Inca trail to Machu Picchu – All you need to know
This is a brief summary of the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We hope it will help you to organize and make the most of your trip. Feel free to make comments and let us know if there is something else we should include here!
Note on booking the Inca Trail
Keep in mind that, in order to prevent further damage to the trail caused by overcrowding, the Peruvian government allows only 500 people per day to start de trek including tourists and support staff. For this reason, we recommend you to book your trip around 5 months in advance, especially if you are planning on visiting during the high season (May to October).
|Location: Cusco, Perú
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
Trail fee: $100
Length of the trail: Approx. 39km/24.23miles
Min. Altitude: 2450m/8038feet (Machu Picchu)
Max. Altitude: 4205m/13796feet (Warmiwañusca Pass)
Max. Temp: 22C/71F
Min. Temp: 0C/32F
Rainy Season: November to March.
Day by day description:
Day 1: Piscacucho Km 82 – Huayllabamba
The trail starts in Piscacucho, a small community located 82 kilometers along the railway from Cusco to Quillabamba. Here you will meet the team of porters, cooks and assistants who will help you throughout the trek. Once we are organized and ready to leave, you will head to the first checkpoint of the route, were your guide will check-in the group- giving passports, entrance tickets to the officers to register the team. After passing the registration checkpoint at Piscacucho you will cross the Urubamba River and start a gentle ascent alongside the river with the background of the breath-taking snowcapped Veronica Mountain until reaching Patallacta; the most important archeological site of this first day. In Patallacta you will notice that you will leave the Urubamba Valley and set off up the Cusichaca River to Tarayoc, where we will set up the tent for lunch time. After Tarayoc the trail will take us uphill to our first camp in the community of Huayllabamba.
Total trekking distance: 12.1 km/7.52 miles (6 hours)
Km 82 – Patallacta: 6.3 km/3.9 miles (2:40 h.)
Patallacta – Huayllabamba: 5.8 km/3.6 miles (3:20 h.)
Highest altitude: 3000m/9843f (Huayllabamba)
Facilities at Campsite:
Toilets: Yes (silo)
Shops: Yes (snacks, bottled water, others)
Day 2: Huayllabamba – Pacaymayo
For many, the second day of the trek is the hardest but the most exciting and picturesque. You will have to climb from 3000m/9842f to 4205m/13796 before a gradual descent to 3590m/11788f. You will leave your camp in Huayllabamba and start a steep climb for one hour until Ayapata were you will find toilets and have the opportunity to buy bottled water or soft drinks. Then you will continue the trail climbing steeply alongside the river Llullucha in a zone with dense forests and vegetation called “Tres Piedras”. From here the trail becomes even steeper for a long 3km hike. The landscape with humid polylepis woodlands, bromeliads and quenelles is worth the effort. This will lead you to Llulluchapampa- were you will be able to buy snacks and bottled water. Restrooms are also available at this point. From here, a path on the left side of the valley climbs up to Wamiwañusca pass known by the local villagers as the “Dead Woman´s Pass”. This pass is the highest point of the Inca Trail (4205m/13796f). From this point you can truly appreciate and enjoy your victory. From here you can see the two sides of the mountain range. After resting for a while in this amazing spot on the top of the mountain you will then start to make your final descent to the Pacaymayo campsite, located at the end of a gorge at an altitude of 3590m/11788f.
Total trekking distance: 8.8 km/5.47 miles (6:45 hours)
Huayllabamba – Llulluchapampa: 4.6 km/2.86 miles (3:30 h.)
Llulluchapampa – Wamiwañusca Pass: 1.8 km/1.12 miles (1:30 h.)
Wamiwañusca Pass – Pacaymayo: 2.4 km/1.49 miles (1:45 h.)
