Visiting a world heritage site always feels special, discovering one of the New7Wonders even more incredible. Visiting Machu Picchu like the Inca did for hundreds of years, is the best thing you can do! Hike the Inca Trail and find out about this ancient 4-day route through the Andean Mountains to Machu Picchu. We will show you what to explore, how to prepare and when to go. Take the hike!
Note: Due to Covid-19, Machu Picchu opened for tourism in Nov 2020. The Inca Trail, however, will likely stay closed until March 2021.
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Things to Explore on the Inca Trail
While one walks on over 3000m through the Andes, there is a lot to discover. Besides the remarkable view of the mountains and valleys, you’ll be guided through different climate zones. While you walk through green forests in one moment, in the next you’ll have the possibility to marvel at the glaciers and the views the next day are covered by thick fog. Peru has at least 90 different microclimates and some of them will definitely be experienced.
When it comes to Inca ruins, Machu Picchu is by far not the only one on the way. The Llactapata ruins, for example, are situated on the first stretch of the trail.
While some of the climbs are really exhausting, which is not only due to the altitude, it is even better to reward your efforts. After the steep ascent over the Dead Woman’s Pass at around 14,000ft, one has a breathtaking view of this pass from the old Inca watchtower Runkuracay.
The same applies to Huayna Picchu. Technically not part of the Inca Trail, but well known as “The mountain behind Machu Picchu”. Here, an extra entrance fee is necessary, but it’s worth it! It gives you a completely different perspective on the city and the destination of the long hike.
Inca Trail Itinerary
Day 1: Cusco to Wayllabamba
Starting off in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire, this is the perfect place to get into the right mood for the upcoming adventure. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the remains of a past civilization can be found.
On your way to the first stop, you’ll have a stunning view of mountain ranges and you can even catch a glimpse of the snow-capped Veronica. After passing Llaqtapata with its many terraces that have been carved into the mountain, you’ll reach the village Wayllabamba to rest for the night.
Day 2: To Pacamayo
Dive into the dense cloud forest, surrounded by green vegetation, past waterfalls, constantly followed by the fog that obscures your view. After this refreshment, the most difficult part of the trek follows. It’s called the “dead woman’s pass”, which will not only make you sweat because of the physical exercise. It is said that a woman’s spirit haunts the highest peak of the trek – so don’t forget your sage to smoke out evil spirits. A steep descent to Pacamayo valley leads to the campsite for this night.
Day 3: To Wiñay Wayna
Back to the depths of the cloud forest, beautiful orchids and a tunnel await you, which was carved by the Inca into rock and appears like a gateway to another world. On the other end the “city in the clouds” Phuyupatamarca, one of Peru’s most beautiful Inca ruins, welcomes you. Seemingly endless stairs finally lead to the last campsite before reaching Machu Picchu.
Day 4: To Machu Picchu
Before the sun rises, you’ll pass the sun gate Inti Punku and the moment you’ve been waiting for – all the endeavors of the hiking trail for this moment – the ruins of Machu Picchu. The Andes rise in the background and everything touched by the first sun rays of a new day.
Now you too have found the 500 years old “Lost City of the Incas”, which includes the Sun Temple, terraces, houses, the astronomic stone clock, all build without wheels.
Still not impressed? Hike Huayna Picchu, the peak that gives every Machu Picchu picture its iconic look. This is a steep two-hour trail, but the view is unmatched. And don’t forget the Llama selfie!
What is the best time to hike the Inca Trail?
Peru’s rainy season starts in November and ends towards March. For much-needed maintenance (and because of bad weather) the Inca Trail is closed throughout February. May to October are the best month to hike the Inca Trail, although June, July, and August are a bit colder. Especially when going up into the clouds, it can get below 5°C (40°F). Also, it’s the holiday season, for most people around the world, so September or October maybe even better for your visit.
You shouldn’t forget to think about the local holidays as well. The most important dates to consider are:
- Independence Day at the end of July
- Eastern and Christmas as a lot of people in Peru are Christian
- June 24, Festival of the Sun
On these days, Cusco and Machu Picchu itself will be a lot more crowded.
What to bring/wear on the Inca Trail?
Depending on the tour operator, you don’t have to bear your full gear day in day out. It’s quite common when going with one of the more luxury tour operators, that transport of your sleeping bag, food, and so on from campsite to campsite is included. So keep your daypack light!
- Passport and insurance (obviously)
It is commonly advised to pack in layers instead of only packing warm clothing. This way you can easily adjust to changes in temperature and will be prepared for every situation. Below you can find some essential items.
- Waterproof jacket/poncho
- Short and long sleeve shirts
- Underwear and thick hiking socks
- Hiking pants
- Hiking boots (or at the very least good fitted and solid sneakers)
In addition to that, it is important to also protect your skin, eyes and especially your head from bad sunburns as the sun can get very strong throughout the day. Remember the height? Even when you perceive the temperature as being respectively low, the sun’s intensity is not to be underestimated. Check out the items below.
- Sun hat
- Refillable water bottle
In the evening, when heading to the campsite, the temperatures are decreasing real quick. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to bring the appropriate gear and clothing that keeps you warm and helps you through the dark hours of the day.
- Sleeping bag (the lighter the better)
- Thermal layers
Still, there are a few other necessary accessories that are facilitating your trekking adventure.
- Bug sprays
- Walking poles
- Personal toiletries
- Toilet paper
- First aid kit (include blister plasters, rehydration, diarrhea)
- Some money
- Power bank
Things to consider before going on the Inca Trail
You should definitely take your own level of fitness into account. Therefore, some training in hiking, ideally at a high altitude, is highly recommended. It is crucial to somehow acclimatize first before you start your hiking adventure. You should also bear in mind that there are rapid temperature changes between warm days and cold nights. As the weather is relatively consistent throughout the year the amount of rainfall may vary, which can make the hike even more difficult.
It is hard to predict how your body is reacting to the changes in height as every individual is different. So, as mentioned above, if you are not an experienced hiker, training is required beforehand. Altitude sickness can vary from mild symptoms to medical emergencies. In case there are existing medical conditions like heart problems, trouble breathing or diabetes, you should consult your doctor before considering this trip. As the best course of action, it is highly recommended to slowly increase the altitude over a few days as your body has time to adjust to it.
If you are short of time and travel directly to Cusco make sure you spend at least one or two days in Cusco to take things slowly before getting your hiking adventure started!
Do you want to hike the Inca trail or have done the hike in the past? Let us know below!