The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the best trekking routes in the world. There are thousands of “Inca Trails” throughout Peru. But we are talking about the most authentic and classic 4-day Inca Trail, which begins at km 82 of the railway to Machu Picchu. This is a route where diverse ecosystems unite with a sequence of monuments of the best Inca architecture, ending in the classic postcard view of Machu Picchu. Where you will enjoy a first view of the Inca citadel from the Sun Gate (Intipunku). That is why together with Machu Travel Peru we want to tell you everything about the Classic Inca Trail and how you can do it with a tour operator.
The Classic Inca Trail is a route that inspires both emotion and a bit of fear. Being able to travel this route will awaken the passion for travel and will fuel jealousy among your friends. It is one of the most popular hiking trails in South America. The hike itself traverses original Inca trails. These traverse the high Andean mountains and the countryside of Peru.
Everything you need to know about the Classic Inca Trail
- Regarding the Inca Trail
- How long does it last?
- How difficult is it?
- Where does it begin?
- Daily description of the tour
- How do I have to prepare?
- When to go?
REGARDING THE INCA TRAIL
The Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the most popular hiking trails in all of South America. And it is for good reason, as this route mixes a wide variety of amazing landscapes, wildlife, Inca ruins, and interesting history. The classic route lasts 4 days and 3 nights, although there are also other variations of fewer or more days. This adventure is an unforgettable and unparalleled experience when it comes to visiting the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. You will make your visit to the Inca citadel a much more magical and mystical one by traveling the original route of the Incas.
The Classic Inca Trail route has a distance of about 42 kilometers to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The route ascends through three mountain passes where the complicated terrain of Peru is traversed. This can make the 26 miles look much longer than normal. Along the trail, you will find yourself in an area of high biodiversity. So at any moment without warning, you may come across foxes, a wide variety of orchids, deers, and the spectacled bear to name a few. There are also great possibilities of spotting the national bird of Peru, the cock of the rocks.
Besides, you will have the possibility to visit not-so-well-known Inca ruins such as Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna. It is a trekking experience that will leave you speechless. And this magical experience is enjoyed just before one of the most important destinations in Peru, Machu Picchu. You cannot put into words the true beauty of Machu Picchu. Try as we may, we will always come to the same conclusion: it is better that you see it with your own eyes.
HOW LONG DOES IT LAST?
The Classic Inca Trail is one of the most popular treks in South America. The Inca Trail of Peru is a unique experience and appreciated by all those who are fortunate enough to experience it. It is the most famous section of all the ancestral roads built by the ancient Inca Empire. But the real question is: How long is the Inca Trail? The classic option lasts 4 days and 3 nights, through which they will traverse incredibly amazing landscapes and take your breath away. You’ll pass by hand-carved stone stairs, trails that cut through sumptuous mountain landscapes, beautiful scenes of cloud forests, rivers, and many Inca ruins to observe. The entire area is filled with numerous rare orchids, 419 species of birds, and even the indigenous spectacled bear.
Fortunately, the Inca Trail offers numerous route options to take. This allows you to personalize your experience and enjoy a unique tour. In addition to the Classic Inca Trail, three other main options lead to Machu Picchu. With durations that vary from a single day to fourteen days, each route serves different audiences. And depending on its availability, popularity, or duration, you can customize your trekking route. Please note that all hiking trails are one way only. After you visit Machu Picchu, you will have to take the train to return to Cusco. And depending on your operator or agency of choice, you will use both public and private transport to return.
ALTERNATIVES TO THE CLASSIC INCA TRAIL
ONE DAY INCA TRAIL
If you’re short on time, there’s a one-day Inca Trail option to choose from. This is an ideal option for those looking to travel a short but no less important section of the Inca Trail. Of course, this route starts very early in the morning. This trail starts from kilometer 104. From this point, you will walk about 15 kilometers until finally reaching Puerta del Sol. From there, you will be able to enjoy the sanctuary of Machu Picchu.
