A Complete Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
One of the best places to visit in South America and the entire world is Machu Pichu. To visit Machu Picchu, one of the new 7 Wonders of the World, you can either take a quick train ride or hike for several days. If you have the time, I highly encourage you to hike! There are plenty of beautiful treks in Peru and most of them are to Machu Picchu, including the Choquequirao trek, Salkantay trek, Inca Jungle trek and more. Of course, hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu is the classic and most popular trek that everyone, including us, hikes. It is without a doubt, a once in a lifetime trip that we will never forget. However, it was not an easy one. A lot of planning and preparation has to go into hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, from training to a proper packing list, the weather, booking the Inca trail and more. With that said, after first hand experience, we have created a complete guide to help the next adventurers fulfill their dream of hiking the classic 4 day Inca trail.
How Long is the Inca Trail Distance?
The Inca trail distance is approximately 43km (26 miles) and is hiked during the course of four days. Do not let the long Inca trail distance intimidate you because the tour guides always look after you and set the pace of going slow and steady. Each day hiking the Inca trail is different. Depending on the tour company, you may be hiking 11km (6 miles) on the first day, 15km (9 miles) on the second, 10km (6 miles) on the third and only 7km (4 miles) on the final day. So even though the Inca trail distance is long, it is easily manageable to complete in these four increments.
Booking the Inca Trail
Visiting Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, is on almost everyone’s bucket list, but hiking the classic Inca trail to Machu Picchu is a once in a lifetime experience. With that being said, booking the Inca trail is very important because the Peruvian government has placed proper regulations. Only 2,500 visitors are allowed per day to Machu Picchu and even less are allowed to hike the Inca trail. A small amount of 500 people are permitted to hike the famous Inca trail per day. Of these 500 includes not only the trekkers but also the cooks, porters, and guides! So booking the Inca trail to obtain your permit is vital!
Best Time to Hike the Inca Trail
It is said that the best time to hike the Inca trail is during the months of May, June, July, and August. Permits for these months typically become available at the beginning of October. (Please note, you MUST book your permit to hike the Inca trail through an officially licensed tour company).
In our opinion we believe the best time to hike the Inca trail is towards the end of June for two reasons:
- On June 24th, Cusco celebrates their anniversary and Inti Raymi with a festival. A week or two leading to this day, Cusco holds parades where young children and adults perform dance routines. It’s an amazing time to be in Cusco and enjoy their culture and traditions.
- You are less likely to experience rain because June is their driest month of the year. However, as global warming continues, the wet season for Cusco and Machu Picchu has been longer every year. We hiked on June 14th and we were told just days before we arrived, it had rained every day for those hiking the Inca trail.
Weather on the Inca Trail
The weather on the Inca trail is almost unpredictable, as we briefly stated above. It could rain on you or it could not – you never know. However, if you are booking the Inca trail during June – August then you have a pretty good chance of mostly clear skies. The basic knowledge for hikers to know about the weather on the Inca trail is cold mornings, hot afternoons and cold nights. During our hike in June, we experienced cold mornings and nights with low temperatures in the 30s (F). In the afternoon it would get as high as 60°F depending on the altitude.
Every morning we would start our hike shivering and trying to keep our hands from freezing, but as we continued our day, the weather on the Inca trail would slowly rise. Some trekkers would start taking jackets off after only 30 minutes, whereas we would keep our jackets on for a few more hours. The weather on the Inca trail would still be cold, but as your body warms up, you do not need as many layers.
The weather on the Inca trail changes drastically day by day. The only thing that remains the same is the mornings and nights are always freezing. The first day is hot until you arrive at the campsite. During the second day of hiking (Dead Women’s Pass), it was cold when we were hiking up and it was warm when we were going down. Scarves, gloves and hats are highly recommended to have with you at all times because if you stop to catch your breath for more than just a few minutes your body will get cold again. The third day is warmer and the last day is cold because you start hiking at 3am.
How to Choose the Right Tour Company
There are over 180 licensed tour companies for the Inca trail hike. That makes finding the most suitable tour company for you extremely hard, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. So here are a few things to consider when choosing the right tour company.