Highest altitude: 4205m/13796f (Wamiwañusca Pass)
Facilities at Campsite:
Toilets: Yes (silo)
Showers: Yes (very cold water)
Day 3: Pacaymayo – Wiñaywayna
The third day will strike you with beauty! You will leave Pacaymayo early in the morning and start a steep climb for 40 minutes toward Runcurakay; an archeological circular site with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and Pacaymayo campsite. Here you will be able to appreciate the magnificence of the Inca engineering with their perfect paving slabs of granite built surrounding the contour of the cliffs and hillsides. Then you will continue your climb up to the second pass of the route- the Runcuracay pass at 3950m/12960f. From here you will capture breath taking scenery. In the front you will have the Vilcambama mountain range with the Pumasillo peak and behind, the snow capped top of the Veronica Mountain. After resting for a while you will descent passing near the Qomercocha lagoon until you reach the archeological site of Sayaqmarka (3600m/11811f). After visiting the site the trail will continue along a preserved stone road and into a cloud forest with different types of ferns, bromeliads, bamboo plants, orchids and polylepis. Following this you will pass by another archeological site, Konchamarka and then reach Chaquicocha, a place where some groups stop for lunch. Here toilets are available. Continuing the trek you will have to climb more stairs and traverse an Inca tunnel carved from the rock. Be sure to stop 5 minutes before reaching Puyupata, the third and last pass. There you will have the chance to stand between the Vilcabamba and Urubamba Mountain Ranges, and enjoy the unique view. Once in the Puyupata pass (3660m/12007f), you will stop for lunch and a brief rest to enjoy the landscape. After that you will find yourself at the Phuyupatamarca site “Town above the clouds” at 3630m/11909f. Then you will continue your way to Wiñaywayna, the goal of the day. The descent from Phuyupatamarka into the cloud forest is another perfect example of the excellent engineering the Incas achieve. Get your knees ready for the approximately 2000 Inca steps that await you. On your way down you will reach Initpata, an amazing site to visit. After three hours of leaving Phuyupatamarka you will reach Winaywayna “Forever Young” at 2700m/8858f, which is one of the most beautiful Incas sites on the route. Here you will spend your last night before heading to Machu Picchu.
Total trekking distance: 13.4 km/8.33 miles (7:50 hours)
Pacaymayo – Runkurakay: 0.8 km/0.5 miles (40 min.)
Runkurakay – Runkurakay Pass: 0.6 km/0.37 miles (35 min)
Runkurakay Pass – Sayaqmarka: 1.6 km/0.99 miles (1 h.)
Sayaqmarka – Caquicocha: 1.5km/0.93 miles (25 min.)
Caquicocha – Phuyupatamarca: 3.5km/2.17 miles (1:45 h.)
Phuyupatamarka – Wiñaywayna: 5.4km/3.35 miles (3:30 h.)
Highest altitude: 3950m/12960f (Runkurakay Pass)
Facilities at Campsite
Toilets: Yes (silo)
Showers: Yes (hot water available for 5.00 Nuevos Soles)
Shops: Local Bar and small shop
Day 4: Wiñaywayna – Machu Picchu
The fourth day, you will have to leave your sleeping bag very early! The checkpoint at Wiñaywayna opens at 5:30am, so nobody can leave before that time. Nevertheless, it’s worth getting to the checkpoint early enough to be one of the first forming the line. This will increase your chances of getting to the Intipunku “The Sun Gate” before the first sun rays of the day light Machu Picchu. This is something you don’t want to miss! Still, we recommend that you are prepared for the possibility that clouds may cover Machu Picchu as weather in the highlands and the cloud forest is unpredictable. But don’t worry, most of the time, clouds just make the scenery even more magical and mysterious.
From Wiñaywayna to Intipunku, it’s just a two hour hike. The final descent to the citadel will take you 15 minutes. From here you will head to the official checkpoint and exit the site. This is done for several reasons; in order to help the agents to control the number of people entering the citadel and for general security. Also, keep in mind that walking sticks are forbidden in the site, so be sure to put them in your bag before heading back to the entrance. Big backpacks are also forbidden, so if you decided to carry yours you will have to leave it at the luggage storages. There are no bathrooms in the park, take your time and use toilets at this point. You will also find shops and restaurants. After passing this last control you will be able to visit Machu Picchu.
Total trekking distance: 4.67 km/2.9 miles (2:10 hours)
Wiñaywayna – IntiPunku: 4.3km/2.67 miles (1:55 h.)
Inti Punku – Machu Picchu: 0.37 km/0.23 miles (15 min.)
