The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Get all the information you need before going on the adventure of a lifetime
Man resting after hiking the Inca Trail

Hiking the Inca Trail is a bucket list item for many travelers, and it’s easy to see why. With breathtaking vistas, rich history, and challenging terrain, this ancient trail is a true test of endurance and spirit.

But before you lace up your hiking boots and hit the trailhead, there are some important things you need to know. In this ultimate guide to hiking the Inca Trail, we’ll cover everything from choosing the right tour operator to packing essentials and acclimating to high altitude.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, our comprehensive guide will help ensure that your journey along the Inca Trail is safe, memorable and truly incredible.

Table of Contents

What is the Inca Trail

Inca Trail overhead hiking shot
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The Inca Trail is a world-famous trekking route in Peru that leads to the ruined city of Machu Picchu. The trail runs for 26 miles (42 km) through the Andes Mountains, starting at an altitude of 8,000 feet (2,400 m) and reaching a height of 13,800 feet (4,200 m) at its highest point. The trail takes four days to complete, and hikers must be fit and experienced to attempt it.

The Inca Trail is part of the larger Qhapaq Ñan, a 18,600-mile (30,000 km) network of ancient roads built by the Incas. Along the trail, hikers pass through lush forests and mountain passes, visit archaeological sites, and experience stunning views of mountains and valleys.

Today, the Inca Trail is Peru’s most popular trekking route. Hikers must book months in advance to get a spot on the trail, and a permit is required to enter. The hike is challenging but rewarding, offering an unforgettable experience and the chance to explore one of the world’s most awe-inspiring archaeological sites.

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How to Book the Inca Trail Hike

Hiker in the Inca Trail
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There are a few things to keep in mind when booking your Inca Trail adventure:

  1. You must book your hike through a licensed tour operator – you cannot do it independently.
  2. There are only 500 permits available per day, and they often sell out months in advance, so it’s important to book early!
  3. When choosing a tour operator, make sure they are reputable and have good reviews.
  4. Once you’ve booked your hike, make sure to get travel insurance that covers you in case of any emergencies while on the trail.

That’s it! You’re all set to start planning your dream hike on the Inca Trail.

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When is the Best Time to Go to the Inca Trail

Inca Trail hike
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The Inca Trail is open all year round except for February, its mandated maintenance schedule.

The busiest times on the Inca Trail are June, July and August. This is because it’s winter in South America during those months, so it’s the perfect time to escape the cold weather back home. However, this also means that the trail will be more crowded than usual. If you don’t mind dealing with large crowds, then these months may be the best time for you to go.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed experience, then April or September may be better for you. These months see fewer hikers on the trail, so you’ll have a more intimate experience. Keep in mind though that the weather can be more unpredictable in these months, as they mark the beginning and end of Peru’s rainy season.

Ultimately, there is no wrong answer when it comes to deciding when to hike the Inca Trail. It all comes down to what kind of experience you’re looking for. If you’re flexible with your dates, try to avoid peak season (June-August) and opt for either April or September instead.

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Who Can Hike the Inca Trail?

Inca Wall
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To hike the Inca Trail, you must be in good physical condition and have a reasonable level of fitness. The trail is challenging, with many steep climbs and descents, and takes place at high altitude. Most people who complete the hike do so in 4-5 days, although it is possible to do it in as little as 3 days if you are very fit.

There are a few other requirements that potential hikers should be aware of:

  • You must have a permit to hike the Inca Trail. These are available from various tour operators, and must be booked well in advance (often several months).
  • You must be accompanied by a guide. This is for your safety and to protect the fragile environment of the trail.
  • You need to be prepared for all weather conditions. Even in summer, temperatures can drop below freezing at night, so you will need warm clothing. It is also important to have waterproof gear, as rain is common in the area.
  • Anybody who can meet these requirements and is willing to take on the challenge can hike the Inca Trail.

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Can Kids Hike the Inca Trail?

Inca Trail greens
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The Inca Trail is a challenging trek, but it’s not impossible for kids to hike. It’s important to note that children should be physically fit and have experience with hiking before attempting this trek. Families with younger children may want to consider taking the shorter version of the trail or hiring a guide who can adjust the pace accordingly. 

Additionally, different guides and tour groups each have their own regulations for kids on the Inca Trail, so it’s better to check with them before you book. 

Parents should also make sure their kids are well-equipped with proper clothing, footwear, sunscreen, insect repellent, and plenty of water and snacks. With careful preparation and planning, children can successfully complete the Inca Trail while experiencing one of the world’s most unforgettable adventures in Peru.