If you are already someone with experience in trekking, this route will fascinate you. This alternative is one of the most challenging ways to get to Machu Picchu. The Vilcabamba Road has a distance of about 104 kilometers long. This route has its starting point in the town of Cachora and continues along a canyon to the well-known ruins of Choquequirao. Then continue along the original route of the Inca Trail to cross some distant towns. The Vilcabamba Trek tries to take the same route that the explorer Hiram Bingham did when he discovered Machu Picchu in 1911.
The Salkantay Trek crosses the Cordillera de Vilcabamba and allows overnight breaks in private lodges. These have all the services and amenities one can expect up the mountain. This trail reaches over 4500 meters above sea level before passing through the Inca citadel. This alternative is one of the only ones that offer a comfortable bed and a warm shower at the end of each day. If you are looking for exclusivity and a challenge at the same time, this is an excellent option.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT?
In general, many people say that you have to be in relatively good physical condition to walk the Classic Inca Trail. Not that the hike itself is extremely difficult, it’s more about making sure you take all steps to prepare for altitude sickness that may occur along the way. A lot of people ask how to prepare for hiking the Inca Trail? The best way to prepare for the trek is acclimatization. Because at the highest point the path rises to 4,200 meters above sea level. It is at this point that most people are affected by a lack of energy due to low oxygen levels. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that it is one of the best Machu Picchu tours available.
Altitude sickness is something that should be taken very seriously. Before embarking on the Classic Inca Trail it is advisable to take a few days calmly. It is also important to communicate with the guide or group leader about your condition and how you feel at all times. Do not be ashamed to request breaks, as the pace of the group can be accommodated. As soon as you see that you or someone else is feeling bad, it is important to take it easy. Drinking lots of water and eating light are tips that help a lot. Mate de Coca is very helpful to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. There are even over-the-counter medications in pharmacies. But it’s always a good idea to check with your GP.
WHERE DOES IT BEGIN
Your adventure will start in the wonderful Imperial City. Then, depending on your operator or agency, you will be taken by bus to Kilometer 82. The Classic Inca Trail begins in Qorihuayrachina near Ollantaytambo, more easily described as Kilometer 82 of the railway from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. The route is 43 kilometers (26 miles) long and passes through three colossal mountain passes. These include the punishing and difficult “Dead Woman’s Pass” which is at an altitude of 4,200 meters (13,800 feet). The entire Inca Trail map is a beauty for the eyes of any tourist and that’s why this hike is one of the best.
The Classic Inca Trail starts at about 2,720 meters (8,923 feet) above sea level. The real route begins once the Vilcanota River is crossed. Once you have crossed the river, you will start the path that goes into the cloud forest. You will notice how the route begins to gradually ascend offering views of the surrounding landscape. They will be able to know both the Inca ruins of Huillca Raccay and the site of Patallacta (Also known as Llactapata). The Llactapata archaeological complex has a hundred structures and extensive agricultural terraces. As you go, you will appreciate the beautiful snowy peak of Veronica. This is also known as W’akay Willca. So on the first day, only wonderful views and relatively little effort await you.
DAILY DESCRIPTION OF THE TOUR
DAY ONE: START OF THE ADVENTURE
On the first day, you will be picked up from your hotel very early in the morning. Then you will start your tour from Piscacucho, also known as Kilometer 82. Before starting the tour you must go through the control point and check both the tickets and your passport. There you will find hygienic services, so you can take advantage and go to the bathroom before embarking on your adventure. Putting on your sunscreen and bug spray is also a good idea.
The trail on the first day is relatively easy and is a warm-up to what awaits later. The first day is made up of fascinating views of Inca ruins, the Andes Mountains, and the snowy peak of Verónica.
SECOND DAY: TOWARDS THE APUS
The second day also starts quite early. The chefs will have a hearty breakfast ready to recharge your energy levels. The second day is the most difficult day of all due to the steep route ahead. On this day, the highest pass of the route is crossed, known as “Paso de la Mujer Muerta”. The pass has a height of more than 4200 meters high. The high altitude can make this the most difficult day of all. Once upstairs, you can enjoy a well-deserved rest and get your air back. Then the descent will begin to where the next stop for lunch will be.
