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A Guide to The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

BY Gear Obsession |
April 14, 2017

The Inca trail to Machu Picchu is an unforgettable experiences. Trekking above the clouds, atop the Andes Mountains, through bamboo forests, and mystical ancient ruins of the once powerful Inca Empire makes the Inca Trail one of the world’s most famous treks and journeys.

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The Inca Trail to Machu PIcchu is part of the vast Inca road system that includes 24,000 miles of road along the west coast of South America and spans from Chili to Columbia. The road system was used for; transportation, trade, military, religious purposes. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was portion of the path far out of the way from the rest of the road system and served as passage to Machu Picchu, a vacation or get away home of sorts for the ruling Inca and his several hundred servants.
Today, Machu Picchu and Inca Trail, is Peru’s main tourist attraction. Tourists flock to Peru for a chance to see the breathtaking ancient town built of stone tucked away deep in the Andes.

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Permits, Planning, and Food

The Inca trail is highly regulated by the Peruvian Government for preservation, which is a good thing. Without the regulation the Inca trail would be like walking through a Bazaar in India, a great experience – but not one you want atop the Andes Mountains.  

You need to get a permit for everyone in your party. There are only 500 permits available per day and they go fast. All of the guides and sherpas are a part of the 500 number so it only leaves room for about 200 to 230 tourist/trekkers per day. 

Check permit availability before you book your flight and get your permit as early as possible! During peak season permits go fast. You can check permit availability at: and it is best to do it early as they sale out fast

Due to the regulations of the trail, you must be a part of an official group lead by a certified tour guide to the trail. The tour guides come with sherpas who carry the food, sleeping tents, a food tent, and cooking gear for the party. They will make accommodation for vegetarians and your dietary restrictions if you inform them before the trip. The amount of food they pack and cook is unbelievable. You will eat like an Incan king on the trek. They cook you a variety of peruvian dishes including; fresh trout, aji de gallina, rice, soup, choclo, coca leaf tea, chicha morada, and more.

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Typical spread provided by the sherpas. This meal was Aji de Gallina, rice, beet salad, and alphabet noodles.

The Recommended Itinerary for your Inca Trail and Machu Picchu Vacation:

Day 1: Fly into Lima

To be honest, there is not a lot to see or do in Lima. You do not need to spend much if any time here. If you do spend time here, a day should be plenty. Lima is famous for it’s food, it’s most famous dish is ceviche – don’t be a cheap skate in your restaurant cevich choice either. If you do spend a day in Lima, you can check out some of the the catacombs at the Monastery of San Francisco or the Museum of Gold. The best and safest hostels as well as the night scene is in Miral Flores which is about 45 minutes from the airport.

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Day 2: Fly to Cuzco

Day 2 and day 1 can be wrapped into one day if you can make your flights align. It is recommended you get to Cuzco a couple days before you begin your trek so your body can adjust to the high altitude. Cuzo is at 11,152 feet high. If you are coming from sea level, this is highly recommended – altitude sickness is brutal and that is the last thing you want to be dealing with on the trail. You will likely feel a little light headed when you land in Cuzco. Help yourself to some coca leaf tea which will send oxygen through your body and to your brain and you will start to feel better.

Day 3: Day 2 in Cuzco

Spend your 2nd day in Cuzco checking out the sites. You will likely be within walking distance to the town square/plaza de armas where there are often native festivities or dance competitions going on. There is a traditional peruvian market, Mercado Central de San Pedro, where you can find fresh fruit, souvenirs, smoothies, peruvian hand made goods and more. There are several museums and archaeological sites in or close to Cuzco you can read up on and tour as well, the most famous are the ruins at Sacsayhuaman and Temple of the Sun.  