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Is the Inca Trail Dangerous?

Inca Trail
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There are a few risks to be aware of when trekking the Inca Trail. First, the trail is at a high altitude, which can cause altitude sickness. Second, there are many steep sections of the trail, which can be slippery when wet. Since the trail is so popular, there are often large crowds, which can make it difficult to get around.

However, as long as you are aware of these risks and take proper precautions, such as acclimatizing to the altitude and wearing appropriate shoes, the Inca Trail can be safe and enjoyable for all.

Ask your custom tour guide on how to acclimatize to the hike, so you and your group will be able to adjust accordingly.

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Can you Hike the Inca Trail on Your Own?

The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
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No, you cannot hike the Inca Trail on your own. You must go with a licensed tour operator. The Inca Trail is a protected archaeological site and requires a permit to hike it.

The Peruvian government requires that all visitors on the Inca Trail are accompanied by a licensed guide and support staff. This is to ensure the safety of everyone on the trail, as well as preserving the archaeological sites along the way.

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How Fit Do You Have to be to Hike the Inca Trail?

Inca Mountains
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While the Inca Trail is a great adventure for anyone who loves the outdoors, it is important to remember that it is also a challenging hike. Before you attempt to hike the Inca Trail, you need to make sure that you are physically fit enough to do so.

Here are some things to keep in mind when considering your fitness level for hiking the Inca Trail:

  • The Inca Trail is not a flat trail. There are many ups and downs along the way. This means that you need to be able to handle long periods of uphill walking. If you get winded easily or have trouble walking up hills, then the Inca Trail may not be right for you.
  • The Inca Trail is also a very long trail. It typically takes 4-5 days to complete the entire hike. This means that you need to be able to walk for long periods of time without getting too tired. If you get tired easily or have trouble walking for long distances, then again, the Inca Trail may not be right for you.
  • Keep in mind that the altitude on the Inca Trail can be quite high. The highest point on the trail reaches almost 4,000 meters above sea.

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What Do You Need to Pack for the Inca Trail?

Hiking Bag
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You’ll need to bring all the essentials for any backpacking trip: a good backpack, tent, sleeping bag, stove, and food. But there are a few other things to consider when packing for the Inca Trail.

First, because you’ll be hiking at high altitude, make sure to pack plenty of sunscreen and lip balm. A hat and sunglasses are also essential. You’ll also want to pack some snacks that are rich in carbohydrates to help you maintain your energy levels.

Second, since there are no showers on the trail, you’ll want to pack biodegradable soap and wet wipes. And don’t forget your toothbrush and toothpaste!

Third, because you’ll be spending four days on the trail, you’ll need to pack enough clothes to last you the entire time. Be sure to pack a mix of both warm and cool weather clothing, as the temperature can vary greatly depending on the time of day and elevation. And don’t forget to pack a pair of comfortable shoes – you’ll be doing a lot of walking!

Finally, it’s also a good idea to bring along a few items for entertainment. Consider packing a deck of cards or some books to help pass the time.

Here’s a checklist that you can save:

  • Daypack
  • Water Bottle
  • Snacks
  • Camera
  • Tents and Sleeping Bags
  • Raincoat and Poncho
  • First-Aid Kit
  • Insect Repellent
  • Headlamp or Flashlight
  • Map and Compass
  • Biodegradable soap and wet wipes
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Clean clothes
  • Entertainment, like books or playing cards

By following this packing list, you’ll be sure to have everything you need for an enjoyable and successful hike along the Inca Trail.

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How Much Money to Take for the Inca Trail Hike

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There are a few things to consider when budgeting for your Inca Trail hike. The first is the cost of the permit, which is required for all hikers. Permits cost $400 USD per person and must be purchased in advance through a registered tour operator.

Next, you’ll need to factor in the cost of transportation to and from the trailhead. If you’re coming from Cusco, you can take a public bus for about $10 USD per person. If you’re coming from further away, you’ll need to factor in the cost of flights into your budget.

You’ll need to account for food and accommodation both on and off the trail. There are plenty of options for both camping and staying in hostels along the route. Prices will vary depending on your preferred level of comfort, but expect to spend about $30-$50 USD per day on food and accommodation combined.

All told, you should plan on spending at least $500 USD per person on your Inca Trail hike. This doesn’t include things like souvenirs, extra snacks, or any additional activities you may want to do during your trip. But with a little bit of planning and budgeting, the Inca Trail is an incredible hiking experience that you won’t soon forget.

