The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was built by the Incas; it is a highly advanced network of nearly 40,000 thousand kilometers of trails to connect the distant corners of their vast empire that stretched from Quito in Ecuador down to Santiago in Chile and east to Mendoza in Argentina. Cusco was at the heart of this great empire. Almost all of the principal trails in the mountains surrounding Cusco were built or improved upon by the Incas. However, a particularly beautiful 43km section of mountain trail connecting the important Inca archaeological sites of Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca, Wiñay Wayna and Machu Picchu has become popular with hikers in the last 30 years and has become known as the “Inca Trail to Machu Picchu”. Access to this section of Inca Trail is strictly controlled and only authorized trekking companies are allowed to sell this trek. All guides on the Inca Trail must be licensed and only a limited number of trekking permits are issued and must be purchased several months in advance.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is surrounded by breathtaking scenery, crossing the Andes mountain range and sections of the Peruvian jungle and rainforest. Our amazing Inca Trail Tour passes several well-preserved Inca ruins and settlements before ending at the “Gate of the Sun” on Machu Picchu Mountain.
If you have decided to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, please keep in mind that the daily number of people accessing the trail is restricted and a government-issued inca trail trekking permit is required. Please check availability of permits before booking the Inca Trail hiking tour.
The Classic 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
This guide refers mainly to the Classic Inca Trail which starts at a place known as Km82 (so called because it is located 82 kilometers along the railway line between Cusco and Machu Picchu). It usually takes 4 days to do this trek arriving at the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu for sunrise on the fourth day (hence referred to as the Classic 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu trek). See Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 4-day Itinerary for a detailed description of this trek. The trek is rated moderate and any reasonably fit person should be able to cover the route. It is fairly challenging nevertheless, and altitudes of 4200m are reached, so ensuring that you are well acclimatized is important. If arriving from sea level, plan to spend at least 2 full days in Cusco prior to commencing the trek. This should allow plenty of time for acclimatization and give you sufficient opportunity to visit the city of Cusco and nearby Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Pucapucara and Tambomachay, as well as spending a day or two exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas visiting the tradition market town of Pisac and the fascinating Inca fortress at Ollantaytambo.
The Classic 4-day Inca Trail can be hiked year round although the months of April till October are probably more comfortable since the weather is drier. June, July and August are in the high season when the trail can become fully booked so be sure to make a reservation in advance. The 4 day Inca Trail is closed each year during the month of February to allow conservation work to take place. The months of January and March are in the wet season so hiking the trail can be a little miserable unless you have a good rain jacket and waterproof tent. See When to go for detailed description of what weather to expect on the Inca Trail.
You will therefore find a few trekking companies offering a 5-day Inca Trail trek. Before booking this trek it is a good idea to study the detailed itinerary. Although the 5 day trek allows you to avoid some of the busier campsites the group will often arrive at Machu Picchu around midday on day 4 of the trek (when Machu Picchu is very busy and it is too bright to take nice photos). The group won’t be allowed time to explore Machu Picchu and will be rushed off to their hotel in Aguas Calientes. The group then returns to Machu Picchu by bus on the fifth day of the tour. This itinerary may be exactly what you want but the classic 4-day trek with an extra night in Aguas Calientes will probably be better suited to most visitors and will probably work out cheaper.
The Short Inca Trail (2 days – no camping)
There are two main alternative treks to the traditional 4-day Classic Inca Trail that both end at Machu Picchu. The first and most popular alternative is the Short Inca Trail which can be completed in 1 or 2 days. This is an easier trek and starts further along the Vilcanota River Valley closer to Machu Picchu at a place called kilometer 104. Trek permits are required for this trek so you must book several months in advance. More Information on the Short Inca Trail.