Explore the Path of the Inca
Special 2: Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Cusco
- Day 1: Arrival in Lima
- Day 2: Arrival in Cusco
- Day 3: Cusco City Tour
- Day 4: Sacred Valley Tour
- Day 5: Begin the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu
- Day 6: Inca Trail Trek
- Day 7: Inca Trail Trek
- Day 8: Machu Picchu Tour
- Day 9: Departure from Cusco
Known in Quechua as the Qhapaq Ñan, the Inca Trail was once reserved for elites walking the sacred pilgrimage route to Machu Picchu. Today, the Inca Trail Trek remains an exclusive affair, with entrances limited to 500 people per day.*
To acclimate for this adventure, you’ll spend a few days touring the former Inca imperial heartland around Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Then you’ll embark on the classic 4-day hike to Machu Picchu, walking on centuries-old stone paths that cling to mountain valleys and lead up and down mountain passes to remarkable ruins and spectacular vistas. On the fourth and final day, you’ll walk the last kilometers through the misty cloud forest to the Sun Gate and you’ll enter the mystical citadel the same way the Incas did 500 years ago.
*Permits to walk on the Inca Trail are limited to 500 per day (including guides and porters). Please let us know as soon as possible if you are interested in booking an Inca Trail trek so that we can secure tickets for your departure date. Inca Trail permits can sell out 6 or more months in advance during the high season (June/July/August) and during peak travel dates (end of December). During the rest of the year, permits sell out 2-3 months in advance. Avoid disappointment and inquire about availability today.
Day 1: Arrival in Lima
Upon arrival at the Lima airport, meet our Peru For Less representative and walk or take a short car ride to your airport hotel.
Overnight in Lima.
Day 2: Arrival in Cusco
Transfer from your hotel to the airport for your flight to Cusco.
Upon arrival at the Cusco airport, meet our Peru For Less representative for the 20-minute drive to your hotel in the historic center. As you approach the oldest sections of the city, gorgeous examples of Spanish colonial architecture will draw your eye. Look closely and you might see the remains of Inca stonework - these are the former palaces and temples of the former Inca imperial capital.
After check-in at your Cusco hotel, you have the rest of the day to start exploring the city on your own. Remember to take it easy on this first afternoon since Cusco is located at 11,300 feet in elevation. Most travelers acclimate within 1-2 days and have no trouble with slow-paced activities. Wander about the main square, visit a museum, or stop by one of the many shops or cafes. Don’t miss out on the chance to sample Peruvian cuisine in one of Cusco’s many casual and/or fine dining restaurants.
Day 3: Cusco City Tour
Spend the morning at your leisure. This is a good time to explore some of Cusco’s less-visited attractions including the famous San Pedro Market, the bohemian neighborhood of San Blas, or one of Cusco’s many fine museums. Get a glimpse of Peru’s long artistic heritage at the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, hone your knowledge of the Inca Empire at the Casa Concha (“Machu Picchu Museum”), or make your own chocolate from scratch at the Choco Museum.
In the afternoon, meet our expert Cusco guide to tour the city’s must-see attractions. Stops include the Cusco Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas, the fabulous Temple of the Sun or Qoricancha, the gargantuan ruins of the Sacsayhuaman fortress/temple overlooking the city, as well as the ruins of Q'enko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay nearby.
In the late afternoon, return to your Cusco hotel and spend the evening at your leisure. Enjoy the local cuisine and the splendor of Cusco at night, the surrounding hills twinkling with lights and the sky overhead littered with stars.
Day 4: Sacred Valley Tour
Explore the beautiful Peruvian countryside with a full-day tour of the magical Sacred Valley, home to several royal estates of Incan emperors. First, visit the town of Pisac, famous for its bustling indigenous market and for the beautiful Inca ruins on the hillside overlooking the city. In the market, browse stalls brimming with beautiful handicrafts and handwoven garments. In the center of the market, village women in traditional dress gather to buy and sell local fruits, vegetables, and other natural products. While exploring the Pisac ruins above, wander narrow paths with walls of spectacularly cut stones and enjoy stunning views of the village and the Sacred Valley below.
After Pisac, stop for lunch (not included) at a buffet restaurant to sample a variety of Peruvian and international dishes near the town of Urubamba. The town is named after the sacred river (whose upper stretch is called the Vilcanota) that flows through the valley, on its way to Machu Picchu and eventually the Amazon jungle.
