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Inca Trail Travel Guide

About the Inca Trail

Even though it's just one among a multitude of paths across the Andes, the fabulous treasure of Machu Picchu at the end of its 43km path makes the INCA TRAIL the world’s most famous trek. Most people visit the site on a day-tour by train from Cusco, Ollantaytambo or Urubamba, but if you're reasonably fit and can dedicate at least four days to the experience, arriving along the Inca Trail offers the most atmospheric and rewarding option.

Inca Trail Tours


There are four zones that cross the trail, each with different climates. At 2300-3500m / 7,546-11,483ft is the start of the trail, the Quechua Zone, which has a dry and temperate climate, a good location for agriculture.
Next, at 3500-4000m / 11,483-13123ft above sea level, is the Suni or Jalca zone. Some types of agriculture are still available this high up. After the Suni/Jalca area, at 4000-4800m / 13,000 15,750ft is the Puna, the Puna area has a cold, icy climate, which makes the zone consist of grassland and no agriculture. The Ichu grass is only consumed by lamas and alpacas.
To travel from Puno to the Suni zone you must go through the Fluvial Yungas, a zone that shares the Andean highlands and the eastern slope forest which are approximately 1000-2300m / 7,500-3,300ft, this zone has neotropical climate, which consists of humidity, rain and warmth. The English definition of Yunga is warm valley.

inca trail geography


The Andes and Sacred Valley climate both fall under the same category by having hot days with a lot of sunlight and extremely cold nights. It is always recommended to dress in layers with multiple items of clothing in case of a temperature drop or rise due to cloudiness. From November to march is the rainy season, this causes warmer nights but also muddy trails. Even though the rain can be a disadvantage it can also create mist that covers the mountain creating breath taking views and a wide range of flora in full bloom.
June and august are the dry seasons, since there are fewer clouds this gives a perfect opportunity for panoramic views of snowcapped mountains. Less rain also means less vegetation, but this makes the Inca trail less difficult to conquer. Dressing in layers during this season is crucial because the temperature drops significantly at night.


The trail is accompanied by stunning views, unique flora and fauna and several ancient Incan architectural sites. This wonderful trek ends by walking through the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu.

Dead Woman’s Pass

Warmi (woman) Wañusca (become dead) is the highest point at 4,215 metres (13,828 feet). You can admire an amazing panorama from this point.

Dead Woman’s Pass inca trail

Inca Trail Wildlife

Acting as a bio-corridor between the Cusco Andes, the sacred Valley and the lowland Amazon forest, the Santuario Historico de Machpicchu possesses over 370 of bird, 47 mammal species and over 700 butterfly species. Some of the Quechua – speaking Andes). Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and condor (Vultur gryphus). In addition, there are around 300 different species of hidden up in the trees of the cloud forest.

Incredible Flora and Fauna inca trail

Inca Remains

There are many impressive archaeological sites including Incan places, stone steps and tunnels, along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Among the highlights you will be able to see:

Llaqtapata, located in the middle of the Kusichaca River and the Vilcanota River. This is a resting place surrounded by terraces which were used to produce crops during the Incan times.

Runkurakay, an ancient Incan lodge with unique circular structures and precise stone masonry. It has remained in excellent condition over the centuries.

Sayacmarca, another tambo (lodge) or checkpoint, in the same way as Machu Picchu.

Phuyupatamarka, the place of the clouds. Like many Incan sites, this is no exception, it has achieved a remarkable balance with nature and the environment.

Wiñayhuayna, quechua for "eternally young". It is also name of an orchid that blooms all year on the mountain where the Incan site is located, it is especially beautiful.

Inti Punku, the Sun Gate. After the challenge is completed, you will walk through Inti Punku into the lost city of the Incas at sunrise.

Intipunku to Machu Picchu - Sun Gate

A well-marked track from Wiñay Wayna takes a right fork for about two more hours through sumptuous vegetated slopes to the stone archway entrance called Intipunku (Gateway of the Sun), from where you get your first sight of Machu Picchu - a stupendous moment, however exhausted you might be. Aim to get to Machu Picchu well before 9.30am, when the first hordes arrive off the train from Cusco, if possible.

sun gate inca trail

Wiñay Wayna

It's a very rough, two- or three-hour descent along a non-Inca track to the next ruin, a citadel almost as impressive as Machu Picchu, Wiñay Wayna - "Forever Young" - another place with fresh water, as well as the official Trekkers Hostal.
Consisting of only two major groups of architectural structures - a lower and an upper sector - Wiñay Wayna's most visible features are stone baths with apparently as many as nineteen springs feeding them, all set amid several layers of fine Inca terracing.
Nearby there's also a small waterfall created by streams coming down from the heights of Puyupatamarca. Much like today, it is believed that Wiñay Wayna was used by Incas as a washing, cleansing and resting point before arriving at the grand Machu Picchu citadel.
This is usually the spot for the last night of camping, and, especially in high season, the crowds mean that it's a good idea to pitch your tent soon after lunch, but don't be surprised if someone pitches theirs right across your doorway. To reach Machu Picchu for sunrise the next day you'll have to get up very early with a torch to avoid the rush.

Travel Tips


It's important to make time to aclimatize to the altitude before tackling the Inca Trail or any other high Andean trek, especially if you've flown straight up from sea level.


Most people select a tour to suit them from among the multitude of agencies registered for the Inca Trail; the company will take care of everything including your registration, but demand is so great that it is essential to book at least nine months in advance and make your booking deposit.