Tipping is not mandatory on the Inca Trail, but if you’re happy with your guide’s service it’s nice to show your appreciation with a tip. A typical amount is 10% of the total cost of the trip.

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Where Does the Inca Trail Start?

Inca Trail
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The Inca Trail officially starts at Kilometer 82, which is about 2 hours from Cusco by bus. Most tour companies will pick you up from your hotel in Cusco early in the morning and drive you to Kilometer 82, where you will start your hike.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu may also start at various points along the route. The trail can also be started at km 88 and km 104, but these are less common starting points. Some people choose to start their hike at a lower altitude to acclimatize to the high altitudes, but this is not necessary if you are healthy and have no problems with altitude sickness.

No matter where you start your journey, the Inca Trail will take you through some of the most stunning scenery in Peru.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu then ends at the Sun Gate, which is an entrance to the ruins of Machu Picchu.

The trail is 26 miles long and includes a variety of terrains, including steep inclines and declines, as well as sections with high altitude. It is important to be prepared for this trek and make sure you have enough food and water to last you throughout your journey.

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Inca Trail Itinerary

Alpaca on Inca Trail
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Here is a sample itinerary for hiking the Inca Trail:

Day 1: Start your hike at km 82 on the Cusco-Puno railroad line. Trek for 6-7 hours until you reach Wayllabamba, the first campsite.

Day 2: Wake up early and trek for another 6-7 hours. You’ll pass through several small villages before reaching Llulluchapampa, the second campsite.

Day 3: Today is the most challenging day of the hike, as you’ll be trekking uphill for 8-9 hours to reach Dead Woman’s Pass (the highest point on the trail at 13,829 feet). From there, it’s a downhill hike to Winay Wayna, the third and final campsite.

Day 4: Get an early start today for the final push to Machu Picchu! You’ll hike for about 5 hours before arriving at Inti Punku (the Sun Gate), where you’ll get your first glimpse of the lost city. From there, it’s a short walk down to Machu Picchu

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Where to Sleep on the Inca Trail

sleeping on the inca trail
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Setting up tents is the only way to stay overnight. There are several campsites along the trail. Some of these campsites have basic amenities such as restrooms and showers, other campsites are spartan with no facilities at all. All camping gear must be carried with you on the Trail.

You also have the option to hire a private tour company that will set up tents and meals for you at each campsite. This can be pricey but it takes away the hassle of carrying your own gear and setting it up every night.

No matter which option you choose, it is important to bring the appropriate camping gear such as a sleeping bag, camping mat and warm clothing. There are some huts on the trail but they are usually full so not a reliable option.

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What to Eat During the Inca Trail Hike

water bottle
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When it comes to what to eat during the Inca Trail hike, the most important thing is to make sure you’re adequately fueled for the physical activity.

It’s also important to stay hydrated, so make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. And don’t forget to pack some snacks for energy boosts when you need them! Energy bars, trail mix, fruit, and nuts are all good options.

For meals, you’ll want to plan for something light but filling. You can bring along some freeze-dried meals which require only boiling water for preparation. Some other options include sandwiches with cheese and cold cuts, pasta dishes, soups, and stews.

It’s also a good idea to pack some snacks that are high in carbohydrates, like energy bars or granola, as well as protein sources like jerky or nuts. And don’t forget to bring along plenty of electrolyte drinks or powdered supplements to replace lost salts and minerals throughout the journey.

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Where to Go to the Bathroom During the Inca Trail Hike

Hand sanitizer
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There are only a few options for where to go to the bathroom during the Inca Trail hike. The most common option is to use a “cat hole”, which is a small hole that you dig in the ground and then cover up when you’re finished. You can also use a portable toilet, but these must be carried in and out by porters and can be quite heavy. There are also a few “squat toilets” along the trail, but these are generally very dirty and should be avoided if possible.

It is also important to note that you should never use the bathroom near rivers, as this can contaminate the water and put other hikers at risk. It is also important to be aware of local regulations and customs when it comes to using the bathroom in public spaces.

Make sure to bring hand sanitizers to make sure your hands are clean, and perhaps a secure trash bag so you can take your trash with you.