Next, visit the spectacular fortress of Ollantaytambo. These magnificent Inca ruins that cling to the hillside were part of the royal estate of the Incan emperor Pachacuti. Later, during the Incas' heroic resistance against the Spaniards, a great battle was fought, during which the Spaniards were repelled by the guerrilla emperor Manco Inca. The small town of Ollantaytambo at its base still has Inca houses, making Ollantaytambo the only Inca city that is still inhabited today.
In the late afternoon, return to your comfortable hotel in Cusco. Grab an early dinner and be sure to get a good night's rest. The next morning you have an early transfer back to the Sacred Valley to start the Inca Trail.
Day 5: Begin the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu
Start your day early with a pick up from your hotel and a scenic 2-hour drive through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo. Collect your trekking equipment and food, and meet the rest of your trek team before continuing by bus to Piscacucho (Km. 82), where the Inca Trail starts.
The trek begins once you pass the checkpoint and cross the Piscacucho Bridge over the Urubamba River. Walk on flat terrain along the shore of the river until you reach the small community of Miskay, where you have a chance to rest. Continuing on a steeper path toward a high plateau, your efforts are rewarded by a spectacular view of the Inca ruins of Patallacta.
Patallacta, "Village in the Heights," is an archeological complex situated at the foot of a mountain on the left bank of the river Cusicancha, a tributary of the river Urubamba. There are many terraced fields here whose crops probably fed other settlements and tambos (travelers’ rest stations) along the Inca Trail. The urban sector has more than a hundred structures, as well as an Inca altar called the Pulpituyoc.
After lunch, continue the trek for another two hours until you reach the first campsite of Wayllabamba. This is the highlight of the day as it includes breathtaking views across the Urubamba River to the Vilcanota ridge and the snow-covered Mount Veronica.
Hike distance: 7.5 miles (12 km)
Minimum altitude: 8,860 feet (2,700 meters)
Maximum altitude: 9,840 feet (3,000 meters)
Approximate time: 5 to 6 hours
Day 6: Inca Trail Trek
The second day is the most rigorous and includes the highest elevation sections of the Inca Trail, so you are encouraged to take your time. This is the day you’ll tackle the arduous climb to the Abra de Warmiwañusca known as the “Dead Woman's Pass,” at over 13,700 feet (4,200 meters).
At the start of the day, you can see the trail ahead of you zigzagging up the mountain. As you climb higher, you will be able to appreciate the change in the natural landscape as you pass from the moderate temperatures of the valleys into the arid and cold high plains. Right before the pass, a campsite called Llulluchapampa sits on a small plain bordered by two streams of crystal clear water. There is a public bathroom here, and this is also a great resting place before the last stretch over the high pass at Warmiwañusca. Once you cross the pass, a winding path of steps descends steeply across a natural valley and to the next campsite.
Keep your eyes open for wildlife, in addition to the many avian species that live here, you may spot the Andean bear. Also called the spectacled bear for the golden circular area of fur around its eyes, this solitary creature is native to Andean cloud forest.
Today the hike ends at the Pacaymayo Valley campsite. Here you will have dinner and take a well-deserved rest after a strenuous day on the trail.
Hike distance: 5.6 miles (9 km)
Minimum altitude: 9,840 feet (3,000 meters)
Maximum altitude: 13,780 feet (4,200 meters)
Approximate time: 6 to 7 hours
Day 7: Inca Trail Trek
After breakfast, the hike continues along a path rich with archaeological treasures. A steep climb leads to Runkurakay Pass. Halfway along the trail, you will encounter the ruins of Runkurakay, an Inca tambo, or lodge, of semi-circular design with a view of the valley of Pacaymayo, “Hidden River,” below. Another steep climb up Incan steps leads to the next pass, which offers spectacular views of the mountain ranges of Vilcabamba and Pumasillo.
Continue on to the lakes of Yanacocha and Sayacmarca. Aptly dubbed the “Inaccessible Town,” Sayacmarca is located on a cliff with a panoramic view of the Aobamba valley and the snow-covered peak of Pumasillo. This construction comprises a labyrinth of very narrow corridors, some with exits and others without. The only access to the ruins is by a steep, but solid, stone staircase carved into the side of the mountain.
Continuing on, walk past the small, flat archeological complex of Conchamarca. Then the trail ascends again and you come to a 65-foot (20 meter) long tunnel with steps carved out of the rock. Continuing on, ascend the third and final mountain pass of the trek at Abra de Phuyupatamarca. The trail then continues downhill leading to the archeological site of Phuyupatamarca, “The Town in the Clouds.” This is one of the most unique towns on the Inca Trail. It is almost always covered in mist rising from the cloud forest and is located on the side of a ravine looking down into the Urubamba Valley. The site is surrounded by terraced fields and offers beautiful views of the Urubamba Valley as well as the adjacent snowy peaks.
