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How to Hike the Inca Trail - The Essentials

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The mystery shrouding Machu Picchu, the most famous icon of the Incas, is what draws thousands of curious visitors to Peru every year. Most come to see the ancient city for the day, by bus or train, to explore the ruins and leave. For many though, this does not satisfy their curiosity and they want more time to discover the incredible archaeological find of Machu Picchu. Instead of visiting for the day, intrepid travelers will trek 26 miles over 4 days to reach the ruins. Considered by many to be in the top 10 treks of the world, it's not an easy feat but it offers a much more in-depth experience. If you're thinking of hiking the ancient Inca Trail here are the essentials you need to know to get started! 

How
The Inca Trail is part of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary, a protected area managed by the Peru National Institute of Natural Resources, and the number of trekkers allowed on the trail are 500 people a day. It's not possible to trek on your own; only registered companies/guides can purchase permits. Thus all trekkers must go with a licensed outfitter accompanied by a professional guide in groups no larger than 16. (It is possible to hire your own licensed guide although that means vetting the guide and carrying all of your own equipment.) Outfitters will provide porters to carry the food, tents, extra water and luggage.You carry a day-pack with water, extra clothes and anything you might need during the day such as a camera or binoculars.

Essentials
  • You need a Passport that is valid 6 months after the return of your trip (You don't need a Visa).
  • You don't need immunizations to trek the Inca Trail although the CDC recommends certain immunizations for Peru. Yellow fever and malaria prophylaxis are the most highly recommended if you are also traveling into the Peruvian Amazon.

When
The Inca trail is open March to January and closed in February to allow for maintenance and natural restoration of the terrain and camping facilities (the ruins of Machu Picchu are open during Feb and accessible by train and bus services between Cusco and Machu Picchu). Trekking is best in the dry season, mid-late April through early November. The dry season is the most comfortable period as far as the weather is concerned, though you can still get a little rain. We consider May the best month because there is little rain but the vegetation is still green, flowers are blooming, the skies are washed clear with billowy clouds, and it's before the peak summer travel season begins (June, July and August). The months of November and December can still be very enjoyable with fewer trekkers, but plan for at least one day of rain during this period. January and March can be very wet at times, however most of the rain falls late in the afternoon and at night.

Weather on the Inca Trail

 Jan 

Feb 

Mar 

Apr 

May 

June 

Jul 

Aug 

Sep 

Oct 

Nov 

Dec

Max Temp °F                             

66

66

66

68

68

68

66

68

68

69

69

69

Min Temp °F

44

44

42

38

35

32

32

34

36

42

42

42

# of rainy days

18

13

11

8

3

2

2

2

7

8

12

16

Essentials
  • It's recommended that you book your Inca Trail trek at least 6 months in advance of your intended dates of travel. If you plan to trek during the most popular months of the year (April-Sep) it is important to make your reservation as early as possible, as many key dates sell out fast.
  • You also need to purchase a separate permit if you want to hike to Haynu Picchu, the high conical hill behind the main temple complex, prominently featured in most iconic shots of Machu Picchu. There are sheer drop-offs near the top, so this is NOT recommended for people with vertigo or for children. 

Cost
When considering cost, there are a lot of factors that come into play. There are many companies offering Inca Trail Treks and many offer very low prices. In Peru, these local companies are referred to as "machiteros," in reference to the machete, and indicative of how some local outfitters cut prices so low that they end up offering a substandard experience. Ask yourself what kind of experience you want and look closely at what is actually offered and look especially at their itineraries and what all is included.

Essentials

  • Expect to pay more for a smaller group size or for a private/custom groups. 
  • Companies that cost more should offer better service, better itineraries, better equipment, and better accommodations, along with better treatment of their guides and porters.
  • While some companies may offer vastly cheaper prices, look closely at what is included in their service and what is guaranteed or not. 
  • ​Don't forget to add tipping to your budget. You should budget around $20-$25 per trekker per day to be distributed among the guide, porters and camp staff.
  • Choose a company that regularly schedules Inca trail trips and has a good reputation and good reviews.

How are Wildland's trips different?

At Wildland we work with the most seasoned professional mountain guides recognized not only for their skill and mountain guiding expertise, but also especially for their intelligence, sensitivity and fun personalities. Another important difference are our itineraries which allow for the best camping spots and extra time to explore ruins along the way. Instead of ending with arrival and a quick visit to Machu Picchu, our itineraries includes an overnight at the best boutique accommodations in the area. The next day early in the morning, long before the next tourist train arrives, we provide an extensive guided visit throughout the citadel apart from the experience of arriving and viewing Machu Picchu the last day of our trek. You can learn more about our trips here: Why book with Wildland  

What to expect

Effects of High Altitude - Everyone who travels to Peru experiences some effects of high altitude. The abrupt change from sea level to the high altitudes of Cusco or Puno (over 11,000 feet) typically causes short-term symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, insomnia and loss of appetite. It's best to take it easy the first day upon arrival at high altitude and drink plenty of fluids (but avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages upon arrival as they contribute to dehydration).

Essential
  • It's highly recommended to stay in Cuszo for two full days prior to the trek to fully acclimatize. 

Trekking Conditions
It's a common misconception that because many people do the Inca Trail then it must be easy ... it isn't. Combined with high altitude and variable weather (sun exposure or hail during the day) and very cold conditions with temperatures below freezing at night, the trek can be very challenging. That being said, people of many different ages and abilities have completed it! if you exercise regularly, like to hike, enjoy camping and you don't have major problems with your knees or lower back you should be ready for the challenge. Read about one woman's journey on the Inca Trail: Trekking to Machu Picchu as a Solo Woman Traveler

Essentials
  • The trail is 26 miles long and involves great physical exertion to complete. On the second day you climb nearly 4000 ft. The trail then descends into a deep valley and up over another pass before descending the rest of the way to Machu Picchu including Inca stairways and rocky pathways. Hiking downhill can create pressure on knees and the lower back.
  • Allowing time to acclimatize before ascending the first pass is most important, along with having sufficient time in Cusco or the Urubamba Valley for acclimatization. 

Gear

The gear needed for hiking the Inca Trail with porter service is minimal but should be planned thoughtfully because of weather and limited weight restrictions.  Being prepared with non-cotton, layered clothing and good gear can make a big difference, along with good guides to provide assistance and encouragement.

Essentials

  • Your main luggage will be carried by a porter and is limited to no more than 17.64 lbs.
  • Rubber-tipped trekking poles are highly reccomended although they are not required.
  • Sleeping bags can be rented, depending on your outfitter, although we recommend you bring your own, or otherwise bring a liner.  
  • Although the weather is often sunny and warm during the day, May - Aug temperatures drop precipitously at night, falling below freezing so be prepared to sleep in long underwear and your down jacket.

High Reward

The moment you come into view of Machu Picchu is one you will never forget. You arrive at the Gate of the Sun (Intipunku) and your eyes light upon the ancient city of Machu Picchu below. Surrounded by the lush, emerald-green Andean mountains, there it is; that long-awaited view of Machu Picchu, in all of it's mysterious glory. 

If you have any question see our Inca Trail FAQ or call Kelsey, our Inca Trail trekking expert, at 1-800-345-4453 or send her an email. We offer a few different routes and itineraries and we also plan tons of custom trips. See our Inca Trail Trips

Not interested in trekking? You can still visit Machu Picchu; learn more about our Non-trekking trips to Machu Picchu.

Keeping it wild,

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