Thousands of people flock to Peru every year to experience one of the most famous hiking trails in the world, the Inca Trail. This 42 km trek takes hikers on the traditional 15th-century path that the Incans used to travel to the famous city on a mountain, the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu. Traveling along the Urubamba River, through the Sacred Valley and scaling snow-capped peaks, hikers will experience the excursion of a lifetime.
There are a lot of moving parts when scheduling a tour on the Inca Trail. We have compiled a list of things to do before going, what to expect, and things that you should avoid in this complete guide for hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu!
History of Inca Trail
In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Inca Empire stretched over 2,500 miles all the way from Ecuador to Chile in South America. In order to be able to travel from city to city without getting lost, the Inca developed a complex system of roads and trails that spanned the varying landscapes. This road system connected farmland, villages, and religious sites.
Cusco was the epicenter of the empire where many of the Inca lived, and Machu Picchu served as a religious center and royal retreat where the Inca would perform their ceremonies. The Inca would use the Inca Trail as their main route between these two locations. Later, when the Spanish invaded, the Inca would evacuate Cusco to Machu Picchu along this trail, before abandoning the mountain city altogether. It was then lost to history until it was “discovered” in 1912.
Many people today hike the Inca Trail to travel in the same footsteps that the Inca would have done so many years ago. Whether hikers are traveling for history or for the challenge, everyone will gain a new sense of understanding the Inca culture when seeing Machu Picchu for the first time.
Also Read: The 9 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Peru
When is the Best Time to Hike the Inca Trail?
Peru has 2 distinct weather-related seasons that can very much affect outdoor activities. If you are planning on hiking the Inca Trail, or any trail in Peru for that matter, you will want to schedule accordingly with the seasons.
The dry season lasts from March through November. This is the ideal time to go on a hike in Peru, as the skies will be clear and the weather will be warmer, but you are still in the Andes Mountains so warm is relative.
The rainy season extends from November through the beginning of March. During these months, the weather is unpredictable and rainy, causing many trails to become dangerous due to flash floods and runoff water. The worst month for rain is February, and the Inca Trail is shut down this entire month.
Also Read: Top Things to do in Cusco, Peru
Are Permits Needed?
The Peruvian government mandates that no hiker is allowed on the Inca Trail without a permit and a tour guide. The catch is that there are only 200 available permits to be sold per day, and these can be purchased on a “first-come, first-serve” basis. Whenever you decide on hiking the Inca Trail, you will need to purchase a permit as soon as possible to secure your spot. The general recommendation for purchasing this is 6 months in advance.
You will also need to find a private tour guide or work through a tour operator company. If you work with a company, they will be able to help you straighten out all of the details, as well as purchase permits and supplies if so needed.
What Will You Need?
When hiking on the Inca Trail, you will have a day pack and a suitcase usually provided by your tour company. The day pack will include the items that you will need with you while you are hiking throughout the day. The suitcase will include all of the items that you brought that you will need for camping. These suitcases will be transported from campsite to campsite by the tour company so you will have them once you arrive.
Here are some of the essential items that are needed to complete the Inca Trail successfully. While this is not a comprehensive list, it is a list of the main items that will be needed on the trip. Do some research or consult your tour company to ask what other things you will need to bring with you or purchase in Cusco before departing.
- Hiking Clothes
- Hiking Boots
- Sleeping Bag
- Water Bottles/Snacks
- First Aid Kit
Also Read: 8 Best Hikes to take in Peru (with info)
Inca Trail Hiking Schedule
While there are shorter and longer alternatives, the most popular option is the traditional Inca Trail hike that lasts 4 days. Regardless of which length you decide on, there are still always only 200 passes per day. Below is the general itinerary that will be followed on the traditional 4-day route.
Before the Hike – You will need to work your way to Cusco, Peru a few days before embarking. The most common way to do this is to catch a short flight from the capital of Lima. There are other options including bus routes that will get you there but will take much longer.
Day 1 – You will depart Cusco in the early hours of the morning. You will catch a three-hour bus to the village of Ollantaytambo situated in the Sacred Valley where the entrance to the Inca Trail begins. You will hike for approximately 5 hours through smaller Inca ruins and into the Kusichaca Valley before making camp.
Day 2 – The second day is the toughest day of the trek, as the altitudes are at the highest point (4,200 m). Total hiking time for today will be about 7 hours as you peak the Dead Woman’s Pass before descending into Pacaymayo for camp.
Day 3 – The third day will be the longest day on the trail, averaging about 8 hours of trekking time. However, it is also considered by many to be the most interesting day. You will pass through many Inca ruins as you learn about their significance to the Inca people as you work your way closer to Machu Picchu to make camp at Winay Wayna.
Day 4 – The final day is the best as you will finally arrive at Machu Picchu through the traditional entrance known as the Sun Gate. Today’s 3-hour hike will get you to the Lost City early in the morning before most other visitors arrive and will give you the opportunity to explore Machu Picchu without the crowds, before descending into Aguas Calientes for the evening.
After the finale of the hike, you can either spend some time in Aguas Calientes, the city at the bottom of the peak, or return all the way back to Cusco. Wherever you end up, make sure to give your body some time to recover and also reminisce on the amazing experience that you have just had!
Few tips for hiking Inca Trail
Consider Using Hiking Poles – These are a good, inexpensive tool that will be very beneficial in helping you scale the high-altitude parts of the trail. They will give you support, and help you reserve energy that you will definitely need later down the road.
Chew Coca Leaves – Coca leaves are a great snack to chew on when experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness. They are the main ingredient in cocaine, but in the leaf form, they are no harm to you. You can purchase either the leaves or a candy that has been infused with them.
Break-in your Hiking Boots Before the Hike– Do not hike with brand new hiking boots! This will lead to blisters and sores that will make your trek extremely uncomfortable. Purchase a pair of hiking boots a few months in advance and make sure to walk in them as much as you can before the Inca Trail to make sure they are formed to your feet.
Get to Cusco Early – The altitude in this region of Peru is much higher than you are probably used to. It is important to give yourself a few days in Cusco to let your body acclimatize to avoid altitude sickness. Symptoms of altitude sickness are dizziness, nausea, and headaches. These are the last things you want to be dealing with when hiking the Inca Trail.
Train/Exercise – The Inca Trail is not for the faint of heart and will be best enjoyed if your body is prepared for the work that it is going to be doing for 4 days. Hop on the stair climber, run around the block and get on an exercise routine to help you get ready for the physical strain of the trek.
Get Insurance – The Inca Trail is a strenuous activity that is also pricey. It is important for travelers to get insurance before going to be able to cover any medical costs that may arise as a result of hiking. It is also beneficial in aiding those where the trip may be canceled for a number of reasons, both personal and not.