As the day ends, head toward the ruins of Wiñay Wayna or “Forever Young,” your campsite for the final night. The ruins consist of Incan agricultural terraces and are believed to have been a religious center where water was worshipped. Flower enthusiasts can see the area’s fabulous pink orchids.
The campsite on the final night has a simple restaurant and hot showers. Cold beers and a party in the evening are the norm, allowing you to say goodbye to your cook and porters who walk ahead of you early the next morning to catch a train back to Cusco.
Remember, it is customary for trekkers to contribute to a tip pool, which is distributed amongst the team (guide, cook, and porters). A good tip amount ranges $10-$40 USD per hiker. These tips are voluntary, so feel free to tip according to the service you received.
Hike distance: 9.3 miles (15 km)
Minimum altitude: 8,860 feet (2,700 meters)
Maximum altitude: 1,2960 feet (3,950 meters)
Approximate time: 8 to 9 hours
Day 8: Machu Picchu Tour
After an early start with breakfast at 4:30 a.m., start the final leg of the trail by 5 a.m. in order to reach Inti Punku, the Sun Gate entrance to Machu Picchu for sunrise. While weather conditions may vary, the view is always awe-inspiring. You can only imagine what the Incas must have felt after their grueling journey to this sprawling temple.
From here, descend to the citadel for a 2-hour guided tour of Machu Picchu. Notice the intricate stonework carved into the fantastic Andean scenery. The giant stones were hauled by hand to the top of the mountain centuries ago, and yet their foundations still remain. Your tour covers the three zones of this centuries-old city: the urban, agricultural, and adjacent zones. The Temple of the Sun, the Intihuatana, and the Principal Bath are only a few of the impressive sights that you will see.
After your tour, you have the option to explore more of the site on your own and capture some final photos.
In the afternoon, take a comfortable train back to Cusco and meet our driver for your transfer to your Cusco hotel for the evening.
If you would like to spend more time at Machu Picchu, this package can be customized to include an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, allowing for a second visit to the ruins — with an optional hike to Huayna Picchu — on the following day. Please let your Travel Advisor know if you’d like to add this to your itinerary.
Hike distance (to Machu Picchu): 2 miles (3 km)
Minimum altitude: 7,875 feet (2,400 meters)
Maximum altitude: 8,860 feet (2,700 meters)
Approximate time: About one hour of hiking
Day 9: Departure from Cusco
After breakfast at your hotel, meet our representatives at your hotel and transfer to the airport for your journey home or on to your next destination.
Alternatively, choose one of our other exciting Cusco tours or Sacred Valley excursions, or browse our full range of Peru travel destinations to make the most of your vacation.
- 1 night in Lima airport hotel, 4 nights in Cusco in Peru Hotels based on US standards & 3 nights camping on the Inca Trail
- All tours stated in the itinerary with English-speaking guides
- Ground transportation and entrance fees
- Breakfast at all hotels
- All meals on Inca Trail
- Train Machu Picchu - Cusco (Vistadome Train for 4-star and 5-star packages / Expedition Train for 3-star packages)
- Budget tours are designed to offer the best value and comfort possible, and have some variations compared to our 3, 4, and 5-star packages. Call or email us to learn more about our Budget tours.
- Lunches and dinners (unless otherwise specified)
- Airport taxes
Also included with the Inca Trail package:
- Private transport from your Cusco hotel to the start of the trek
- Bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes
- Train Machu Picchu – Cusco (Vistadome Train for 5-star and 4-star packages / Expedition Train for 3-star packages)
- Transfer from Cusco train station back to your Cusco hotel
- We use four season Eureka tents with two entrances and capacity for four people (for comfort, only two people per tent)
- Foam mattresses, tables, and seat for each tent
- Food and drink utensils
- Dinner tent and kitchen tent
- First aid kit and emergency oxygen bottle
- Professional, knowledgeable bilingual guide
- A cook to prepare your meals
- Porters to carry provided equipment and food (additional porters are available for rent to carry your personal belongings)
- High quality meals to provide the necessary energy for this challenging trek
- In addition to three meals daily, you will be given revitalizing snacks
- Hot drinks such as tea and coffee, as well as enough water for your canteens (collected from local streams and boiled while on the trek)
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