BEST Inca Trail Information
One of the most popular things to do in South America – and one of the world’s most famous hikes – the Inca Trail is the sort of singular adventures for which we all travel. The hike itself, which brings you along ancient narrow paths deep into the Peruvian countryside and high into the Andean mountains, is gorgeous; perfect Incan ruins, cloud forest, and majestic valley views laid out like breadcrumbs along the way to perhaps the greatest end-point of any multi-day hike on earth, the iconic Machu Picchu.
The Inca Trail is a well-established and iconic 4-day, 3-night hike which leads travellers from km.82 (the start point 40 minutes outside the town of Ollantaytambo) all the way to Machu Picchu via its exclusive Sun Gate (also called Inti Punku).
The good news is that it’s a lot shorter than you may expect at only 40 kms (25 miles). The bad news? A significant chunk of that 40 kms is up steep, narrow Andean mountain paths at altitude.
However, as truly beautiful as the hike may be, the real reason for its popularity lies at the very end of this four day adventure; passing through the Sun Gate for that first magical sighting of Machu Picchu in the distance. Only Inca Trail hikers can access the Gate at sunrise, and it is this crescendo, at one of the new seven wonders of the world which makes this hike a feature on so many ‘South America bucket lists’.
- Daytime: 68°F – 80°F (20°C – 27°C)
- Nighttime: 50°F – 64°F (10°C – 18°C)
Machu Picchu is located 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Cusco in the Urubamba Province of Peru, where the eastern slopes of the Andes meet the Amazon Rainforest. The Inca built their city on a high mountain ridge overlooking the lush cloud forest surroundings. Far below, Urubamba River flows along the valley floor, past Aguas Calientes.
Itinerary for the 4 days Inca Trail Machu Picchu
Day 1: Cusco – Km 82 – Hatunchaca – Wayllabamba – Ayapata
Today begins your adventure of a lifetime with the Classic Inca Trail! Your guide will pick you up from your Cusco hotel in our private van at 4:30am. From there, we travel to Piskacucho, which is known as Kilometer 82, where the Classic Inca Trail begins. Along the way, we stop for breakfast in Ollantaytambo at about 6:30-7:00 to load up on energy for our first big day. (Breakfast is not included)
Arriving at KM82 (8:30am), we will have some time to organize ourselves, use the restrooms, apply sunscreen, insect repellent, etc. Here you will give your duffel bag to the porters, keeping only a small daypack with the essentials you need during the hike. Check our packing list for more information. Once at the Inca Trail checkpoint, be ready to show your passports and your student ID card, if you booked as a student. Your guide will have all of your permits and tickets.
At the start of the trail (2,720m/8,923ft) you will cross the Vilcanota River and follow its scenic route. The first day is relatively easy, a warm-up along the rolling ‘Inca flat’ terrain. There are great views of the Inca Fortress of Huillca Raccay, the vast and incredible Inca site of Llactapata, (also called Patallacta), the Urubamba mountain range that divides the jungle, the Andes Mountains, and the beautiful snow-capped peak of Veronica (5,860m/19,225ft), also known as W’akay Willca. You stop for your first gourmet lunch at Hatunchaca, after which you only have about three hours of walking to camp.
Our first campsite is about 2 hours past the small village of Wayllabamba (3,000m/9,842ft) located in the temperate green valley of the same name. Temperatures at night can be as low as 5ºC, depending on the season. It is generally colder in the dry season from May to September.
When you arrive at camp, your afternoon tea and appetizers will be ready for you. Enjoy a hot drink and settle into your tents, which will already be set up for you.