- Cost – your budget is of course very important, but for a trip like this, we advise you to choose a company wisely. The average cost of hiking the Inca trail is between $500 – $650 per person (costs keep increasing with every year). For prices above $650 expect more luxury services. We say to choose a company wisely because this is an intense trip and we do not recommend cutting corners on price.
- What is included? – compare tour companies with their price and what is included in it. Some tours may offer complimentary sleeping mattresses, hotel and/or airport pick up while others may not.
- Do they treat the porters well? – this one is sometimes more difficult to find, but we learned that some companies make their hard-working porters eat cheaper food than what they cook for the trekkers. More so, they do not pay their porter’s fair wages.
- Group size – some tour companies will have group tours as large as 16 or as small as 11.
Hiking the Inca Trail with XTreme Tourbulencia
We thoroughly enjoyed hiking the Inca trail and a lot of it had to do with XTreme Tourbulencia. Prior to our trip, they were very responsive and helpful so that we could be well prepared. Everything was always well organized which made the entire process easy and stress-free. If you are looking for a tour company, we highly recommend booking the Inca trail with XTreme Tourbulencia. And for several reasons.
Full disclaimer – We were offered a generous discount by XTreme Tourbulencia for hiking the Inca trail with them. As always, our opinions are non-biased and our own. We want to thank XTreme Tourbulencia for their generosity and for everyone following and supporting us on all of “Our Sweet Adventures.”
Booking the Inca trail should not break your wallet. We found a lot of tour companies to be overpriced, whereas XTreme Tourbulenica offers a budget-friendly price. The price for hiking the classic 4 day Inca trail costs only $520 (2018). We truly do not believe you will find a better price elsewhere for the same excellent service that XTreme Tourbulenica provides.
XTreme Tourbulencia provides clients with complimentary round trip transportation from the airport or bus/train station. From the moment we landed in Cusco till the moment we left, we were able to always count on them for transportation.
Excellent Customer Service
XTreme Tourbulencia provides excellent customer service. As stated, prior to our trip we received responsive emails to every question we had. Then when we arrived to Cusco, they dropped off the duffel bags (for our porters) at our hotel, so that we could pack them the night before the hike. They also supplied us with pillows, sleeping bags ($20) and trekking poles ($8). Then we were able to store our luggage at their office while we were hiking the Inca trail. When we finished hiking the trail they had already delivered our bags to our new hotel. They truly made everything as easy as possible for us.
Small Hiking Group
We enjoy small group tours so that we can build better and closer relationships with our guide and companions. So when we learned that XTreme Tourbulencia hiking groups are no more than 11 people, we were very excited. Our group ended up being only five people – us, Christina’s sister (our editor) and two Denmark girls. When we came across other groups of 16 people we were so thankful we booked with XTreme Tourbulencia. We loved our small group!
Porters Treated Well
During our hike, we learned that the porters (who work extremely hard) are well compensated and are paid a fair wage for their services. In addition, the guides and porters are never overworked and can have a flexible schedule to spend time with their families.
Always Ready Campsite
Every time we made it to our campsite, our tents were set up with our sleeping mattresses inside and our duffel bags outside. The only thing we had to take care of was taking out/preparing our sleeping bag.
XTreme Tourbulencia is one of the very few tour companies permitted by the government that allows the clients to have a more enjoyable hiking experience. For example, some tour companies must hike a challenging 8-9 hours on the second and third day, whereas we only had to hike for one challenging 8-9 hour (second) day. This allowed us to hike for an easier 5-6 hours on the third day, which provided us more time to relax before our last day hiking to Machu Picchu. This is an extremely important factor when you consider hiking the Inca trail with another company.
We could not believe the food the cooks prepared in the most difficult cooking environments. Everything was delicious. On our last night, they even baked us a pineapple cake! This goes back to their customer service and the overall amazing experience we had with XTreme Tourbulencia.
Everything Included when you Book with XTreme Tourbulencia
- Debriefing of hiking the Inca trail
- Roundtrip private transfer from the airport/train station to your hotel in Cusco and vice versa.
