Inca Trail Trek Overview
Follow in the footsteps of an ancient civilisation to their sacred city, Machu Picchu.
The Inca were a highly organised civilisation and created many Inca paths throughout the Andes in a network they called Qhapaq Ñan. The most famous of all the paths is known simply as Camino Inca or The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the royal route to the remnants of the breathtaking mountaintop city of Machu Picchu.
Spread over four days, the spectacular 44-kilometre Inca Trail Trek crosses three stunning high passes and encounters many ancient archaeological sites, culminating at the citadel of Machu Picchu. There are few treks in the world that combine natural beauty, history and mystery with such an awe-inspiring final destination.
The Inca Trail Trek can be demanding but can be completed by anyone who leads a reasonably active life - you certainly don’t need to be an athlete. Everyone is able to walk at their own pace and there is no rush to finish. The trekking group is led by an expert local guide and supported by a team of porters and cooks, leaving you with only a small day pack to carry. If you are in any doubt or if you have any condition that may affect your ability to trek, we advise that you consult your doctor.
Inca Trail permits
A permit is required before you commence the Inca Trail trek and the trail is closed during February for conservation and cleaning. Use our live Inca Trail permits tool to find out whether there are permits available. If there are no permits available, you can still hike the Lares Trail.
The trail itself involves approximately three days of walking. It is led by a guide and assistant guide(s) – one of whom will stay at the front and another at the back with the last person (you may have several assistant guides if your group is large). Therefore faster people do not have to wait and slower people do not feel they are holding anyone up. Groups tend to spread out naturally along the track and there are no prizes for being first and no shame in being the last.
Unlike climbing to the summit of a mountain, The Inca Trail trek is undulating and there are even (a few) flat sections. What this does mean is that on some days (particularly on day 2 up to the highest pass – ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ at 4,200m) it can be a hard going (seemingly never ending!) uphill slog. Naturally the uphills are countered by some prolonged downhill sections and this can be even tougher on the legs.
It is important to remember that the trail is not three solid days of challenging trekking, rather it is varied and the difficulty level can change two or three times within the same day. The most imperative factor in tackling the trail is to take it slowly (try to take small, shuffling steps), walk at your own pace (this is vital) and remember that it is not a race! Drink plenty of water and take breathers often (buy a cheap walking stick in Ollantaytambo and lean on it rather than sitting down). Those who charge into every uphill section and want to be the first at every pass will find the trail the toughest.
The Inca Trail is certainly not easy but you do not need to be an athlete or a trekking expert to complete it. Fitness is naturally important but it is the kind of trek that anyone with a positive attitude and determination can do. However the more fit you are the more you will enjoy the trail and the more chance you will have to take in the scenery and appreciate the Inca ruins dotted along the way. If you do not exercise regularly, it is advisable to do some extra walking or some kind of aerobic activity in the months leading up to your trip.
Many people worry whether they will be able to cope physically but complete failure is rare and would usually only result from severe altitude sickness or a person lacking even a basic level of fitness. Adults of all ages (from teenager to pensioner) complete the trek and age itself is no barrier if you are positive minded and live an active lifestyle. Before departing for your tour, we recommend visiting the doctor who will be able to provide you with more information. If you are planning to take your children to Peru, please be advised that the minimum age for hiking the Inca Trail is 13 years old.
Altitude can affect anyone at moderate to high altitude (generally anything over 3,000 metres). Altitude sickness is caused by the lack of oxygen which can be up to a third less than at sea level. No one understands why some people are affected and others not and age, level of fitness and strength is no indication of how well you will fare. Be aware that altitude sickness can be serious, so if your guide advises you to rest or descend, please do as instructed. As the Inca Trail trek is a mixture of ascents and descents, altitude sickness is often short term and suffering from it does not necessarily mean you will be unable to complete the trek. Drugs are available to combat the effects of altitude sickness. We advise you to visit your doctor before you travel on all of our tours but when hiking the Inca Trail, it is imperative that you do so.
