Everything You Need to Know About the Inca Trail Hike
Machu Picchu sits just northwest of Cusco, Peru in beautiful South America. Each year thousands of bucket list travelers make the famous trek along the classic Inca Trail to experience the awe of ancient civilization in the Andes Mountains.
The biggest draw to visit Machu Picchu? Without a doubt, it’s the classic Inca Trail trek.
Why Is the Inca Trail So Popular?
The famous Inca Trail is one of the world’s greatest hikes. Adventure seekers love the challenge of a multi-day hike through sacred mountains at high altitude, with views from the snow-capped Andes Mountains to the lush, dense Amazon jungle.
Is Hiking the Inca Trail Worth It?
In a word—ABSOLUTELY! Those who have already made the journey know there’s no other feeling like reaching the Sun Gate and finally being in full view of the ancient wonder that is Machu Picchu Mountain. Few places on earth allow you to experience adventure in as wildly diverse terrain as on the trek to the 500-year-old archaeological site.
What to Expect from the 4-Day Inca Trail Hike
Hiking the Inca Trail isn’t the simplest adventure, but it’s totally worth every penny and drop of sweat. Inca Trail permits are required and can only be secured through licensed tour companies (if you book with us, we’ve got you covered 😉).
Many tour operators fill spots very quickly for the dry season (May – October). Hiking in the less popular wet season from November to April leaves a little more wiggle room, but also has more potential for a soggy, 4-day slog. The only month you can’t visit Macchu Picchu is February, when the area is closed for restoration.
How Long Does it Take to Hike the Inca Trail?
The Inca Trail is approximately 26 miles long, and the typical group tour completes the journey to Machu Picchu in 4 days and 3 nights. The daily mileage ranges from about 7 miles to 12 miles, and daily elevation gains ranging anywhere from 400 to 1,400 feet.
Day 1: Hit the Trail & Mount Veronica Views
On day one you’ll set out to begin hiking in the early morning light, trekking poles in tow. You’ll likely have to do some checking in and paperwork before the official trek begins.
You’ll climb at relatively moderate grades, crossing the Urubamba River and reaching astonishing views of Mount Veronica before reaching camp for the night. Pro tip: if offered by your tour guide, this may be your last chance to shower for the next 3 days.
Day 2: Dead Woman’s Pass
Don’t let the name scare you away! While day one eases you into the Inca Trail experience, day two is a much bigger challenge. You’ll climb the most elevation and the steepest inclines of the entire trek, so definitely take advantage of breaks and remember how important it is to BREATHE.
The trail will morph between switchbacks and stone stairs laid by members of the ancient Inca Empire hundreds of years ago. Finally, you’ll reach Dead Woman’s Pass, also called Warmiwañusca, before descending down to the evening’s camp.
Day 3: Inca Ruins and Historical Sites
Your body may be sick of going uphill by the time you wake up, but the climbing for your third day will be MUCH less than that of day two. The most scenic section of the journey will be worth the push to get out of your warm sleeping bag.
Pass by the Runcuracay ruins and summit another small peak before heading down into lush green cloud forest. Traverse natural tunnels and pass several more Inca ruins, like the Sayamarca and Qonchamarca Inca sites. 7.5 mostly downhill miles lead to camp and you can give your legs a break…for the night, at least.
Day 4: Reach Machu Picchu Mountain, the “Lost City”!
Get ready for the final day of your epic journey, reaching the entry point at Sun Gate in view of your final destination. Enjoy incredible views over the ancient civilization before a final descent into the “Lost City” to explore Machu Picchu.
Spend the day breathing in every bit of the Inca site before boarding a bus that will take you down the mountain and into Aguas Calientes to be transported back to Cusco.
How Hard Is the Classic Inca Trail?
Wait, 4 days?! You read correctly — this ain’t your grandma’s easy day hike. The Inca Trail can’t be completed in a day hike, but the reward is well worth the sacrifice (especially when you join an awesome group to do it). Overall the hike is considered moderate, but still includes hiking days up to 10 hours long and some serious elevation gain.
The 26-mile trail begins at 8,530 feet elevation and climbs to nearly 14,000 feet at its highest point, Dead Woman’s Pass. This means elevation acclimation is very necessary and if you’ve ever dealt with altitude sickness in the past, you’ll want to think long and hard about that 14,000 feet altitude. It’s important to acclimate before doing the hike. Cusco has many hotels and hostels that you can call home while you get used to the altitude.
One huge weight off your shoulders for this adventure? Literally, almost everything. Novice hikers and seasoned backpackers who are used to carrying all their own gear will be happy to hear that the tour companies take care of all the heavy lifting, other than personal belongings, and even provide meals for the duration of the trip.
Training to Hike the Inca Trail
By now it’s probably clear that hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is serious business, but don’t let that scare you away. Training your body to handle strenuous activity will go a long way in preparing you to have the best possible experience. Here’s how to be ready for the epic trek.
Train on All Terrain
Daily walks on paved paths at sea level won’t cut it for this one, Hunny. Leading up to your trip you should be putting in long hiking days that include rough sections and steep gains to condition your body for the Inca Trail.
Break in Those Boots
You should definitely not be lacing up a pair of hiking boots for the first time when you arrive in Peru. New boots can be stiff or cause blisters at first, and you’ll want to have put a decent amount of miles on them before a multi-day hike like this.
Train for Wet Weather
Less than ideal weather can happen any time of year, so practicing a few cold hiking days in a rain poncho will help your spirits should it happen on your excursion.
Booking a Tour to Hike the Machu Picchu Inca Trail
As we mentioned, the only way to enter Machu Picchu is on a guided tour. Inca Trail tours vary in price depending on what they include as far as transportation, porters, and meals. To secure an Inca Trail permit, your tour operator must be approved by the Peruvian government.
So be honest, after reading all this how could you not be tempted to book your own Inca Trail adventure? If exploring Machu Picchu is at the top of your bucket list, our experts have put together a superb trek for badass women who are ready for adventure! Let us handle all the details from a professional camp chef to strategic crowd control on the trail.
When you travel with Explorer Chick, SHE-nanagins are always on the itinerary. Book your Machu Picchu adventure for nine days of non-stop fun, laughs, and one epic journey.
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Meet the Writer
April is an adventure lover and freelance writer based in New England, with a passion for public lands, wild places, and all things outdoors. She loves camping in any form and spends as many weekends as she can hiking New Hampshire’s highest peaks, or road-tripping with her sweet dog Marley. If not in the mountains, you can find her planning her next expedition or caring for one of her far-too-many-houseplants.
Favorite outdoor adventure: National Parks Hiking and Road Trips!