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Health and Emergencies on the Inca Trail

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If you’re planning on hiking the Inca Trail, it’s important to be prepared for anything. Here are some tips on what to do in case of a health or emergency situation:

  • Pack any prescription medications you might need, as well as over-the-counter drugs for common ailments like headaches and upset stomach.
  • Bring along a first-aid kit, and make sure you know how to use all of the items in it.
  • Be familiar with the symptoms of altitude sickness, and know how to treat it.
  • If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, make sure you have all the necessary information with you in case of an emergency.
  • Make sure someone back home knows your itinerary, in case they need to contact you in an emergency.
  • You can also ask your guide at the start of the trip for the numbers of hospitals or ambulance services, so you have them in handy when you need them.

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Security on the Inca Trail

Inca Wall
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Here are some tips to help you stay safe on the Inca Trail:

1. Don’t hike alone.

There are plenty of tour groups that offer guided tours of the Inca Trail, and this is definitely the safest option. If you do choose to hike alone, make sure you tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return.

2. Be aware of your surroundings.

The Inca Trail can be remote in parts, and it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you see anything suspicious, or if you feel unsafe for any reason, don’t hesitate to turn back or seek help from a nearby ranger station.

3. Don’t leave food out in the open.

Unfortunately, there are animals on the Inca Trail that will try to steal your food – including monkeys! Make sure all your food is stored away safely, and avoid leaving any scraps behind.

4. Pack light but efficiently.

You don’t need to bring everything with you on the Inca Trail, but there are certain essential items that you should pack (including plenty of water and snacks).

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Can You Shower During the Inca Trail Hike?

Llama in Macchu Picchu
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Showering is not recommended during the hike, as the water sources are limited and should be conserved for drinking.

Hikers usually shower at the end of the hike, as the destination, Machu Picchu, has amazing hot springs.

What is Machu Picchu?

macchu picchu
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Machu Picchu is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in South America, and it has become a symbol of Peru’s Incan heritage. It is also one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and was added to the list of New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.

Tourism to Machu Picchu and the surrounding area is regulated by the Ministry of Culture of Peru. Visitors are only allowed to enter the site during certain hours and must be accompanied by an authorized guide.

The site consists of several important structures, including terraces, temples, plazas and palaces. It is believed that the site was used for religious ceremonies, as well as for astronomical observations. Today, Machu Picchu is a major tourist attraction and has become a popular destination for hikers and trekkers.

You can enter Macchu Picchu after hiking the Inca Trail. However, you will need to purchase a ticket in advance. Tickets can be purchased online or at the ticket office in Cusco. Please note that tickets are non-refundable and must be used within one year of purchase.

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Machu Picchu hot springs

machu picchu stairs
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If you’re looking to relax after a long day of hiking the Inca Trail, there’s no better place to do it than at the Machu Picchu hot springs. These natural springs are heated by the nearby volcanic mountain, and they offer stunning views of the surrounding area. There are several different pools to choose from, so you can find one that’s just the right temperature for you. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even try out the waterslide!

The Machu Picchu hot springs are located in the Sacred Valley of Peru, and they attract visitors from all over the world. Soak away your worries as you take in the incredible scenery and listen to the soothing sound of the water cascading down into the pools. Be sure to bring your swimsuit and a towel, as well as some snacks for a truly luxurious experience.

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Is the Inca Trail Worth It?

Woman jumping in Inca Trail

We think so! Here are a few reasons why:

1. The Scenery is Unforgettable

From the moment you start hiking, you’ll be surrounded by incredible mountain views, lush jungle vegetation, and picturesque ruins. It’s truly an unforgettable experience.

2. You’ll Feel Like a True Adventurer

Hiking the Inca Trail is a true adventure. There are few things more satisfying than reaching the summit of a challenging hike and being rewarded with breathtaking views.

3. You’ll Meet New Friends

One of the best parts of any group trip is meeting new friends, and this is especially true on the Inca Trail. You’ll bond with your fellow hikers as you share in the challenges and triumphs of the trek.

Ready for Your Adventure to the Inca Trail?

Woman on Machu Picchu
Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash

Hiking the Inca Trail is an incredible experience that will stay with you for a lifetime. With so much to see and do, it’s important to make sure that you are prepared and understand what to expect before embarking on this journey. By following our guide, you’ll have all the information needed in order to make your trip as safe and enjoyable as possible. so many ways for you and your family to experience this incredible destination.

Still need assistance in planning your adventure? Our local in-destination experts in Peru are here to help you! Just contact them to start your journey right away.

Plan your next dream trip with one of our hand-picked, highly experienced, licensed, and insured Local In-destination Experts!

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