You Must Know Before Hiking The Legendary Inca Trail

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Inca Trail 2020 information – Details You Must Know Before Hiking The Inca Trail

Looking for all the essential information to plan and prepare for the Inca Trail hike to Machu Pcchu? You will find it in this article. Everything you really need to know before hiking the Legendary Inka Trail

Trekking the Inca Trail is an unique experience which should inspire excitement, invoke a little bit of fear, stoke jealousy amongst your friends, and stir a sense of wonder in your soul & mind.

One of the most popular hikes to do in South America, Peru – and one of the world’s most famous roads – the Camino Inca or Inca Trail is the sort of singular adventures for which you all travel. The hike itself, which brings you along ancient narrow paths deep into the Peruvian countryside and high into the Andean mountains, is gorgeous; perfect Incan sites, cloud forest, and majestic valley views laid out like bread crumbs along the way to perhaps the greatest end-point of any multi-day hike on earth, the symbolic Machu Picchu citadel.

We are Inca Trail specialists since 2015, we want to share our hard-earned insights, advice, and tips to help you plan and prepare for your own successful trek experience – all neatly whittled down into this comprehensive guide.

So, whether you are going there in high or low season and want to understand the camping and accommodation situation better; have no idea what to pack or how to get a permit, are worrying about whether you are fit enough; will get altitude or mountain sickness or if it’s too late to book a spot on a tour, then this post will provide you with all the necessary information answers from experienced companion travelers (and, we hope, quite a bit of excitement and inspiration for the hike itself!).

Ready to read or book? Here’s everything you need to know before doing the Inca Trail hike. Let’s do it now!

Imagine 🙂 – How Mystical is the Inca Trail?

The classic Inca Trail is a well-established and symbolic (4 days – 3 nights) hike which leads hikers from km-82; the start point of the trail 1 hour outside the town of Ollantaytambo. All the way to Machu Picchu via its exclusive sun’s route or Camino del Sol

The good thing is that it’s a lot shorter than you may expect at only 45 kms / 26 miles. The bad thing or perhaps not? A significant chunk of that 45 kms is up steep, narrow Andean mountain paths at altitude.

The Incan Empire (which at its largest joined Peru, large parts of modern Ecuador, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and central Chile and a small part of southwest Colombia) created thousands of kilometres of trails to link its important settlements and centres of civilisation, but it is this specific 4 day trek which is known as the one and only Classic Inca Trail

See our most sold 4 Day Classic Inca Trail hike and what the travelers leave on Tripadvisor.

Why The Legendary Inca Trail Is So Popular?

The Trail is Peru in a microcosm; lush green cloud forest alive with birds, Andean peaks and steep mountain passes, a landscape dotted with centuries old ruins, accessible only to those that follow this most famous pathway.

However, as truly beautiful as the hike may be, the real reason for its popularity lies at the very end of this four day adventure; passing through the Sun Gate for that first magical sighting of Machu Picchu in the distance. Only Inca Trail hikers can access the Gate at sunrise, and it is this crescendo, at one of the new seven wonders of the world which makes this hike a feature on so many ‘South America bucket lists’.

The Inca Trail hike marks your first time visiting Machu Picchu, and arriving via the Sun Gate with sweaty brows and tired feet rather than taking the morning bus from Aguas Caliente with thousands of others clearly underlined to us that it is the best way to arrive at one of the world’s most iconic attractions. 

You will not never ever regret it.


Do you need Inca Trail permits & a guide?

Since 2002, access to the Inca Trail has been limited to 500 people per day (roughly split between 200 tourists and 300 accompanying guides and porters), no matter the time of year. This means it is necessary for everyone to obtain permits in advance to do the hike. 

Securing a permit is only possible with an approved tour provider LIKE US, who buys these daily permits in advance. This means that – although many of Peru’s best hikes, like the Colca Canyon, are possible to do independently – you can only do the Inca Trail with an approved tour company and spaces are capped. 

The best time to hike Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Peru has two seasons – dry and wet – and it is possible to do the Inca Trail in either. Each however, comes with their own pros and cons. 