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The Plaza de Armas in Cuzco with traditional dancers from the provincias

Day 4: The Inca Trail – Day 1: Piscacucho Km 82 – Huayllabamba

Your tour guide will pick up at your hotel between 4 and 5 am for 3 hour bus ride through the picturesque villages of Chinchero, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo where you will begin the trail. Day 1 of the trail you will hike 7.5 miles. Day one eases you into it, it is the least scenic and the least strenuous portion of the trail. You set up camp in Huyallabamba, sleep good tonight, day 2 is is the most difficult part of the trail

Day 5: The Inca Trail – Day 2: Huayllamba – Pacaymayo

Eat you Inca Wheaties today – you’ll need it. Day 2 begin climbing in elevation immediately. You’ll begin the day at 9,678 feet and hike 3.9 miles to Dead Woman’s Pass which is at 13,780 feet in elevation. You’ll then begin to descend to 11,778 feet to Pacamayo where can take a cold shower and set up camp for the night. You will hke a total of 6.4 miles on day 2. Day 2 is filled with awe inspiring views of the Andes mountains that are covered in rain forest and appear to be straight up and down. You will also get a great view of the top of clouds for a large majority of the day. Although day 2 is exhausting, it is beautiful, there no other way to describe it.

Phuyupatamarka ruins

Phuyupatamarka ruins

A few of the many steps you will encounter along your trek

A few of the many steps you will encounter along your trek

Final ascent up to Dead Woman's Pass - Elevation 13,828 feet

Final ascent up to Dead Woman’s Pass – Elevation 13,828 feet

Day 6: The Inca Trail – Day 3: Pacaymayo – Wiñaywayna

Day 3 of the trial is what they call “Inca flat” or in other words, up then down, then up, then down, then up then down, etc.. etc.. You get the idea. Overall, you descend more than you climb. You’ll begin the day at 11,778 feet and finish day at 8,988 feet at Winayana. Day 3 is filled with rain forest, Inca ruins, and incredible views of glacier peaked mountains in the distant. The last leg of the hike takes you to Phuyupatamarca, the place of the clouds before you descend into your final campsite where you can take a hot shower.
Views of the trail from Day 3

A few more steps!

A few more steps!

You will spend a great amount of your time looking down on the clouds.

You will spend a great amount of your time looking down on the clouds.

In the lower elevations of the hike you will trek through beautiful jungle

In the lower elevations of the hike you will trek through beautiful jungle

For your photography pleasure, Peru has stocked llamas around some of the ruins

For your photography pleasure, Peru has stocked llamas around some of the ruins

Day 7: The Inca Trail – Day 4: Wiñaywayna – Machu Picchu

Wake up early on day 4 to get to the check point at Wiñaywayna which opens at 5:30 am. From the checkpoint you’ll hike 2 hours to Wiñaywayna, The Sun Gate, where you will see the first rays of morning appear over Machu Picchu. The weather is unpredictable so there’s a good chance It will be cloudy, which normally only makes it more beautiful and majestic as the sun rises and burns the fog off to slowly reveal the face and village of Machu Picchu. From the Sung Gate you will hike another hour to descend into Machu Picchu where you can tour the ruins take pictures, and find a secluded piece of grass to take a nap.

View of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

View of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

The view from the classic post card location

The unforgettable view from the classic post card location

After your tour of Machu Picchu, catch a bus to Aguas Calientes. In Aguas Calientes you can grab a bite to eat, there are a lot of traditional peruvian food options. Aguas Calientes is Spanish for Hot Waters, aka.. Hot Springs, so make sure to bring a bathing suit and go relax in the natural hot springs tucked up against the mountains. There are a few different pools with different temperatures of water for your enjoyment – and a cold bath so you can refresh yourself for longer hot spring endurance!

Day 8:  Wayna picchu – Aguas Calientes & Cuzco

One of the best views at Machu Picchu is at the top of Wayna Picchu. It is a permitted hike and the permits can run out fast in the peak season. Get a permit to Wayna Picchu early, there are only 400 permits available per day. Wayna Picchu is a hike to the top of the nose of Machu Picchu. It is is basically straight up the mountain so it is bit strenuous and would be rated as a difficult, but not a technical hike, but the hike is worth it views at the top are spectacular. Plan on about 3.5 to 4 hours for the round trip hike.
After the hike return to Aguas Calientes where you will catch the train back to Cuzco. There is an awesome market before the entrance to the train station with all sorts of Peruvian and Incan crafts and souvenirs. If you’re planning on making some purchases, this is a great spot to do it.

The natural hot springs at Aguas Calientes

The natural hot springs at Aguas Calientes

From Cuzco you catch a flight to Lima and onto your home, or if you’re not done you can bus or fly to your next stop in South America; Puerto Maldanado, the Nazca Lines, Puno and Lake Titicaca, Iquitos, Bolivia, Chili.. And on and on and on. Let me know if you have room for one more!

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