Highest altitude: 2680m/8793f
What to pack for the Inca Trail
Your main luggage will be stored in Cusco and you will receive a small backpack the night before the start of your trek. In this backpack you will need to pack for a variety of conditions whilst keeping weight as light as possible. Please note that you will not have access to these items in your backpack until the end of each day as the porters will always be ahead of the group carrying your luggage. It is Peruvian regulations and in order to protect the health of porters, each passenger is allowed to take a backpack of no more than 7 kilograms (15lbs) which includes your sleeping bag. If you think you will need more than 7 kilograms it will be your responsibility to carry the extra amount together with your day pack. Here is a list of what you should bring in your backpack:
- Original Passport (Mandatory)
- Light clothing, thermal clothing (specially for sleeping)
- Rain jacket
- Hat and cap for sun protection
- Woolen socks
- Waterproof trekking boots
- Sandals or light shoes for comfort while at camp
- Sun block lotion and sunglasses
- Insect repellent, minimum recommended 20% DEET
- Small towel
- Toilet paper
- Flashlight with fresh batteries
- Camera, camcorder and extra set of batteries
- Plastic bags for storing your dry clothes
- Sleeping bag (we can rent one if you ask for it)
- Flask where we will supply you with filtered boiled water every day along the trek
- Walking sticks with rubber tips in order not to damage the Inca Trail
- Comfortable small day pack (which you will carry yourselve)
- Cash in soles for small purchases
Things to have in mind for your Inca Trail adventure
Before you go…
Book your Inca Trail permit on time
Keep in mind that in order to prevent further damage to the trail caused by overcrowding, the Peruvian government allows only 500 people per day to start th trek including tourists and support staff. For this reason, we recommend you book your trip at least five months in advance, especially if you are planning to come during the high season (May to September). The entrance fee for the Inca Trail is around $100 and can be bought only by authorized tour agencies.
Before you start the trek…
Have your passport ready
If your passport number has changed since original booking please bring both passports with you. All trekkers are required to carry their passports with them at all times for identification at checkpoints along the trail.
Pack properly, be aware of weight limits
During your trek, your main luggage will be stored in Cusco. On your briefing session, the day prior to departure we will supply you with a small backpack where you will need to repack your belongings for the Inca Trail. Due to Peruvian regulations and in order to protect the health of porters, each passenger is allowed to take a backpack of no more than 7 kilograms (15lbs) which must include the sleeping bag (In case you are paying the additional help to be helped by our porters)
We highly recommended bringing a small day-pack where you will carry your own gear for the day and some other items such as cameras, rain jacket, sunglasses and other personal items you think will be helpful to have during the trek.
Bring a walking stick
If you are thinking about using walking sticks please keep in mind that no sticks with a metal tip are permitted in order to preserve the paths of the Inca Trail. Only wooden sticks and metal ones with rubber tips are allowed. You can purchase one at Ollantaytambo the day before departure. The price should be around $3 and they are made of wood “bamboo”. Another option is to buy the metal ones in the main square of Cusco.
Prevent altitude sickness “Soroche”
Soroche is a common problem that some of the travelers are afraid of when trekking the Inca Trail. Soroche is caused by exposure to low pressure oxygen at high altitude. Soroche can result in headaches, stomach illness, fatigue or to a more serious degree- fluid accumulation in the lungs or cerebral edema which could be very dangerous. However, don’t be afraid of this because “Soroche” can be combated just by doing the basics: Drinking plenty of water! Make sure you are hydrated properly, you ascending slowly and you will be alright. Another good option is to chew coca leaves. Coca leaves are easily obtainable, and are considered by many as the best way to combat potential altitude sickness. A pharmaceutical option is the drug Acetazolamide sold under the trade name Diamox, which works as an effective altitude sickness preventative.
During the trek…
In the highlands temperatures have accentuated variations between day and night with sudden temperature falls after sunset. Expect to have sunny days with temperatures between 15°C to 20°C (59°F to 68°F) and during nights less than 5°C (41°F), reaching 0°C (32°F) at some campsites.
Guides and support staff
For your Inca Trail trek you will have a professional bilingual guide plus one assistant if there are 9 or more passengers. Porters will help us with the backpacks and camping equipment and there will be also a kitchen crew in charge of making delicious food.
You will be served 3 square meals a day plus some snacks but it’s always a good idea to have some extra snacks to eat during the day.
You will need to bring a flask or a bottle of water so we can supply you with filtered boiled water every day along the trek.
Toilet and washing facilities
Stand–up bathrooms with be established along the trail in certain areas. On the second campsite you will find cold showers and the last day you will find hot showers for a price of approximately $3 (5.00 Nuevos Soles). During the day in the morning and evening we will supply warm water in bowls.
If you´d like to trek the Inca Trail with us, take a look to one of our programs or tailor it according to your needs. You can see the full details here: Inca Trail
The Peruvian Soul Team.