The Inca Trail Trek

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The Classic Inca Trail Trek is a four day, 40km hike through the mountains, valleys and the jungle. There are early starts and long days of walking, but it will be one of the most rewarding things you do in your life! Not to mention the incredible views everyone else will miss.

I am mid twenties and moderately fit, I go to the gym a few times a week and try to eat well most days; I do not hike often. Parts of the trek were hard but I made it fine. Whilst on the Inca Trail we saw people of all shapes, sizes and ages; so do not be put off by the length and difficultly of this trek. Your guide and group will be patient and stop whenever you need a rest or a refuel.

Before you go

Book in advance

The Inca Trail allows 500 people per day; this includes porters and guides. We were a group of three, and we had four porters carrying our equipment, a chef and a guide. This means few tourists are on the trail each day, and there is limited availability. I booked in February for a slot in September, but nothing before was available. You also need to organise in advance the optional hike up Huayna Picchu.

If you are not interested in the Inca Trail you can book a day trip closer to the time and I would recommend booking a tour guide.

Altitude Sickness

It is not a myth! It exists and it is awful. Each individual can have different symptoms of different severities. Travellers are advised to spend at least three days in Cusco before attempting the Inca Trail. Personally for me I took five days to adjust. In the few days before try and keep lightly active walking around to acclimatise. The porters will carry oxygen for use if you get a headache or dizziness.

What you will need:

  • Layers: throughout your trek the temperature ranges from very hot in the day to very cold at night
  • A light shell raincoat / windbreaker
  • Good walking boots, worn in before you start the trek
  • Hat and gloves
  • A torch
  • A water bottle
  • Baby wipes (you won’t be getting a shower!)
  • First aid kit: plasters, antiseptic cream, cleaning wipes
  • Toilet roll
  • A backpack on which you can attach a sleeping bag and mat
  • Trekking poles (you can rent these quite cheaply from your tour guide)
  • Sleeping bag (again – you can rent these, but it’s better to take your own)
  • Toothbrush and toiletries (toothpaste, deodorant, soap, anti bacterial hand gel)
  • Your passport – there will be several checks to make sure you are allowed to be there
  • Snacks such as energy bars or cereal bars
  • Spare change – the first two days you will be able to buy snacks and drinks from locals

See more – ‘What to pack for the Inca Trail‘.

Day One

The trek starts at KM82 Ollytatambo, outside of Cusco. The tour guide will pick you up from your hotel in Cusco or Ollytatambo around 06:00am. The rest of your group will be picked up on the way, and the trek will start mid morning. This is considered the easiest day of the trek. You will start at 2600m and ascend to around 2970m.

You will arrive at the camp early evening. Tonight it will be fairly warm as the altitude is still low. For us, camping was in the locals resident’s gardens so although on comfy and soft grass, you may be woken early by the cockerels!

Day Two

Another start at sunrise and the most difficult day. It starts with a 5-6 hour uphill hike through the jungle which although is sometimes shaded it is very hot and humid. You will ascend almost 1300m to reach Dead Woman’s Pass , which sits at 4215m above sea level. The last half hour of this are some steep uphill steps enough to challenge even the fittest of people. Once you reach the pass you can rest for a while and take in the views of the valley from which you have just climbed. The remaining part of the day is a 1-2 hour walk downhill. It might sound easy but your knees may tell you otherwise!

Tonight’s camping is at the highest altitude of the trek. Be prepared for cold weather and put on plenty of layers. You will camp between 3600-3800m.

Day Three

Today is the longest with a 16km hike. There are two passes to cross at 3950m and 3670m, but they almost seem easy compared to the previous day – and remember you are starting from higher altitude this time!

This is the day where you will see the most archaeological sites and beautiful landscapes. After reaching the second pass and having lunch the last half of the day is a 3.5 hour descent of 900 metres to the next camp. The steps are extremely steep and it’s important to have trekking poles for this day to protect your knees; it’s harder than you expect!

Tonight’s camping is a little warmer at 2650m and all of the groups will camp at the same place. Take note of the directions to your camping pitch your guide gives you.

Phuyupatamarca ruins: There are some extremely steep and narrow steps to access the ruins, you cannot take your trekking poles – so take care. By far the most impressive archaeological site so far with some incredible views over the mountains. The site sits on top of the valley. You can see the lunch point on the other side of the valley – but it’s an hours walk yet!

Arrival at camp is just before sunset. It’s before 7pm but I can assure you, you will want to sleep straight after dinner!

Day Four

Here it is. The day you will finally reach Machu Picchu. It’s been a tough three days already, and today’s hike is less than three hours and mostly flat and gently downhill to reach Machu Picchu at 2400m.

The day starts extremely early at 3:30am – it’s hard but its worth it. You will get ready in the cold and the dark, and spend an hour waiting for the passport check gate to open just outside the camp, so put on some warm clothing, and keep your torch to hand! Take note – your knees may be stiff and sore after the long descent the previous day and you will have to give up your trekking poles. At first I really struggled to get going; but once your legs and knees are warmed up and the temperature rises you will feel better.

It’s a two hour, mostly flat but narrow walk at sunrise. All the other groups will be setting off at the same time in a race to reach Machu Picchu. Be prepared to make way for some extremely keen individuals. Take your time, it’s been there for hundreds of years – it’s not going anywhere! You will have plenty of time to explore Machu Picchu before the train home.

After two hours and a climb up the “Monkey Steps” you arrive at Intipunku: The Sun Gate. From here you get the first view of Machu Picchu – and it’s simply amazing. Spend some time here digesting the sight of Machu Picchu at sunrise and the surrounding mountains. It’s a further 45 minute descent to the entrance.


Exploring Machu Picchu

Arriving at Machu Picchu, you must first find the exit to leave your bags in the cloakroom (make sure to take a picture first!). Your ticket will grant you entrance two times; there’s a one way route around Machu Picchu so make sure you walk the right way once you’re in there!

Our team of three, and our amazing guide (I’m annoyed we didn’t get more pictures here, but I was in desperate need of the bathroom!)

And finally, take a few hours to explore the incredible Machu Picchu. Our guide gave us a detailed insight into the ruins, temples, architecture and the history.

And a final note; yes, you can stroke the Llamas.

Returning to Cusco

It’s likely you were provided travel back to Cusco with your tour company. There is a bus service down the mountain to Aguas Calientes every 5 to 10 minutes which takes 15/20 minutes, but make sure you leave in plenty of time because in the afternoon the bus queue is an hour long – and you don’t want to miss your train!

You will take the Peru Rail back to Ollytatambo where a driver will pick you up. Make sure to look closely for your name because your driver could be picking up several groups.

Finally, staying in a bed tonight will be the most luxurious thing you will experience!

Originally written for

Photo by Steve Pastor at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0,

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