When to go

Choose your season for hiking the Inca Trail carefully. May is the best month to venture on a hike here, with clear views, fine weather and verdant surroundings. Between tone and September it's usually a pretty cosmopolitan stretch of mountainside, with travelers from all over the globe converging on Machu Picchu the hard way, but from mid-June to early August the trails simply very busy (and the campsites noisy), especially on the last stretch. From October until April, in the season, it{ s less crowded but also, naturally, quite a bit wetter. Locals will tell you that the best time to hike the is during a full moon, and it certainly a more romantic, even mystical feeling your journey.

Inca Trail Regulations

  • There are only 500 hikers allowed on the trail every day. The permits can sell out up to 5 months in advance, especially for the dry season.
  • It is important to book Inca trail tickets months in advance.
  • The Inca trail hike permits are available only through march to January. This is because the government annually closes the trail for maintenance.
  • The only way to access the trail is to go with a tour operator. These policies are very strict which makes going independently impossible. Only with a specific license some companies are able to take groups on the trail.
  • All carrier animals are banned from the track, porters are hired and take care of most of the supplies, porters can be hired to carry personal items like backpacks.
  • Private porters are able to carry from 8kg to 15kg. But you also have to remember that 2.5kg has to be set aside for a pad and sleeping bag.

Classic Inka Trail

Day 1 - Cusco / Llaqtapata

You will be transferred to the Sacred Valley and to the area known as Piscaycucho. We will hike for about 5 hours through a lesser visited section of the trail. We will stop at Q’oriwayrachina for lunch before crossing the Urubamba River at Q’ente. We will have an option to visit the archaeological sites of Wayna Q’ente and Llaqtapata where we will camp in the vicinity of their Incan terraces.

(Time: 5-6 hours, Distance: 11km).

Day 2 - Llaqtapata / Llulluchapampa

We will continue up the Cusichaca Valley and, after passing many buildings, we will reach the Andean community of Huayllabamba. From here, the trail ascends steeply to a large pampa (flat land) below the first pass, where we will stop. Here, we will have a breathtaking view of Mt. Huayanay. As the trail goes along this narrow valley, we will begin to see cloud forest flora that harbours the queñua tree (polilepis). Our camp will be set up at Llulluchapampa.

(Time: 6 hours. Distance: 9Kms).

Day 3 - Llulluchapampa / Phuyupatamarca

The day starts with a steady ascent up to the Warmiwañusqa Pass at 4,200m (13,692ft) where we will have a magnificent views of where we’ve come from and of the trail ahead of us. We then descend through a restored Inca Trail down to the Pacaymayo River before ascending again to the ruins of Runkuraqay and the second pass at 4,050m (13,200ft). From here, we walk down to the site at Sayacmarca, 3,850m (12,551ft), on the original Inca Trail, passing a dry lake where you will appreciate the beginnings of a cloud forest. A beautiful location overlooking the Aobamba Valley, we will have time for a leisurely walk through its imposing structures. We then continue along the ridge, viewing Mt. Salkantay and Mt. Pumasillo, a silhouette on the northern horizon. Walking through a rolling flag stoned trail, we arrive to the village of Phuyupatamarca where we will camp.

(Trekking: 7-8 hours, Distance: 14kms).

Day 4 - Phuyupatamarca / Machu Picchu

An early departure today will have us passing the ruins of Phuyupatamarca. The flag stoned trail then winds sharply down into the cloud forest and to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna, located below the ridge on the same body of water as the previous site. These are very well restored Incan ruins. After a two hour walk through the cloud forest, we will arrive to Machu Picchu through the same entrance the Incas used. We will admire the magnificent citadel below us from Inti Punku, the Sun Gate. After visiting Machu Picchu, we will take a bus to the village below Machu Picchu where we will stay in a local hotel.

What to Pack

The trekking team you choose to go with will provide capping equipment, food and refreshments. There are sleeping bags for rent or you can bring your own.

Our essential packing list for the Inca trail:

  • To enter Machu Picchu, your original passport is required.
  • A comfortable backpack with tight straps is important on the trail, if you do no hire a private porter expect to carry your sleeping bag and pad.
  • A plastic or reusable water bottle is necessary.
  • While hiking you will experience many different climates so taking a variety clothes to layer with, shorts, long sleeve t-shirts, lightweight pants and a fleece jacket is all recommended.
  • Once it hits night time, the temperature drops drastically, to prepare for this you need to take thermal underwear, gloves and a warm hat.
  • Comfortable hiking boots are very important, to prevent injuries or blisters. It is also recommended to take shower sandals.
  • During any time of the year it is always recommended to take a rain jacket or poncho.
  • To protect yourself from the sun it is important to take a strong sun block, a hat and sun glasses.
  • Also take a small flashlight, headlamp and plenty of extra batteries.
  • For showering you will need a lightweight towel, and a small pillow for comfortable sleeping.
  • Also take toilet paper and wet wipes.
  • It is a good idea to bring snacks that will help energize and lift spirits, like cookies, protein bars, chocolate and mints.
  • If you like a walking stick can be of great help.
  • Never forget to bring your toiletries, such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, medication, etc.
  • There are mosquitos in this area so remember to bring insect repellant. There is no malaria or yellow fever in this area.
  • Bringing Peruvian currency (soles) to tip your team or guide is something to take into consideration.
  • Last but not least, make sure to pack your camera with a full charge or extra battery packs.
weather arequipa

How To Book

  • It is very important to buy tickets for the Inca Trail early but early planning does not guarantee a spot. Daily Inca Trail vacancies are limited and can be booked up to 6 months in advance.
  • High season (April-October) – Book at least 2 to 6 months in advance.
  • Low season (November-March) – Book at least 1 to 3 months in advance.
  • To book the Inca Trail you must have a valid passport.



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