- Meals included: Lunch, snacks, afternoon tea and dinner
- Accommodation: Camping facilities
- Distance: 12kms/7.5mls (about 6 hours hiking)
- Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Day 2: Wayllabamba – Dead Woman’s Pass – Pacaymayu – Ch’aqui Qqocha
Your guide will wake you up with a hot mug of tea or coffee at 5:30am. Enjoy your hot drink in your sleeping bag before getting up for a delicious and hearty breakfast. With your daypacks as light as possible, you start a steep ascent towards the highest pass, Abra de Warmihuañusca, also known as Dead Woman’s Pass at (4,200m/13,779ft). On this day, you will feel a real sense of achievement upon reaching the top! After a well-deserved break for photos, you begin the descent towards your lunch spot, which is located at Pacaymayu (3,550m/11,646ft).
On your way up towards the pass, you will see an array of hummingbirds and a variety of other species of birds. There will be plenty of time to appreciate the incredible variety of native plants and the Polylepis, or Q’ueuña trees, which grow in the astonishing cloud forest located at (3,650m/11,972ft)!
After a gourmet lunch, you begin the second two-hour steep climb towards Runkuraqay pass (4,000m/13,123ft). You arrive at your campsite by 5 pm, where your afternoon tea and appetizers are waiting for you. Temperatures at this campsite are around 4ºC during the night.
- Meals included: Breakfast, lunch, snacks, afternoon tea and dinner
- Accommodation: Camping facilities
- Distance: 16kms/10mls (about 9 hours hiking)
- Difficulty: Moderate/challenging
Day 3: Ch’aqui Qqocha – Phuyupatamarca – Wiñay Huayna
This is the most impressive day so far, so keep this in mind as you ascend on day three! Your guide will wake you up at 6am with another hot mug of tea or coffee in your tent before you get up for breakfast. You start the day with a gentle climb towards the archaeological site of Phuyupatamarca, which means ‘Village in the Clouds’. Here, we reach the third highest point along the Inca trail (3,680m/12,073ft). The views of the mountains, canyons and surrounding areas are spectacular!
The extensive Inca site of Phuyupatamarca, is located a few minutes’ walk from the third pass. After visiting this site, you continue walking down 3,000 stairs through the cloud forest to the impressive Inca site of Intipata. As you descend from the mountains, you will feel the temperature rise. You are approaching not only Machu Picchu, but also the beginning of the Amazon jungle! After taking some time to visit Intipata, you continue to your third campsite Wiñay Wayna (2,680m/8,792ft). Today, you will only walk about 4 to 5 hours. You will arrive at camp by lunchtime! Temperatures during the night are about 12º C.
A short walk from your campsite is the famous Inca site of Wiñay Wayna which means “Forever Young” in Quechua. It is named after a special orchid which grows abundantly in the area.
- Meals included: Breakfast, lunch, snacks, afternoon tea and dinner
- Accommodation: Camping facilities
- Distance: 10kms/6.2mls (about 5 hours hiking)
- Difficulty: Moderate
Day 4: Wiñay Huayna – Machu Picchu – Cusco
At around 4:00am, it is time to wake up with another hot drink and start day 4 on the Inca Trail. This is the final part of your journey, and you arrive by 6:00am at the Sun Gate, also known as Inti Punku. At that point, the majestic Machu Picchu Citadel will be in front of you with its mystic beauty – an incredible sight for all to see. At the Sun Gate, you will watch sunlight spreading down over the citadel like melting goal, as the sun rises behind you. Finally, we walk downhill towards Machu Picchu Citadel (2,400m/7,872 ft.). After walking about 40 minutes, we enter the citadel from the top through the “House of the Guardians”. From there, we proceed towards the control point, where we register and leave any large backpacks or walking poles. You are only allowed to take small bags into the citadel, such as camera bags. Walking poles are not allowed because they can damage the stones.
Your guide will give you the full tour, which takes about two hours. You will see all of the most important parts of Machu Picchu, including the Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Condor, Temple of Three Windows, Sun Dial, Quarry and the House of the Inca. You will also learn about how Machu Picchu is divided into three sectors: agricultural, residential and religious.