- Private transfer from your hotel in Cusco to km 82 (starting point of hiking the Inca trail).
- A bus going downhill from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes.
- Train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco (Poroy)/or Ollantaytambo and then bus to Cusco.
- Entrance fees to the Inca trail and Machu Picchu.
- Professional bilingual guide (Spanish and English).
- Camping equipment
- Professional two-person tents, sleeping mats, dining tent equipped with a table and chairs, a sanitary tent.
- Chef with proper cooking equipment to prepare meals
- Meals include:
- 3 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners – pancakes, omelets, soups, fresh fruit and spaghetti, chicken, fish, meat and rice.
- Tea and snacks before dinner every day (tea, coffee, wantan, popcorn, cracker).
- Porters to carry the main luggage (all the tents, sleeping mattress, sleeping bag, and cooking equipment).
- First-aid kit and oxygen bottle.
Ready to book the Inca trail with XTreme Tourbulenica? Then click here!
How to Prepare for Hiking the Inca Trail
Hiking the Inca trail is not an easy trek, it is quite challenging but definitely manageable for all levels. Training for the Inca trail is very important as well as packing the correct gear.
Training for the Inca Trail
All three of us trained differently for the Inca trail, but at the same time had similarities. The end result was the same, we all made it to Machu Picchu in one piece. Training for the Inca trail should consist of mostly cardio, some weight lifting and mind over matter. The best form of cardio will be walking up staircases or if you have a gym, the StairMaster. Walking uphill or at an incline on a treadmill is also good cardio training for the Inca trail. If you do weight lifting, building muscle in your legs and lower back is important.
Lastly, mind over matter. Training your brain is not an easy task. You want to push yourself during your workout and when your mind is telling you that’s enough, do one more lap or one more rep. Half the battle of hiking the Inca trail is mind over matter.
To view our full guide on training for the Inca trail, click here.
Packing for the Inca Trail
Packing for the Inca trail can easily make or break your experience. The last thing you want to happen is being uncomfortable while hiking the Inca trail because you did not pack correctly. So when you are packing for the Inca trail consider these items:
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- Base Layers – one to two base layers of shirts and pants are recommended, especially for those who are easily cold. The base layers are most needed for sleeping during the cold nights and hiking in the morning.
- Quick Dry Shirts – we recommend packing at least three short sleeve shirts and one long sleeve shirt.
- Hiking Pants and/or Leggings – hiking pants and/or leggings are great to wear for the four-day trek. Two to three pairs will be fine.
- Merino Wool Socks – these are the perfect type of socks for hiking the Inca trail. They have great breathability and wicking material to keep moisture away from the foot. Definitely pack four pairs.
- Hiking Boots – a proper pair of hiking boots is essential.
- Rain Jacket – even if you hike the classic Inca trail during June through August, you may hike in the rain, so a rain jacket is needed for your packing list.
- Triclimate Jacket – a tri-climate jacket is perfect for hiking the Inca trail because it has several purposes in one jacket. It is also interchangeable which is great for layering.
- Gloves – it is always cold during the morning and night, so gloves are recommended when packing for the Inca trail. We are big fans of The North Face apex gloves.
- Headlamp – a headlamp is great for using at the campsites and essential for your last day on the trail. On your last day, you will be hiking in the dark for around two hours.
- Trekking Poles – trekking poles help a lot during the hike and can be rented in Cusco or you can always bring your own.
- Backpack – of course, a backpack (day back) is essential for hiking the Inca trail regardless if you have a personal porter.
To view our full packing list click here.
Medical Insurance and Vaccinations
Obtaining travel medical insurance and up to date/needed vaccinations is very important for hiking the Inca trail. Speak to your primary doctor about what vaccinations you may need for your trip. In most cases, they will not give you vaccinations until a month before your departure. In our case, we were required to have up to date hepatitis A and B, typhoid, yellow fever, and tetanus.
