Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

29 de February de 2024

The Inca Trail is one of the most iconic and spectacular hiking routes in the world, culminating in the majestic citadel of Machu Picchu. This ancient network of paths covers more than 60,000 kilometers through stunning Andean landscapes, connecting significant archaeological sites, Inca settlements, and natural landscapes of great beauty.

History and Significance of the Inca Trail

The Inca Trails, also known as Qhapac Ñan in Quechua, were a strategically constructed network of paths that connected the major cities of the vast Tahuantinsuyo, the Inca Empire. This network of trails not only facilitated communication and transport within the empire but also had profound cultural and strategic significance for the Incas.

The extent of these paths was impressive, spanning much of what today are the countries of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina. However, the most famous and emblematic section of this network is the Inca Trail that leads to the iconic citadel of Machu Picchu.

As a result, it has become one of the world's most famous and popular trails. This trail winds through the Urubamba river basin, ascending steep mountains and offering breathtaking views of nature and Inca architecture.

Besides its logistical and strategic importance, the Inca paths also played a crucial role in the cultural diffusion and integration of the conquered peoples into the Inca Empire. They facilitated cultural exchange, trade, and the mobility of troops, thus contributing to the growth and cohesion of the empire.

Origins and Construction of the Inca Trail

The construction of the Inca Trail was a monumental achievement of Inca civil engineering. Using primarily human labor, the Incas managed to build a system of paths that perfectly adapted to the mountainous topography of the Andes, with stone steps, terraces, and retaining walls that still endure today.

Cultural and Spiritual Importance for the Incas

For the Incas, the Inca Trail was not just a physical infrastructure, but also a spiritual path that connected the earthly world with the spiritual realm. Along this path, there are numerous sacred sites and places of worship where the Incas paid homage to their gods and performed important religious ceremonies.

Cultural and Archaeological Importance

In 1983, the Inca Trail was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, recognizing its cultural, historical, and architectural importance. This designation highlights the need to preserve and protect these ancient paths as part of humanity's legacy.

Thus, the Inca Trail is much more than a network of ancient paths; it is a tangible testimony to human ingenuity, cultural richness, and the deep connection between people and nature in the ancient Inca world.

Location and Map

The Inca Trail is located in the Cusco region, in the heart of the Peruvian Andes. The traditional starting point is kilometer 82 of the Cusco-Machu Picchu railway, and the journey ends at the Sun Gate, from where there is an impressive view of Machu Picchu.

Types of Hikes during the Inca Trail

There are several options for trekking the Inca Trail, from multi-day hikes to shorter excursions. The most popular options include the classic 4-day and 3-night hike, as well as the shorter 2-day and 1-night hike.

Seasons and Main Camps

During the hike, hikers pass through various camps and stations where they can rest, enjoy meals prepared by the agencies' cooks, and enjoy the natural beauty surrounding the path. Some of the most notable camps include Wayllabamba, Pacaymayo, and Wiñay Wayna.

Description of the Different Inca Trail Routes

The Inca Trail offers a variety of routes and secondary trails that hikers can explore. These trails vary in difficulty and duration, but all offer breathtaking views and an unforgettable experience.

Among all these routes, there are four main ones that converge at Machu Picchu. Here is a description of these four routes:

  1. Classic Inca Trail (Traditional):
  • Length: About 40 kilometers.
  • Duration: Requires approximately four days of hiking.
  • This route is the most famous and popular among hikers wishing to reach Machu Picchu. It starts at kilometer 82 of the Cusco–Machu Picchu railway and follows a path that passes through various Inca archaeological sites, such as Llactapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca, and Wiñay Wayna, before reaching Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate (Inti Punku).

2. Inca Trail - Salkantay:

  • Length: Approximately 74 kilometers.
  • Duration: Generally, it takes between five and seven days.
  • This route is a more challenging and less crowded alternative to the Classic Inca Trail. It is characterized by offering breathtaking views of the snowy Salkantay and varied landscapes, from the high jungle to the puna. The highest point of this route is the Salkantay Pass, at an altitude of approximately 4,600 meters above sea level.

