca Trail

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Preparing to Hike the Inca Trail

Advance preparation is vital to planning trekking the Inca Trail. If traveling between April and September, you will need to make reservations the previous year, before the month of October, when the Peruvian government opens the sale of hiking permits which limit the number of people on the trail to 500 per day. Advanced preparation and reserving in advance is recommendable for any time of the year.

Inca Trail Distances & Altitude

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, which at it's highest point is 13,776 ft or 4200m, can cause problems even for the strongest hikers. For this reason, all Adventure Life trips involving this hike require spending at least a few days at high altitude in order to acclimatize before embarking on the Inca Trail hike.

These packages are recommended to adequately acclimatize: 
  • 10-day Classic Inca Trail takes you from Lima to Cusco (at 3,400 meters, 11,152 ft), to the Sacred Valley (at about 2900 meters, 9500 ft.) before starting the great trek to Machu Picchu.
  • 10-day Luxury Inca Trail Experience also visits Cusco and the Sacred Valley and features upscale camping and cuisine on the trail, and off the trail, and lodging off-the-trail in the finest hotels and countryside inns.
  • 13-day Inca Pathways is the ultimate Peru adventure that visits Lake Titicaca (at 3,812 meters, 12,507 ft) before traveling to Cusco, the Sacred Valley and culminating in the 4-day Inca Trail trek. 
The 5-day Inca Trail Express lets you independently explore Cusco and other Inca relics. But, you will need to acclimatize on your own for at least a few days at high altitude (preferably doing some hiking) before joining us for the hike and an extra day at Machu Picchu. This is required in order to acclimatize to the altitude because hikers will have greater difficulties and greater chances of symptoms of altitude sickness on the trail. Altitude sickness can be serious, and it's important to learn the symptoms and prepare by previously spending time at altitude. 

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!

Arrieros, the Andean sherpas that accompany us will carry all of our camping gear, and you'll need to carry only a small day backpack with the things you'll require while you're hiking like water, trail snacks, a raincoat, and of course, your camera. 

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 Picchu 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) reported seeing a pair of spectacled bears.

Woman interacting with llamas in Machu Picchu
Woman interacting with llamas in Machu Picchu
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 about 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 the highest point on the trek, Warmiwañusca pass, aka Dead Women's pass at (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 cloud forests 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 Inti Punku, the Gate of the Sun, entrance to Machu Picchu at (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 and spending the full morning exploring the glorious ruins of Machu Picchu!
NOTE: The exact locations where you will have lunch and camp is subject to change depending on weather conditions, current Inca Trail regulations and the abilities of the group.

Our Favorite Inca Trail Trips

13-day Inca Pathways is the ultimate Peru adventure that visits Lake Titicaca (at 3,812 meters, 12,507 ft) before traveling to Cusco, the Sacred Valley and culminating in the 4-day Inca Trail trek.

10-day Classic Inca Trail takes you from Lima to Cusco to the Sacred Valley before starting the great trek to Machu Picchu.

10-day Luxury Inca Trail Experience features upscale camping and cuisine on the trail, and off the trail, the finest hotels and countryside inns.

5-day Inca Trail Express lets you independently explore Cusco and other Inca relics acclimatizing for a few days before joining us just for the hike and a day at Machu Picchu. 

Inca Trail Alternatives 

For advanced hikers, consider taking the longer, higher altitude Salkantay Trek which includes 6 full days of trekking connecting with the classic Inca trail ending at the ruins of Machu Picchu. Or, if you want to escape the crowds, try the Choquequirao Trek or Cachiccata Trek for a remote wilderness expedition experience. 

Contact one of Adventure Life's Inca Trail experts for help designing the perfect hiking trip to Machu Picchu and the rest of Peru.

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