Dry Season (May – October)

Pros | The chance of rain, as the name would suggest, is significantly reduced and you can expect hot, dry mornings and afternoons. 

Cons | Dry season also coincides with the high tourism season in Peru (June – August), so the Inca Trail will be at full capacity each day. This means fuller camp sites and more traffic along the Trail (although the tours do try and stagger this out). Demand for tours also increases in the dry season, so you really need to book your own tour further in advance (a rule of thumb is six to seven months, but we have met people who booked a year in advance to assure themselves of a place). Lastly, our guide told us that the nighttime temperatures in the dry season drop significantly, so expect cold nights in the tent.

Wet Season (November – April)

Pros | A less popular time to hike, so the number of people you’re sharing the Trail with is notably reduced, as are the crowds at Machu Picchu. Tours are slightly cheaper and easier to book with only a few weeks notice (you can book your place only a couple weeks before the trip begins). Temperatures at night are also less chilly. 

Cons | Hiking and camping in the rain for four days is never fun, so you are increasing the chances of that. If there is notable rainfall, then hiking conditions become slippier and more difficult. 

Note: the Inca Trail is closed in February for everyone in order to allow it to replenish.

If you’re reading the above and thinking that neither sounds appealing now, then please don’t be too despondent – the Inca Trail can be hiked year-round and we’ve just outlined the worst cons of each season so that you don’t have any nasty surprises!

Also, we want to let you know that the classic Inka Trail 4 days is always busy and the same the 2 days Inca Trail.

The Inca Trail must book months in advance

In short, yes. 

If you’re hiking in the dry (high) season, then you should be making a reservation sooner rather than later (i.e. right now).  If you’ll be taking an Inca Trail tour in the rainy season, a little more spontaneity is possible, unless you have very specific dates in mind where it makes sense to get your booking in sooner rather than later. 

Reading this and hoping for a last minute spot? It is certainly possible to find one but your options on tour companies and dates will be severely limited. 

Inca Trail specialist, a local company focused on sustainable small-group adventures, who have also been awarded “Best Inca Trail Tour Operator” by the Regional Direction of Foreign Trade and Tourism of Cusco in Peru – you can check out our best Inca Trail SOLD by clicking here and reviews on Tripadvisor.

Is there age restriction?

There is no minimum or maximum age limit for trekkers on the Inca Trail, but many tour companies operate according to their own guidelines and policies (i.e. Inca Trail specialist  minimum is 8 years old). We have taken our youngest hiker who was 6 years old from Australia and the oldest trekker who was 79 years old from Uk.

If you are a little older in years and need some inspiration, don’t worry! Inca Trail Specialist sends always first aid kits and the super porters are ready to help you.

How much the Inca Trail cost?

All companies operating the Inca Trail must be registered and have a special operators license of Ministerio de cultura and Sernanp, which is renewed annually. A large number of these companies are only established to provide specific private tours in high season, with the rest offering year-round expeditions.  New operators are added to the list each year so, as you can imagine, quality, experience, and equipment offered will vary quite a lot. 

We have been operating since 2015, and you want to know how many companies are operating the Inca Trail in Cusco? There are more than 6,000 travel agencies but Inka Trail operators in 2020; we are only 220 the other ones are illegals.

Inca Trail tours cost from $650 per person up to $1,100; if you see a price any cheaper than the bottom-end of this range, then be very sceptical. If you are seeing a higher price than this, then you will either be on a very very luxury tour or likely booking through a tour agent. Note that, aside from the mark-up on price, Inca Trail tours booked via agencies will often simply place you on an available tour with one of several local operators, so you have very little control on the quality of the ultimate provider and group composition. 

You can see the full Inca Trail specialist Inca Trail tour details and itinerary below.

– Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 4 days

– Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 2 days

– Salkantay trek and Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 7 days

– Private Inca Trail 5 Days

– Luxury Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 6 days

Note that it’s necessary to pay a deposit in advance to secure your Inca Trail permit, so if you go with a new, non-established, or cheaper provider, make sure you have done enough research into them before paying anything. After all, you don’t want the upfront savings to mean inadequate equipment, poor quality food, or a less memorable experience.