After your lunch and enjoying a few views in Pacaymayo, you will start a climb again. You will climb a steep route for about two hours until you reach Runkurakay. This stop is about 4000 meters high and will be the place where you will camp and rest for the day. Depending on the pace of the group, they will be arriving at this point between 5 PM and 6 PM.
THIRD-DAY: ROAD TO THE RUINS
This day will also start with a delicious breakfast full of energy. And then you will take a gentle uphill route to the first stop, Phuyupatamarca. This archaeological site is known as “the city above the clouds” and is located about 3680 meters above sea level. This beautiful Inca ruin features stepped slopes and stone baths that work during the rainy season. Then continuing the route you will have to descend a series of original Inca steps. There are over 1000 steps to go down so take it easy. After going down you will go through a cloud forest to reach the Inca agricultural site known as Intipata.
After appreciating the different views and the agricultural terraces, you will continue the route. The day ends once you reach the camp known as Wiñay Wayna. This is about 2680 meters above sea level. They will arrive at the camp at lunchtime where they can rest and relax. After lunch, you can explore the archaeological site of the same name, Wiñay Wayna. The site has Inca constructions of fine masonry. You can also see about 10 ceremonial baths. It is believed that this site was one of worship and worship of water. It is also theorized that pilgrims heading to Machu Picchu cleaned themselves there.
FOURTH DAY: ARRIVAL AT MACHU PICCHU
The fourth day is the last day of the popular Classic Inca Trail. This day starts very early in the morning, usually at 04:30 AM. They will have breakfast and start the route as soon as possible, to be able to enjoy the Inca citadel. Also, if you arrive early, you will be able to enjoy one of the rarest natural spectacles: a sunrise in Machu Picchu. They will walk for no more than 2 hours until they reach Intipunku. From there you will have the first views of one of the most famous landmarks in Peru. And only your guided visit to Machu Picchu awaits you.
HOW DO I HAVE TO PREPARE?
If you were wondering how to get to Machu Picchu, then you have to know that the Classic Inca Trail is the best way. The Classic Inca Trail is the best option that has numerous landscapes and climates to know the true essence of the Andean Country. If you want to know how to prepare, you do not have to worry about more details. Every guided tour is prepared for both experienced and beginner people. This means that they are designed for real people and not just experts in the world of hiking. All of our guides will be tailored to your ability, allowing you to set the pace, regardless of your physical ability. In the same way, it is advisable for those newcomers to Cusco to take a few days in the city or surroundings to adjust to the height of the Andes.
Wherever you come from, it is probably a low-altitude site. So it is highly recommended to acclimatize before participating in any activity. Especially if you are looking to experience the Inca Trail. When you arrive in Cusco, it is advisable to take the first days calmly. You can do it while exploring the history and views of the beautiful city of Cusco. Just be sure to drink plenty of fluids and eat lightly.
WHEN TO GO?
Due to the marked climate that usually exists in Machu Picchu and its surroundings, many consult us when it is the best time to walk the Inca Trail. We, by consensus, recommend the dry season (which runs from May to October). This is when rainfall in the Amazon basin is at its lowest point. So you can take advantage of the beautiful blue skies of Peru while appreciating the picturesque landscapes. But the dry season coincides with the high tourist season: that is why we also recommend doing it in April and November, as rains do not occur frequently and there are not so many tourists around.
Keep in mind that the Classic Inca Trail is closed during February. It is closed due to maintenance and the coincidental rainy season. The rains are at their peak during January and March, so these are usually the months with the fewest hikers. Despite this, during February you can still enjoy other Inca Trail alternatives, such as the Lares Trek.
“FAITH IS TAKING THE FIRST STEP, EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T SEE THE WHOLE STAIRCASE”
As you will see, the Classic Inca Trail is an experience that you should not overlook. Being able to know the wonder of the world along with these wonderful landscapes will make your experience unique. Together with Machu Travel Peru, we hope we have encouraged your next visit to the famous Inca Trail. If you visit Machu Picchu you cannot miss this popular hiking route. If you have any questions, you can consult our qualified advisors who will guide you through all the necessary steps. Our team will be delighted to help you make the trip of your dreams come true.