We highly recommend everyone to purchase good travel medical insurance. Anything can happen during the hike, most likely from injury or illness. In our case, we were diagnosed with an amoeba parasite, which can occur from consuming contaminated food and water. We ended up being hospitalized for two days and missed our flight home. Thankfully we had travel medical insurance, so we did not have to pay a dime and were well taken care of. We have no idea how/where we consumed contaminated food or water because it can take up to 14 days to become symptomatic. So it could have been during the hike, or it could have been from the thermal pools or restaurant in Aguas Calientes. We hope our story has convinced you to purchase the extra travel medical insurance.
What to Expect Prior to Hiking the Inca Trail
We were a little uncertain of what to expect prior to hiking the Inca trail. There were just so many variables we did not know. Such as, where do we leave the suitcases that we do not need to take with us on the hike? Luckily our questions were answered during our tour with XTreme Tourbulencia, but here is what you can expect prior to hiking the Inca trail.
As briefly mentioned, your tour company will arrange a debriefing meeting with you a day or two before you depart for the hike. They will go over what each day will look like in terms of your campsites and how long you will hike each day.
Packing your Porter Bag
Prior to arriving in Cusco, check with your tour company to see if they provided bags for your personal porter (highly recommended). Then when you meet with your tour company make sure you go over the arrangements for your luggage – both for your porter and what you will leave behind. Typically they will give you the bags for your porter so that you can pack the night before you leave for the hike. Then you can leave your suitcases with your tour company or your hotel if you are staying in the same place.
Acclimatizing to the altitude is very important. Cusco is at 3,399 meters high and it is recommended to spend at least two days here to acclimatize to the altitude. To avoid altitude sickness we took prescribed pills from our doctor, drank coca leaves tea and stayed hydrated. It is important to take it easy on your first day and then take a day trip to the Sacred Valley.
What To Expect When Hiking the Inca Trail
We knew how to train for the hike, we knew what to pack, but we were completely clueless on what to actually expect during the hike, except for it was going to be challenging. There is a lot to expect when hiking the Inca trail. It is not just hiking for four days. There are camping, dining, Inca ruins, figuring out how to use the bathroom and more.
Stunning Views on the Inca Trail
Our pictures do not do justice of how stunning the scenery is every day when hiking the Inca trail. You will spend a lot of time looking down at your feet, to not trip, but remember to look around you and enjoy the moment. We have never felt more in-tune to nature than when we were hiking the Inca trail. Snow-capped mountains, valleys, cloud forest, rain forest – it’s beyond beautiful.
Inca Ruins Along the Inca Trail
Silly us, we did not expect to come across so many Inca ruin sites while hiking the INCA trail. Not only did we see so many, but we were able to explore the ruins. We were also able to learn about each individual site as well as general history about the Incas from our XTreme Tourbulencia guide.
Camping on the Inca Trail
There are several campsites along the Inca trail and each one is placed within stunning scenery. Hikers can expect to find their campsite already made and each group having their own designated area. Some campsites offered bathrooms, whereas some had only a tent with a toilet. If you are wanting to shower at the campsite, you must bring your own microfiber towel and you will have only COLD water.
Dining on the Inca Trail
We were very fortunate to have amazing meals prepared by XTreme Tourbulencia. Every day you receive a cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lunch always takes place during a mid-break point. The porters set up the tent for lunch and after everyone dines, it’s typically siesta time. Though you are well fed during the hike, it is advised to pack your own snacks. Power bars, trail mix, and beef jerky are great to obtain protein and nutrients for hiking.
Bathroom 101 on the Inca Trail
On the first hiking day, you will come across bathrooms that are available to hikers for one sole. Make sure you bring a lot of coins, toilet paper and hand sanitizer for yourself. After the first day, toilets are mostly found at lunch breaks and campsites. As previously mentioned, there are bathroom stalls at the campsites, but they are not your typical toilet. The bathrooms on the Inca trail/campsites do not have toilet seats, it is only a hole, therefore you must squat. For ladies, this might be the most difficult part of hiking the Inca trail (it was for Christina). It is uncomfortable and not easy, therefore Christina highly recommends a urination device. Lastly, there are no lights in the bathrooms, so a headlamp is also necessary.
