The Ultimate Guide to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Our guest blogger, architect Norbert Figueroa, is always looking for new experiences and inspiration to build his world through travel. In this post, he reveals some secrets you should know when hiking the Inca Trail.

The Inca Trail is without doubt one of the most famous treks around the world.  The trails, made by the Incas over 500 years ago, cross through some of the most beautiful and inspiring Andean sceneries; but one of the most impressive things about this trail is its final destination, Machu Picchu.

There is more than one Inca Trail

Different trails, Inca Trail

There are many trail options in the area around Machu Picchu, but only the Classic Inca Trail is the one that ends at Machu Picchu.  For this reason, this is the most famous and crowded trail.  It is 47 km long, starting at Piskacuchu (km 82) and ending at Intipunku, the Sun Gate (where you will see the sunrise as it slowly illuminates Machu Picchu).  Since this trail gets really crowded, you must reserve your spot weeks or months in advance.

Patallaca, day 1 Inca Trail

Cost of hiking

Inca Trail porters

Since the government regulates the trails and Machu Picchu, it is not possible to hike it on your own.  So, it is necessary to arrange the hike through a tour company.

The cost of hiking the Inca Trail varies significantly between companies.  Prices with local companies like Peru Treks start around €350 for the basic trek (4-day hike), but the average price you will find ranges around €465 to €650.

I personally paid €535 with Gap Adventures, but the price also included a day at the ruins of the Sacred Valley, three extra accommodation nights (two in Cuzco, one in Ollantaytambo), all the local transportation, a porter that carried up to 6kg of my personal belongings (which separately costs approximately €28), and all meals while on the Inca Trail.

I highly recommend hiring a porter (whether included or not in your original price).  Every single kilogram you carry counts, and you will feel them as you walk.

When to go

Machu Picchu's Weather

The best months to hike the Inca Trail are May and September.  The temperature is good enough to hike with few layers of clothing and the rain is minimal, although you will always encounter a few showers.

What to pack

Donkeys on the Inca Trail

Packing is tricky.  You want to be completely covered for your 4-day trek, but you also want to keep your backpack light.  How much will you’ll carry depends if you have a porter or not.  If you have a porter, you should not carry more than 6kg yourself in a 20 to 25 litres backpack (porter carries an additional 6kg).  If you don’t have a porter, try to keep everything between 8kg to 10kg in a 25 to 30 litres backpack.

In general, the clothing you pack should be layered since the trail does get cold during the night.  For a detailed packing list, here is a complete list of things I packed for the Inca Trail.

Do you need to train?

Inca trail, baggage sucks

Not really, any moderately fit person will be able to hike it.  But still, the hike is tough and challenging, so it’s best to get your body ready for walking long distances for many hours per day (up to 8 hours). A few light walking exercises in the lead up to the trek wouldn’t go amiss.

The second day of the hike is the most difficult.  This day consists of three steep uphill phases that take you from 2950m (9678 ft) to 4215m (13,828 ft) – the highest point on the trail, Warmiwañusca– and then a single stepped downhill phase that brings you down to 3,350m (10,990 ft).   It is recommended to have a walking stick to aide you on the stepped downhill, especially if you have knee problems.

The best tips to maintain a good physical energy while hiking the Inca Trail is to:

  • Take short breaks after every couple steps when hiking through the Inca steps (second and third day).
  • Always breathe well when walking.
  • Drink 1.5 litres of water (minimum) each day to stay hydrated.
  • Drink coca teas at every meal, if possible, and chew coca leaves to counteract the effects of altitude sickness (especially during the second day of the hike).
  • Eat well; you will be burning a lot of calories.
  • Go at your own pace and don’t force it.
  • And of course, do appreciate the scenery and Incan Culture while you hike.  It will keep you motivated.

What if you don’t want to hike, can you still go to Machu Picchu?

A Llama on the Inca Trail

Even though the best way to experience Machu Picchu is by hiking the Classic Inca Trail, you can still get to this ancient ruin by train and bus.  You will first need to
take the tourist train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, and from there the bus will take you uphill to the entrance of Machu Picchu.

It is recommended to get to Aguas Calientes the night before since the buses start running as early as 5am and they get crowded.

In the end, no matter how you get to Machu Picchu, you should enjoy the moment, the experience, and learn from this impressive ancient cultural icon that is still standing today and that still amazes us with its mysteries.

Now you have all the information you’ll ever need, all that’s left to do is book your trip to Peru! Find budget accommodation with HostelBookers.

Follow Norbert as he explores the adventure of becoming location independent.  He shares his tips and experiences at GloboTreks and at his facebook fan page to inspire others to get out there and live the life they want.

Do you have any tips for hiking the Inca Trail? Let us know in the comments section…

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Thanks to Jenny MealingEmmanuel DYAN and Ian Armstrong for the most excellent images. Please note, all were under creative commons license at time of publishing.

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