After your tour, those who have booked in advance for the extra hikes up Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain will have time to enjoy those views on their own. When you have had your fill of the exceptional views of Machu Picchu, you will take the bus back down to Aguas Calientes for lunch (not included). Depending on your train departure time, you may also have time for some shopping, sightseeing or a visit to the museum or hot springs.
The train will take you back to Ollantaytambo, following the spectacular Urubamba River. Close to Aguas Calientes, the canyon is narrow and the river has many beautiful sections of whitewater. You can also see Wiñay Wayna from the train, if you look up high on the steep canyon wall! Back at Ollantaytambo, your driver will meet you at the exit from the train station to take you back to your hotel in Cusco in our private vehicle. You can expect to arrive at your hotel by 19:00.
- Meals included: Breakfast
- Distance: 6kms/3.7mls
- Difficulty: Easy
The Huayna Picchu Hike and Machu Picchu Mountain Hike depend on availability, please let us know if you want to add one of these extra hikes at the time of your booking.
Places You Explore?
Only a few hours of hiking on your first day will lead you to the first superb Inca site. Patallacta(also called Llactapata) sits on the far left bank of the Cusicancha River, a tributary of the river Urubamba. This archaeological complex was first noticed by the Western world in 1912 when famous Yale University archeologist Hiram Bingham – noted for rediscovering Machu Picchu the year before – stumbled upon it.
Llactapata means “high town” or “town on the hill” in Quechua, which is the Incan language still spoken in some parts of the Andes today. The complex sits at an altitude of 9,318 feet (2,840 meters) and contains massive terraces and hundreds of housing structures. It is believed this was a common stopping point for Incas traveling from Cusco to Machu Picchu. From your vintage point across the valley, you’ll be able to fully appreciate the site’s beauty and expanse.
In the late afternoon of second day on your Inca Trail trek, you’ll huff and puff your way up the Runkurakay Pass. At the top, this pass is 13,000 feet (3,950 meters) above sea level. About halfway up you will come across the Runkurakay
These ruins are a small circular complex, a design not common in Inca architecture. Experts believe this site was a tambo, which means it likely served as an inn. It is probable that Runkurakay was primarily a resting, refueling, and relay station for messengers. Refueling stations like this were vital for maintaining communication across the Inca Empire. Chasqui messengers were specialized runners who dashed along Inca roads, carrying important messages—such as the encroachment of the Spaniards.
Later on, you will reach Sayacmarca, another impressive site. To enter these ruins, you’ll climb up 98 stone steps carved into the side of the mountain. Also called the “Inaccessible Town,” this site is barricaded on three sides by steep drop-offs. No one is sure how the Incas used this site, but it was originally built by the Colla civilization.
Sayacmarca sits on the edge of a cliff, giving visitors a panoramic view of the scenic Aobamba Valley. The site is divided into two main parts: the Sun Temple and the residential part, consisting of a labyrinth of narrow corridors. The Incas improved upon the Colla construction by building an elaborate water canal to supply the temple and houses with water.
The sites just keep coming! After Sayacmarca, you’ll journey through an inclined stone tunnel to reach the third and final mountain pass of your third day on the Inca Trail. Enjoy the spectacular view from the top before descending a steep set of stairs to reach Phuyupatamarca, which means “town in the clouds” in Quechua.
These ruins cling to a ravine overlooking the Urubamba Valley, and are surrounded by large and lush terraces. The site is often half covered in a mist that rises from the forests below, creating the impression that it is floating on top of the clouds. This mystical place is full of ceremonial baths, plaza, buildings, and bridges.
Wiñay Wayna is like a hike through time itself. Something about it just feels eternal. Named for the delicate orchids that dot the landscape, the name means “forever young” in the native Andean tongue of Quechua—a name perfectly suited to such an ageless site.
The ruins date to the mid-15th century, constructed during the days of the powerful Incan Empire. They are one of the stops along the Inca Trail, and the exact purpose of the site is tough to say. It may have been a spiritual or religious destination, or just a place for elders or royalty to rest before arriving at the end of the 26-mile journey to Machu Picchu.