Please also be aware that permits are only issued with a tourist’s name and passport number and, once booked, they are non-changeable and non-transferable. If you happen to change your passport between booking and arriving at the entry checkpoint at Km.82 (where they check your passport), then contact your tour company for advice. 

Booking your Inca Trail with us; you will be in good hands! Hike to Machu Picchu with a local Tour Operator in Peru! Known for friendly local guides, rich culture, porters, high quality equipment and incredible food.

Getting ready for the Inca Trail?

As soon as you book a tour and commit to the hike, there are some key milestones to hit before you get anywhere near South America. Getting ready for the Inca Trail is not only a case of throwing some unworn trekking boots in your rucksack and hoping for the great, but rather doing the necessary to ensure you have a victorious and memorable adventure trek in the Peruvian Andes mountains for all the right reasonableness.

How healthy/fit do you need to be?

Recommendation; the Inca Trail is not just a walk on the stone paved path to the lost capital of the Inkas.

Even though it won’t be by any stretch the most physically challenging hike you will have done in South America; its ascents and conditions provide enough of a task to make you feel it. You do not need to be a vastly experienced hiker, but acquiring a good level of physical fitness prior to arriving in Peru will make everything easier and more pleasant.

Whether you are learning this and don’t fit the description of someone who does a lot of exercise or could do with losing a few lbs – then don’t be too morose. As an alternative, view the Inca Trail as your dare, your motivation, and your deadline to start hiking more, to discard some weight, and to make some positive modifications before you travel to Peru (and if you need some imagination, read our reviews on Tripadvisor).

Inca Trail Packing List

As an Inca Trail expert! Pack light, pack smart, and pack for two totally different temperatures – that’s the key advice for each Inca Trail feel. Nevertheless, there are a few key pieces of equipment to know about how luggage and kit is transported on the hike before you even think about if you really need that extra pair of hiking pants.

First of all, you are going to leave the bulk of your luggage securely in a luggage storage room back at the hotel in Cusco; do not take valuables here though as that’s just silly. You can leave us in our office with your luggage while you hike the Inca trail.

In the second place, for your Inca Trail, trekkers will be each supplied with duffel bags at the hotel after the briefing This duffel bag is allowed to hold up to 7kgs, and is going to be where the majority of the kit plus equipment you bring for the Inca Trail will be stored (i.e. clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, toiletries, etc.). Every Inca Trail tour worth its salt employs and includes an unbelievable crew of support staff who will carry the camping and cooking equipment plus food supplies on the Trail to each campsite.

Inca Trail Specialist company provides all of this equipment, as well as everyone’s 7kg duffel bag.

Our local porters, from fresh-faced 18 year olds to gnarled mountain men, are the unsung heroes of every Inca Trail experience and they will each carry up to 25 kgs on their backs for the group “yeah, and you are worried about how hard the Inca Trail would be for you”!. Your duffel bag will be collected and weighed every morning with our porters to ensure it’s not over the weight limit, and will be waiting for you alongside an erected tent at each campsite. 

Thus, it’s clear that most of the hard work when it comes to carrying things will be done by others and the tour company provides a lot of the key camping equipment. However, you also need to have a small daypack to carry your snacks, camera, water, suncream, and any medication, on the Trail itself – this will be taken by you and only you throughout the trek.

Inca Trail Specialist has covered all the essentials you definitely need to buy and pack for either season in this Inca Trail Packing List article, whilst more details on the camping plus organic Peruvian food on our treks to Machu Picchu.

When to Travel to Peru?

For sure; you can reserve a longer organised Peru tour which includes the Inca tours within it, or to simply include it on your own private Peru adventure. Anyway of which option you go for, all roads will lead to Cusco – the start point for the vast majority of all Inca Trail tours to Machu Picchu.

Cusco, in the south-east of Peru, thankfully doubles up as one of the country’s most popular destinations due to its history and position as an access point to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, so every Peru itinerary is guaranteed to include at least a few nights here. If you haven’t planned your visit yet, then read our guide to the best things to do in Cusco.

The Cusco city is remarkably easy to reach from different parts of Peru, but there are no direct flights to Cusco from the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. Instead, these are your best chances.

