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How to prepare for Machu Picchu

Discover here how to prepare to Machu Picchu, with insights about all the trails: from Inca Trail to Quarry Trail. Prepare yourself for the altitude and read the Machu Picchu tips of the experts.

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Machu Picchu hike difficulty

It’s no secret that a trek to Machu Picchu is an arduous journey that requires plenty of physical preparation. In general, you can expect to be hiking anywhere between 8-20 kilometres a day. It might sound easy to some, but it's worth noting there will be steep ascents and descents involved. 

No matter what route you choose, each trek will be a challenge, but the experience will be one that you will share stories of for years to come. 
 

  • Physical training for Machu Picchu
You might have already guessed there would be some physical preparation involved, but your training regime doesn’t need to feature hours of hard work in the gym. There are plenty of ways for you to prepare for your journey to Machu Picchu, and how you train is completely up to you. Some of the suggested activities to help increase your overall strength and fitness include walking, hiking, swimming, cycling, or running. 
 
  • Mental preparation for Machu Picchu
There will be moments during your trek to Machu Picchu where you will struggle to repeatedly place one foot in front of the other. This is when your mental stamina will be tested, and this can be challenging for some people to prepare for. Consider joining a fun-run or maybe even a half marathon before your trek so you can test your mental stamina and push to the finish. This experience, which places you out of your comfort zone, will help give you something to draw on when fatigue starts to appear during your trek. Another tip for when you’re running low on energy during your trek is to use positive mantras while focusing on your breath. This will help to focus your mind as it starts to wander. Practice the use of these mantras in your daily routine before you hike to find what works for you. 

Machu Picchu altitude sickness

Preparing to trek at a high altitude is the hardest element to prepare for, and altitude sickness can strike even the fittest individuals. Before you set foot on the trails in the Sacred Valley, the best way to prepare is to make sure you spend ample time in Cusco, which is actually set at a higher altitude of 3,399m than the Machu Picchu site, which sits at 2,430m. Another way to help combat the effects of altitude sickness is to carry altitude sickness pills, spend 2-4 days in Cusco before you trek, and chew on coca leaves as you hike (a local's tip). 

Machu Picchu valley
Machu Picchu valley

Hiking Machu Picchu tips

  1. Previous trekking experience is highly recommended, as the days will feature 6-8 hours hiking with daily ascents of 900m to 1000m, perhaps with the odd day ascending around 1100m to 1200m.
  2. Depending on the route, you may be trekking at an altitude of over 3,500m. You need complete confidence in your ability to trek for many days over difficult terrain. Extremes of altitude and weather may be encountered, as may the use of ice axes and crampons.
  3. A degree of physical and mental stamina will be essential to complete the hike as the days will be tiring.

Lama in Machu Picchu
Lama in Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu terms

Incan
A member of Quechuan people living around Cusco
Ritual
The prescribed procedure for conducting ceremonies, especially religious
Site
The piece of land where something is located

How strenuous is Machu Picchu?

Trail by trail

RouteDifficulty level
Inca TrailModerate
The Lares TrekModerate
The Salkantay TrekDifficult
The Choquequirao TrekDifficult
The Vilcabamba TrekDifficult
The Huchuy Qosqo TrekModerate
The Quarry TrailDifficult

How to climb Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

  • How do I prepare for Machu Picchu?

    The best way to prepare for a trek to Machu Picchu is to participate in plenty of cardiovascular activity. Activities such as swimming, cycling, or long-distance running will place you in a strong position to complete the trek with ease. Remember; a happy heart makes for a happy hiker. Learn more.
  • When should I climb Machu Picchu?

    Machu Picchu can be climbed year-round, but travellers should be aware that the Inca Trail is closed in February every year for necessary maintenance. The most popular time to hike the Inca Trail, for example, is June-August and is known to be quite crowded. Learn more.
  • What permits do I need?

    Only 500 permits are allocated per day for the Inca Trail due to the overwhelming popularity of the route and must be booked in advance. Other trails and routes in the area do not need a permit. Learn more.
  • Do I need a guide to climb?

    From 2001, it is a compulsory requirement that travellers on the Inca Trail, in particular, must travel with a registered guide. Many of the alternative trails, however, do not require a guide, and you are able to hike as you wish unassisted. Learn more.
  • How do I get to Machu Picchu?

    The best way for travellers to reach Machu Picchu is to fly into Cusco, Peru. Spending a few days in Cusco prior to embarking on a trek to Machu Picchu will help travellers acclimate, and reduce the impacts of altitude sickness. Learn more.
  • What should I pack and what equipment do I need?

    Walking poles, hiking boots, waterproof clothing and plenty of layers are just a few of the essentials that you will need for your hiking adventure. As for tents and cooking equipment, be sure to check with your tour operator as this may be provided for you. Learn more.