The ruins consist of upper and lower collections of Incan architecture, connected by stone steps that are laid out in graceful curves. The upper structures have a unique, circular building, while below there is a collection of linear parapets with sharp peaks, jagged walls, and massive stone slabs with little space between them. The precarious staircase between the two levels hugs a long line of ancient fountains, often referred to as baths.
In addition to the architectural structures, the area is surrounded by an agricultural complex, terraced with extraordinary masonry out of local fieldstones.
Perhaps most remarkable about the site is how limited the Inca were in terms of the available construction tools. With nothing more than implements made from bronze or stone, the amount of human labor required for such a massive production is almost impossible to imagine.
Finally arriving to the Sun gate, we have spectacular views of the mountains and Machu Picchu in all its glory. We will reach the Sun Gate by early morning, and then it’s just an hour trek down to reach the Lost City of the Incas. As we hike and get closer to Machu Picchu, the views of the city get better!
Let’s hope you haven’t tired of ruins, because the most impressive site of all awaits. On your fourth and final day on the Inca Trail you will finally reach the magnificent Machu Picchu citadel. Words are not sufficient to express the extreme beauty of this site, so you’ll just have to experience a Machu Picchu tour for yourself!
Planning Your Trip?
Permits Are Required To Trek The Inca Trail And They Sell Out Months In Advance
It’s been said many times, and we’ll repeat it. Inca Trail cannot be walked independently, so step number one is choosing a travel company like SAM Travel Peru, See the list of some Inca Trail operators
Permits issued by the Government of Peru are required for each person trekking the Inca Trail. 500 people can start trekking the Inca Trail each day, including trekkers, guides, cooks, porters, and other staff, meaning that about 200 trekkers can begin the trek each day. Permits are issued to actual traveler’s passports, and are not exchangeable or refundable. This means that spaces cannot be held on speculation, and when a certain date is sold out, there is no chance to get a permit for that date.
Permits for popular dates, such as April, May and June, July and August sell out as soon as permits go on sale. April, July, and August, can sell out 6 months in advance. The permits go on sale for the entire year sometime in December (of the previous year) or in early January.
The Inca Trail is closed every year for the month of February.
Can you hike the Inca Trail without a guide?
NOT! Only certain companies are issued permits to lead treks on the Inca Trail, and you must travel with one of these companies. It is not possible to trek the Inca Trail independently without a licensed tour operator and licensed guide. This policy was put in place to make sure regulations along the trail are followed to preserve the resource and to keep the experience pleasant for all, as the licensed operators are required to carry out all trash and to make sure human waste is disposed of properly among other rules.
Getting Your Inca Trail Permit
As stated previously, you can’t trek the Inca Trail without a licensed Inca Trail tour operator. Likewise you can’t purchase your own permit for the trek. To get the permit you will need to pay a non-refundable fee to your licensed tour operator and supply them with some personal details, including passport number and full name, and the tour operator will then buy the permit for you. The fee is non-refundable as it has to be paid to the government office that issues the permits, and because the permits are non-refundable. The fee will not be refunded if you cancel your trip.
Inca Trail permits for a given year usually go on sale in early January, and popular dates in May will sell out on that first day. You shouldn’t consider your trek confirmed until the Inca Trail permits have been purchased for you.
Packing List For Inca Trail
During the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu, usually main luggage can be stored in your hotel for free or your tour operator can it store for you. You will receive a small duffel bag at your briefing in which you can pack your clothes and sleeping bag for 3-4 days. Your team of porters or horses (depending on which trek you are on) will carry these bags together with the food and equipment for the trek. Please note: you will not have access to these items until the end of each day as the porters will always be ahead of the group. Please plan to carry your day backpack containing your personal belongings such as your camera, water and sunscreen, etc. Please Note: This packing list is only for overnight treks.
