Whether you’re a professional mountaineering guide or have never strayed away from the comfort of inner-city suburbia, you’re sure to have heard of the Inca Trail; one of the most famous hikes in the world. The classic Inca Trail is a 4-day journey that weaves through sub-tropical jungle terrain, mountains, vibrant rainforests, and of course, eventually reaches the final destination of Machu Picchu, the mysterious ‘Lost City of the Incas’.
Trekking along the Inca Trail to reach Machu Picchu is more than just an experience to tick off your bucket lists. It’s a chance to follow in the footsteps of an ancient pilgrimage to Machu Picchu that was once taken by the Incas, the Emperor, and their predecessors, with origins back to the 15th century.
Forget about what you’ve seen on Google, because no matter how brilliant you might anticipate Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail to be, it’s even better when experienced first hand.
- The location:
The Inca Trail route will often start with a pick up in Cusco, however, the trek formally starts at KM 82, which refers to the kilometres marked alongside the railway track from Cusco to Aguas Caliente.
- Highest point:
The highest pass in the Inca Trail will be at Dead Woman’s Pass, which sits at an elevation of 4,215m (13,828ft).
The classic Inca Trail journey can be completed in 4 days. However, some travellers will extend or shorten this route.
- Trail conditions:
The beauty of the Inca Trail is in its diverse biodiversity. While trekking along this famous route, travellers can expect to see dry mountain forest, subtropical rainforest, and views of snow-capped mountains in the surrounding areas.
Inca Trail difficulty rating
To complete the Inca Trail you are not required to have any previous trekking experience, but it’s important to be capable of walking between 5 to 7 hours each day with daily ascents of 900 m to 1000 m. The entire trek usually takes 4 days to complete and will cover a total length of 45 km. Many travellers encounter mild altitude sickness so it’s best to take precautions.
Inca Trail tips
- Chew on coca tea leaves to reduce the impacts of altitude sickness.
- Take it nice and slow during your Inca Trail expedition. There’s no rush, and your hiking group will be there to support you through the challenging parts of the journey.
- Hiking poles can be purchased in Cusco or nearby towns and will help with your balance and stability during your hike.
- Acclimatise before you hike by spending a few days in Cusco beforehand.
- Invest in sturdy hiking boots, but make sure you wear them before you hit the Inca Trail.
Machu Picchu weather
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 routes
- Inca Trail. Distance: 45 km, average duration: 4-5 days
- The Lares Trek. Distance: 33-45 km, average duration: 4 days
- The Salkantay Trek. Distance: 55 km, average duration: 5 days
- The Choquequirao Trek. Distance: 65 km, average duration: 8-10 days
- The Vilcabamba Trek. Distance: 62 km, average duration: 5 days
- The Huchuy Qosqo Trek. Distance: 20 km, average duration: 3 days
- The Quarry Trail. Distance: 26 km, average duration: 4 days