3. Long Inca Trail:

  • Length: Varies depending on the specific route chosen but is usually longer than the Salkantay Trail.
  • Duration: Can take between five and nine days.
  • Description: This route is also a less crowded alternative to the Classic Inca Trail. It starts in Mollepata and crosses diverse landscapes, including mountains, valleys, and cloud forests. Hikers can enjoy panoramic views of the Apurímac river valley and the Humantay glacier.

4. Two-Day Inca Trail:

  • Length: About 11 kilometers.
  • Duration: Typically, it takes two days, with a shorter hike on the first day.
  • Description: This route is ideal for those with time constraints or who do not wish to undertake the full four-day hike. It begins at kilometer 104 of the Cusco–Machu Picchu railway and passes through archaeological sites like Chachabamba and Wiñay Wayna before reaching Machu Picchu.

Each of these routes offers a unique and exciting experience for travelers, with stunning landscapes and the opportunity to explore the rich history and culture of the Inca civilization along the way. However, it is important to emphasize that all routes require adequate physical preparation and acclimatization to altitude due to the variable terrain and elevation conditions.

Difficulty and Duration

The difficulty and duration of the hike along the Inca Trail largely depend on the chosen route and the hiker's fitness level. In general, it is considered a moderately difficult hike, with steep sections and high altitudes that can challenge even the most experienced hikers.

Difficulty Levels and Duration of Each Route

The longer routes tend to be more challenging, as they involve more days of hiking and greater altitude variations. Among them are the 5-day and 4-night Inca Trail, followed by the 4-day and 3-night Inca Trail.

However, the shorter routes can also present challenges, especially for those not accustomed to walking in mountainous terrain, but in their majority, they reach the Sun Gate, as we said, it is a challenge, among them is the 2-day and 1-night Inca Trail.

Days Required

The Inca Trail, leading to the citadel of Machu Picchu, is generally completed in 4 days and 3 nights. This is the average time to walk trails that make up the classic route of the Inca Trail. However, shorter and longer options are available, depending on the needs and preferences of hikers.

Climate and Best Time to go

The climate along the Inca Trail can vary considerably depending on the season and altitude. The best time to hike is during the dry season, from May to September, when weather conditions are more stable, and there is less chance of rain.


Rainy Season:

  • Runs from mid-November to the end of March.
  • Lower influx of tourists.
  • Better conditions in November, but December, January, and February are the rainiest months.
  • February: It is important to note that the Inca Trail is closed this month for maintenance.
  • March: Similar to December, with possible light rains.
  • April: Transition to the dry season, with possible light rains, might be perfect to go this month because you can still see the green path, the flowers, and the archaeological sites with a more natural aspect.

Dry Season:

  • Runs from May to October.
  • More sunny days and clear skies.
  • Higher demand for permits, especially from April to August.
  • Advisable to plan ahead due to high demand for permits. To access the Inca Trail, it is mandatory to hire the services of a travel agency and have a guide specialized in the Inca Trail. If you have already decided to go during these months, then I advise you to contact an agency and book your entrance.

Preparation According to Climate

It is important to be prepared for a variety of weather conditions during the hike, including heavy rains, winds, and cold temperatures at night. It is recommended to bring appropriate clothing and equipment, including rain gear, thermal layers, and warm sleeping bags, preferably during the rainy season.

Now, in the dry season, you should use sunscreen, hats, light clothing, and warm clothes at night because as we gain altitude, the cold at night feels a bit more.

Main Attractions of the Inca Trail

Among the main attractions of the Inca Trail are the stunning Andean landscapes, the ancient Inca archaeological sites, like Llactapata and Runkurakay among others, and the unique experience of walking along a historic path that has been used for centuries.