Passport: You must take your original passport, a photocopy is not acceptable. (Keep it in a plastic bag, in case of rain).
Sleeping bags: You will need a good warm sleeping bag for the Inca Trail trek. We recommend that you bring your own sleeping bag. However, you can rent one from SAM Travel for $20 USD per person, that is guaranteed to be warm and professionally cleaned. If you are planning to purchase a sleeping bag, it is a good idea to purchase a four season (or -10 C) sleeping bag during the winter months. For other months, you will probably be fine in a 3 season (or -4/-5 C) sleeping bag, although this depends on how much you feel the cold and is given as a guideline only.
Inflatable Mattresses: It is recommended to have an inflatable mattress for comfort but not required. SAM Travel Peru foam mattresses are included within the package price. If you would like to rent an inflatable high quality Thermarest mattress, we have them available to rent for $20 USD per person. If you rent the air mattress, you still get the foam mattress to put under it.
Walking poles: It is highly recommended that you have walking poles for your trek. SAM Travel Peru has professional extendable poles available to rent for $15 USD a pair, per person.
Waterproof, well worn in walking boots: Good quality, comfortable footwear is essential. Whatever you wear on your feet, the most important thing is comfort. It is vital to ensure your boots are well worn in and lightweight. Ankle support and waterproofing is recommended but if you already have something comfortable with good grip, then don’t go rushing out to buy new boots – you are better off with your well worn in pair!
Waterproof clothing: A plastic poncho is recommended, which is provided by SAM during your briefing. Some trekkers also like to bring waterproof trousers, however, a poncho will be sufficient if it covers your bag, body and most of your legs.
Plastic bags: Keep your belongings and clothes dry inside the duffel. Bags are included in your duffel, which you receive during your briefing. We recommend that you wrap everything in plastic because the duffels are not waterproof.
Toilet paper: This is an important item to bring during the trek! Bring small plastic bags for rubbish, which can be thrown in the main rubbish bag provided by the porters at camp.
Small towel and basic personal toiletries: There are showers available at the campsite on the third night. Bring travel size shampoo and shower gel, if you would like to use it, plus wet wipes for the rest of the trek.
Water bottle: Bring one large (1.5 liter) or two or three small reusable water bottles that can be refilled on the trail with boiled water, which will be supplied when possible, usually after meal times. Please do not bring disposable bottles!
Warm clothing for the night time: Fleece, long pants, woolen hat, gloves.
Thermal underwear: If trekking in winter or if you tend to get cold easily.
WALKING CLOTHING – YOU NEED TO LAYER UP: e.g. zip off trousers, fleece, T-shirts.
Personal meditation and basic first aid kit: Band aids, blister kit, Imodium, Panadol, rehydration salts, and any other medication prescribed by your doctor.
Camera and extra batteries, memory cards: Please note: there are no electrical outlets on the Inca Trail so make sure you fully charge up/or have spare batteries!
Snacks: Chocolates, chips, crackers, granola bars, or energy bars etc. Additional snacks are provided during the trek, but you may like to bring some extras, just in case.
Flashlight: This is very important! (and extra batteries)
For the sun: Sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat
Insect repellent: Tropical strength
Antiseptic hand gel
Swinwear for Aguas Calientes hot springs: Towels can be rented for 5 soles.
Flip flops / sandals: If you wish to have a shower on the third night.
Extra money: For tips, extra drinks and souvenirs.
Please visit the Inca Trail Trek or Alternative trek to Machu Picchu page for more information about each trek and if you are looking for the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, visit this page for information on securing Inca Trail Permits.
Can I get US dollars out of ATMs in Cusco?
Yes, most ATMs in Cusco give you the choice of withdrawing cash in US dollars or Peruvian soles. Banks in Cusco take VISA cards in their ATMs but only a couple banks will accept Mastercard for an extra fee. Depending on which country your card is from, the limit on how many dollars you can withdraw per day may be as low as $200.