A Day on the Inca Trail
Here is what you can expect on a day on the Inca trail:
- Early wake up at 5am
- Pack up your belongings before breakfast at 5:30am
- Last minute things, such as, brushing your teeth
- Start hiking around 6-6:30am
- Hike for a given period of time and stop for lunch around 1pm
- Enjoy lunch and a 30 minute nap
- Begin hiking again until around 4:30pm
- Arrive at campsite and unpack/get organized in tent again
- Snack/tea time at 5:30pm followed by dinner
- Bed around 8-9pm
Tipping Guide for Porters and Guide
Though it is not required, tipping the porters and guides is very important. You will see every day how hard they work and make the experience enjoyable for you. Honestly, without the porters and guides, hiking the Inca trail would not be possible. They truly make your dream of hiking to Machu Picchu come true. So we advise you to tip them. Each tour company may have a guideline for you, but here is what we recommend. As a group, each porter should receive 80 soles, the cook 100 soles, and your guide 200 soles. Tipping typically happens on your last night (3rd day), so find time to get together with your group and coordinate what everyone wishes to pitch in.
What to Expect When you Arrive at Machu Picchu
We will be completely honest with everyone, we were a little disappointed with Machu Picchu. Do not get us wrong, it is a magnificent site – one of the most beautiful places to visit in Peru and a destination you visit at least once during your lifetime. However, after hiking for three and a half days, being “one” with nature and exploring Inca ruins on your own, Machu Picchu was a bit of a let down (further discussed below).
Arriving at Sun Gate
When you arrive at Sun Gate, it is a hit or a miss. Only because you cannot control or predict what the weather will look like. We experienced a huge cloud hanging over Machu Picchu and could not see a thing. It is still a stunning and rewarding site to see, but after you wait for 15 minutes, if your guide sees that it’s not going to change, then you will most likely move on.
Arriving at Machu Picchu and its Disappointment
Then you arrive at Machu Picchu. Hooray, we did it! So why is it a little bit of a disappointment? Because you have to share your hard earned moment with two thousand other people. For three days all we saw were 20-50 hikers (plus porters and guides). Then on our last day, we had to wake up at 3am to start our final ascent. When we finally arrived at Machu Picchu, it was CROWDED!!! Everything is rushed, so we could barely enjoy and soak in the moment. We have to wait for a hundred people to take the “epic photo” and the entire Inca experience gets lost.
In our opinion, we believe the Peruvian government should regulate different times for the hikers vs. the tourists. They already regulate the number of hikers on the Inca trail and tourists at Machu Picchu. So, why can they not regulate the first hour to the hikers? It makes complete sense to us and I am sure every person who has hiked the Inca trail would agree with us.
We do not want to take away the moment for anyone, but to make you aware of what to expect.
Touring Machu Picchu
After you take photos at the iconic spot, your guide will take you inside Machu Picchu. They will have all the documents you need, you just need to have your passport. Before you enter Machu Picchu, there is a locker just outside the entrance for hikers to store their bags which costs five soles. There is also a bathroom for two soles and it is advised to go because there are no bathrooms inside Machu Picchu. This is also a full bathroom with everything you have missed out on for the last 3 days. Take advantage of it. You are also only allowed to re-enter Machu Picchu once, so plan everything accordingly.
The best time to visit Machu Picchu is early in the morning, the earlier the better. Luckily because of hiking the Inca trail, we did arrive early into Machu Picchu. Our guided tour with XTreme Tourbulencia lasted around two hours. During this time, we explored the ancient ruins and were completely impressed with the engineering capabilities of the Incas.
Every tour will take you entirely through Machu Picchu, which is only a one-way route. After your tour, you may re-enter Machu Picchu one last time and enjoy it at your own pace. You can explore the ruins again or just sit on the lawn and relax. If you are up to hiking once more, you can also hike Waynapicchu for stunning views of looking down at Machu Picchu. This hike must be prearranged when booking the Inca trail.
I hope this has been a helpful guide to everything you need to know for hiking the Inca Trail. It is definitely a once in a lifetime experience that you will never forget!
If you need help booking the Inca trail, I am more than happy to assist you. You may reach my travel agency contact information here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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