  1. Stunning Landscapes: All this can be seen when traversing the ancient trails surrounded by spectacular mountainous landscapes, cloud forests, and panoramic views of valleys and Andean peaks.
  2. Archaeological Ruins: We will discover amazing Inca remnants along the way, such as the archaeological complex of Wiñay Wayna and the Sun Gate, which offer a window into the history and culture of the Incas.
  3. Integration with Nature: Along the hike, we will immerse ourselves in the lush vegetation of the tropical rainforest while walking through the cloud forest, crossing crystal-clear rivers, and marveling at the biological diversity of the region.
  4. Machu Picchu: We will finish our hike arriving at the legendary Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, an architectural marvel nestled high in the Andes, offering unparalleled views and a unique connection to the past.
  5. Cultural Experience: You interact with local communities along the way, learn about their traditions, customs, and way of life, and enjoy the hospitality and warmth of the local people.
  6. Physical and Spiritual Challenge: You surpass your personal limits while traversing the challenging trails of the Inca Trail, experiencing a sense of accomplishment and spiritual connection upon reaching the iconic lost city of the Incas.
  7. Unforgettable Sunsets and Sunrises: We will contemplate the beauty of sunsets and sunrises over the Andean mountains, creating magical and unforgettable moments amid pristine nature.

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the world's most famous and exciting hiking routes. This ancient path winds through the stunning landscapes of the Peruvian Andes, leading adventurers on a fascinating journey through history and nature.

Experience of Arriving at Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail

Arriving at Machu Picchu through the Inca Trail is an unforgettable experience that combines adventure, history, and natural beauty. Over four days, you walk along ancient paths, surrounded by lush vegetation and spectacular mountainous landscapes.

It all remains a dream; the route is surrounded by Inca ruins, such as the impressive archaeological complex of Wiñay Wayna, which provides a window into the greatness and engineering of this ancient civilization. Crossing the Sun Gate is an exciting moment, as it marks the approach to the legendary lost city of the Incas.

Arriving at Machu Picchu is a magical and exhilarating moment. Upon arriving at the citadel, we are greeted by the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the well-preserved ruins that reveal the grandeur of the Inca civilization. Sunrise at Machu Picchu is particularly spectacular, with the morning mist slowly rising over the ancient structures, creating a mystical and evocative atmosphere.

In short, it is one of the best excursions one can undertake, and what better way to do it than to explore intact Inca ruins, see the variety of flora and fauna along our journey, and make it a trip that everyone should take at least once in their lives.

Inca Trail Tourism Travel Tips + Advice

Some useful tips for those planning to do the Inca Trail include:

  1. Plan Ahead: Book your permits for the Inca Trail months in advance, especially if you plan to travel during the high season (May to August), it is safest to do it with a travel agency.
  2. Physical Training: Prepare physically for the hike a few weeks in advance, as the path can be challenging. For this, you can take long walks and practice hiking to improve your endurance.
  3. Pack Essential Items: Carry only what you need in your backpack, such as comfortable clothing, a water bottle, snacks or nuts, sunscreen, insect repellent, waterproof clothing, and personal hygiene items.
  4. Appropriate Footwear: Wear comfortable and well-fitted trekking shoes, preferably ones you have worn before to avoid blisters and discomfort during the hike.
  5. Acclimatize to the Altitude: Since the Inca Trail crosses high altitudes, take some time to acclimatize in Cusco (2 to 3 days) before starting the hike.
  6. Hydration and Nutrition: Stay hydrated during the hike and eat energy-rich foods like dried fruits, nuts, and granola bars to maintain your energy levels.
  7. Breathe Deeply: In the steepest sections of the path, take deep and slow breaths to help your body adapt to the altitude.
  8. Respect for the Environment: Respect the natural and archaeological environment of the Inca Trail, carrying your trash with you and avoiding damaging the ruins and vegetation.
  9. Listen to Your Guide: When doing the Inca Trail, follow the instructions and advice to ensure a safe and enriching experience.
  10. Enjoy the Moment: Take your time to enjoy the landscapes, ruins, and the company of your fellow travelers. The Inca Trail is a unique experience that deserves to be fully appreciated.

Tours to the Inca Trail

There are numerous travel agencies that offer guided tours to the Inca Trail, including transportation, accommodation, meals, and specialized guides. These tours are ideal for those who prefer to have everything organized and count on the support of experts during the hike. It is important to research and choose a trustworthy agency with good reviews and reputation.

For this reason, our travel agency Illapa Culturas Andinas offers the 5-day and 4-night Inca Trail tour, where you will visit various Inca ruins, admire nature, and above all, be accompanied by a specialized guide, cooks, porters. All you have to do is fully enjoy this new adventure and follow the guide's instructions.

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