The Machu Picchu Inca Trail is one of the most famous hikes around the world. It takes you right through the Andes, right along ancient ruins, being South America’s most popular trail. Machu Picchu gives you access to mountains, vegetation and exotic animals like nowhere else. Inca Trail in Machu Picchu takes around 4 days and goes through 3 mountain passes.
What should you know about Machu Picchu’s Inca Trail? Fortunately, most of the things you have to know will be mentioned by the guides you hire (it is a really good idea to get a guide). However, the following should be known in advance.
Trail Options Available
- Classic Inca Trail
What many do not know is that there are different trails that take you to Machu Picchu. The most popular one is the Classic Inca Trail. This starts at 82 kilometers from Cuzco, at an altitude of 2800 meters. The trek will go high into mountains and will take people across various Incan ruins. The trip takes 4 days and covers around 45 kilometers. If everything goes according to plan, you reach Machu Picchu right at sunrise on day 4. You can shorten or lengthen based on ruins visited along the Classic Inca Trail and where you start (you can start beyond the 82 kilometers line).
The Classic Inca Trail is the first one that is booked by tourists interested in a great Machu Picchu Inca Trail hike. This is why you might want to seriously consider other available options.
- Mollepata Trail
The hike starts in Mollepata village and will take around 5 days and four nights in order to reach the top of Macchu Picchu. It does join the classic Inca Trail at day 4, when Wayllabamba is reached. The trek is locally referred to as Salkantay Trek and does offer variations, allowing you to hike for up to 7 days. If you choose the Mollepata Trail, you will reach a higher altitude than with the Classic Inca Trail.
Choquequirao is a long hiking option, taking you from Cachora to Machu Picchu. The hike is rugged and lasts twelve days. Along the way you are going to visit different small Incan sites and beautiful Quechua villages.
- Lares Trek
Lares Trek is an alternative for those that do not want to be a part of something that is so long. It starts at Lares and reaches really high altitudes while allowing fast interaction with region culture and people.
The Classic Machu Picchu Inca Trail Hike
Whenever talking about Inca Trail to Machu Picchu best hikes, the classic one is that people talk about. This is why you should know more about it.
Most of the hikers attacking this trail will start in Cusco by train in order to reach KM 88, which is Ollantaytambo. When you get there by bus, you stop at KM 82.
The actual hike will start at the Rio Urubamba crossing. The very first gentle ascent starts at the Llaqtapata ruins. Then, you move through Rio Cusicacha and you start to climb towards a village that still have inhabitants, Huayllabamba. In most situations the groups will camp right at the village during the first night of the trip.
The Classic Inca Trail’s second day will take you through an arduous portion. You reach the altitude of 12,460 feet, which feature the Llullucharoc ruins, located one hour away from Huayllabamba. Then, you go to Abra De HuarmihuaOusqa (commonly known as Dead Woman’s Pass). This is the Inca Trail’s highest point at an altitude of 13,780 feet. During this part of the hike you can end up faced with blazing sun, cold winds and freezing snow or rain, all based on when you visit. After you go through all these, you go down some stone steps and you reach Pacamayo for a night camp stay.
Day three sees tourists reaching the Incas’ original footpath. You will pass by various interesting attractions like Runcuracay, Abra de Runcuracay, Vilcabamba, Sayacmarca, Conchamarca, Phuyupatamarca, Aguas Calientes and more. You would normally spend the night at Huinay Huayna.
The final day of the Classic Inca Trail in Machu Picchu allows you to reach the Sun Gate (Intipunku) and then go to Machu Picchu in order to see the sunrise, which is incredibly dramatic. The last ascent is close to vertical, 50 steps and takes you from Intipunku to Machu Picchu. This will take around 45 minutes.
Getting Ready For Machu Picchu The Inca Trail
You are recommended to hike this trail between the months of May and September since the weather is dry, although the months of June and August will be busy. It is a good idea to avoid these 2 months. Because of the conditions of the hike, the rainy season need to be avoided. During February the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu will be closed.
Special Tip: Plan the trip so that there is a full moon when you get there. Locals say that this is when the weather is the best and if you get to Machu Picchu and there is a full moon, the experience can only be described as surreal.
You can ONLY hike the Machu Picchu Inca Trail if you are in an organized group, one that was arranged by a tour agency that is officially sanctioned. There are 140 of these in Cusco. Also, the government of Peru limits how many trekkers can hike the Inca Trail at once: 200, 500 when including guides and staff, all per day. Every single hiker needs a valid trekking permit.
Choosing An Inca Trail Tour Operator Or Agency
As you select what agency to work with, you need to be careful. Various price differences are to be expected but you should get ready to pay a few hundreds of dollars for properly-organized trekking. Prices vary a lot based on the number of people that will hike, sharing tents and porters that will join, together with what is carried and the gear/food that is offered. In most cases a tour will include around 15 people, plus guides, cooks and porters.
It is really important that you understand all that you will get for the money that you pay. As an example, most tours are going to include transport from home to trek start and the return to Cuzco, together with guides, entrance fees, food, porters, tent and first aid. Remember the fact that you do want to tip your porters, cook and guides. Also, it is possible that you will have to buy snacks or water during the hike.
Make sure that you wear really good hiking shoes and that you have a spare pair with you. You need a flashlight and you want to be sure that the sleeping bag is as good as possible. Do not assume that all will be hot during summer since even there the weather gets cold. The altitude is high and there is mist that is often blanketing the mountains. Take warm clothes with you and think lawyers instead of thick bulky jackets.
Inca Trail treks are arduous. Some fitness level is needed, although seniors and kids are often seen on the trails. Even so, it is a really good idea that you train and get ready. Something as simple as constantly power walking can get you ready.