Machu Picchu tours & reviews

Machu Picchu routes

  • inca trail map

    Inca Trail

     One of the most popular (and famous) treks in Peru, the Inca Trail is the only route that will take you directly to Machu Picchu. The journey may feel like a rollercoaster, filled with steep ascents and descents (including the infamous Dead Woman’s Pass), but it is most certainly a rewarding journey. 

    Distance: 45 kilometres 
    Average duration: 4-5 days 
    Average difficulty: Moderate difficulty. There is no experience required for this type of journey, but you should be in relatively good shape, able to comfortably walk for 5-7 hours at a time, and prepared to sweat. The success rate of completing this trek is high, however, travellers should take time to acclimate before hiking, to reduce the chance of altitude sickness while on the trail. 
    Read more
  • lares trek map

    The Lares Trek

     For hikers looking to avoid the crowds, the Lares Trek is an equally-impressive route with substantially fewer visitors. Enjoy the peace and quiet on this trail, which allows for sightings of llamas and alpacas, local villages, agricultural terraces, and striking scenery. 

    Distance: 33-45 kilometres, depending on what route you choose
    Average duration: 4 days 
    Average difficulty: Moderate difficulty. There is no experience required for this type of journey however you should be in relatively good shape and able to comfortably walk for 5-7 hours at a time, and prepared to sweat. The success rate of completing this trek is high, but travellers should take time to acclimate before hiking to reduce the chance of altitude sickness while on the trail. 
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  • salkantay trek map

    The Salkantay Trek

     One of the most popular alternatives to the classic pilgrimage route of the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek will take you on a journey alongside the glacial lake of Humantay and past the Salkantay Mountain, all while showcasing the natural beauty of the Andean Jungle. 

    Distance: 55 kilometres 
    Average duration: 5 days 
    Average Difficulty: Challenging. Previous trekking experience is highly recommended, as the days will feature 6-8 hours hiking and you may be trekking at an altitude of over 3,500m. You need complete confidence in your ability to trek for many days over difficult terrain. The success rate of completing this trek is high, but travellers should take time to acclimate before hiking to reduce the chance of altitude sickness while on the trail.
    Read more
  • Choquequirao Trek map

    The Choquequirao Trek

    Set your sights on the ruins of Choquequirao, vast forests, and empty trails on this unique journey. If you’re dreaming of a trek that is both challenging and rewarding, the Choquequirao Trek is a step in the right direction. 

    Distance: 65 kilometres 
    Average duration: 8-10 days 
    Average Difficulty: Challenging. Previous trekking experience is highly recommended, as the days will feature 6-8 hours hiking and you may be trekking at an altitude of over 3,500m. You need complete confidence in your ability to trek for many days over difficult terrain. The success rate of completing this trek is high, but travellers should take time to acclimate before hiking to reduce the chance of altitude sickness while on the trail.
    Read more
  • vilcabamba trek map

    The Vilcabamba Trek

     One of the best-kept secrets of the Sacred Valley, the Vilcabamba Trek is reserved mostly for experienced trekkers. If you’re ready to tackle the three consecutive high mountain passes before descending onwards into the jungle, then this could be the perfect route for you. 

    Distance: 62 kilometres 
    Average duration: 5 days 
    Average Difficulty: Challenging. Previous trekking experience is highly recommended, as the days will feature 6-8 hours hiking, and you may be trekking at an altitude of over 3,500m. You need complete confidence in your ability to trek for many days over difficult terrain. The success rate of completing this trek is high, but travellers should take time to acclimate before hiking to reduce the chance of altitude sickness while on the trail.
    Read more
  • Huchuy Qosqo Trek map

    The Huchuy Qosqo Trek

     A short but sweet journey, the Huchuy Qosqo Trek is ideal for travellers who are short on time. Aside from the major draw of the Huchuy Qosqo ruins, hikers can enjoy low foot traffic and marvellous scenery during the journey to reach Machu Picchu.  

    Distance: 20 kilometres 
    Average duration: 3 days 
    Average difficulty: Moderate difficulty. There is no experience required for this type of journey, but you should be in relatively good shape, able to comfortably walk for 5-7 hours at a time, and prepared to sweat. The success rate of completing this trek is high, but travellers should take time to acclimate before hiking to reduce the chance of altitude sickness while on the trail.
  • quarry trail map

    The Quarry Trail

    You might not have heard about the Quarry Trail before, but it should definitely be top of mind when considering an alternative to the Inca Trail. Travellers can expect to see the impressive Andean scenery, local villages for unique cultural encounters, and much more. 

    Distance: 26 kilometres 
    Average duration: 4 days 
    Average difficulty: The Quarry Trail is challenging, but definitely manageable. The success rate of completing this trek is high, but travellers should take time to acclimate before hiking to reduce the chance of altitude sickness while on the trail. 
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