Airline Companies – Fly into Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru’s capital city, and connect onto one of the frequent flights from Lima – Cusco run by various airlines.These are systematically reasonable rates (starting from $70 per person), reliable, and only take 1 hour Lima to Cusco.

Whether you’re already in Peru or elsewhere in South America, then taking a flight from Lima – Cusco is the quickest and easiest option to experience Machu Picchu.

Motorcoach – Whether you’re travelling from Arequipa, then an overnight bus to Cusco is your best chance. Overnight buses in Peru range from basic to an incredibly high standard – we recommend you take a look at the options and book online via Peru Hop bus or redbus.

There is a bus which runs from Lima to Cusco, but it takes 24 hours and these days isn’t worth taking as flights are so pervasive and low-priced. We have worked with them for many years.

Train to Machu Picchu – There is a train which runs from Cusco – Poroy  Ollantaytambo – Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu pueblo, this is really a tourist service and not relevant for reaching Cusco. (You can see our, Machu Picchu day trip Cusco).

Inca Trail specialist requires all participants to be in Cusco for the first night of the 4 day trip, and it’s in the city where you will receive your briefing, rent any additional equipment and meet your tour leader. For everyone planning on the Inca Trail, Inca Trail Specialist recommends arriving into Cusco at least two days before your tour starts so that you can acclimatise to the altitude (Cusco is at 3,350 metres above sea level) and enjoy what the city has to offer without aching limbs. You can read more about altitude sickness in the Health plus Safety while you survive at high elevation.

Arriving at Cusco, all your transport to the Trail and the return trip to Cusco from Machu Picchu will be arranged by us and included in the overall tour price. This will include a private minibus to Ollantaytambo and km.82 (Classic Inca Trail start point) and either a train or minibus back to Cusco.

Is required to have a special Inca Trail Insurance Policy?

Inca Trail Specialist recommends you would never travel without taking out insurance, and having the necessary insurance arrangements in place in advance is a requirement for every Inca Trail tour; you are responsible for buying and purchasing this. 

It’s worth noting that not all standard off-the-shelf travel insurance policies will cover you for activities at altitude, so you need to ensure that this is covered when buying your single or multi-trip policy. Amex insurance and Seven corners are two respected travel insurers which we have used on Inca Trail tours who cover high altitude expeditions. Double check just in case.

Inca Trail Map plus Elevation (Detailed Distance)

We’ve outlined our own route on the Inca Trail below and, in broad terms, this is the sort of the itinerary you can expect (note that this relates solely to the days spent on the hike, not the days of travelling to/from Cusco and Ollantaytambo):

DAY ONE: Travel from Cusco to km.82 in the morning and hike to Ayapata campsite.

→ Distance | Approx. 6.8 miles/ 11 km 

↑ Elevation Gain | 350 metres

▬ Difficulty | Moderate, with a steep tiring section towards the end. 

DAY TWO: Early rise to hike through cloud forest and up to Dead Woman’s Pass and the descent to Chaquicocha campsite.

 → Distance | Approx. 7.5 miles/ 12km 

↑ Elevation Gain | 1,115 metres

▬ Difficulty | High, this is the hardest day of walking but after you reach Dead Woman’s Pass, it’s mostly downhill.

DAY THREE: Early rise to hike the most photogenic section of the Trail and the campsite Wiñay Wayna.

→ Distance | Approx. 9.6 miles/ 15.5km 

↑ Elevation Gain | Minus 1,000 metres

▬ Difficulty | Moderate to a little difficult as there are several steep sections.

DAY FOUR: Very early rise (3 a.m.) to reach the entry check-point and hike two hours to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu.

→ Distance | Approx. 3.1 miles/ 5 km 

↑ Difficulty | You’re almost at the end and Machu Picchu, you should be hopping, skipping, and jumping all the way there!

▬ The well-established route is outlined in the image below (red line) but do note that your own specific campsites and stops may differ depending on your tour provider.

Inca Trail Map distance and difficulty

How Difficult is the Inca Trail Hike?

Hiking the Inca Trail
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You Must Know Before Hiking The Legendary Inca Trail

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