The trek will be led by an experienced guide with extensive local historical and archaeological knowledge. You will pass many Inca ruins along the way and your guide will conduct short tours wherever it is possible to do so. A team of porters will carry all equipment leaving you with just a small daypack to carry. The cook will prepare three meals a day (while camping) plus provide hot drinks and snacks.
All camping gear (tents are two person) and cooking equipment is supplied (except sleeping bags). Each day the porters will overtake the group to arrive in camp well in advance. This gives them plenty of time to set up camp and start to prepare dinner. Tents are two person A-frame style and there is a communal dining tent for eating and staying dry – if it rains. Sleeping mats are provided and these will be laid out in the tents by the porters. When you get into camp you will be able to collect your duffle bag and access your clothes/toiletries. The porters usually also provide a small bowl of warm water, soap and a small flannel / towel for every person to wash their hands when reaching camp and each morning. Campfires are not permitted so there is not a lot to do after dinner and most people retire to bed early. Please note that campsites are subject to change depending on availability. You will be advised at the Inca Trail trek briefing of the exact campsites you will be staying at.
There are toilet blocks (with ceramic squat toilets) dotted along the Inca trail. These little blocks are usually well hidden from view and are surprisingly clean. Between these toilet blocks the only choice is to go ‘behind a bush’! Lunch stops are often made in the vicinity of a toilet block. Toilet blocks are usually available in camp on the second and third night. The location of camp on day one can vary and it is likely that you will have to use a toilet tent or the bush. Taking your own toilet roll is essential but it is important not to flush loo paper away. Showers are available at the campsite on day 3. On this night all trekkers camp at the same place so demand for the showers can be high, however as everyone arrives into camp at different times in the afternoon you may be lucky and not have to queue for too long.
The food provided by the porters and cook is nothing short of amazing. Trekkers can expect a breakfast of omelettes or pancakes, a ‘takeaway’ snack pack of fruit or chocolate to eat mid morning, a two course lunch of soup and meat with pasta or rice, afternoon tea on arrival at camp with biscuits and popcorn and a three course dinner. Breakfast and dinner is accompanied by hot drinks (tea, coffee, chocolate) and lunch usually by cordial (other drinks e.g. soft drinks or beer are at your own expense and can be pricey on the trail). All food is prepared, served and cleared away by the cook and porters and the quality of the meals is quite something when you consider that all the ingredients and basic cooking equipment has been carried in. Trekkers will certainly not go hungry and special dietary requirements can be catered for if specified in advance. You will be able to buy bottled water on day 1 and 2 of the trek at various points along the way, after this you will refill your empty bottles from boiled water provided by the porters. Boiled water will be provided during the trek when it is possible to make camp.
Your porters, guides and cooks have amazing strength, stamina and skill and generally make your trek a thoroughly enjoyable and hassle-free experience. Most people would almost certainly not be able to complete the trek without them. It is therefore commonly accepted that the standard combined tip for guides, porters and cooks on the Inca Trail is US$35 per trekker.
The weather in the Andes can be very unpredictable and you should be equipped for bad weather. Peru is located in the southern hemisphere meaning the winter extends from June to August. In the summer months daytime temperatures can be extremely hot & humid, but the nights can be very cold. During winter it can be cold during the day and particularly cold at night. It is usual to encounter some rain on the trail all year round so a poncho is ideal along with thermal underwear if you really feel the cold. (Cheap throw away ponchos which fit over everything including your day pack can be bought in Cuzco for about US$1.)
You will need a good warm sleeping bag for the Inca Trail trek. Where possible we recommend you bring your own sleeping bag, however adequate ones can be hired locally (for approximately US$10) but we can take no responsibility for the standard. If you are planning to hire a bag it is a good idea to bring a silk sleeping bag liner to use inside for added warmth and comfort.
A four season* (or -10) bag is recommended for the winter months. At other times you will probably be fine in a 3 season (or -4/-5) bag although this depends on how much you feel the cold and is given as a guideline only. Roll mats are provided on the Inca Trail however for greater comfort and warmth, Thermorest style mattresses can also be hired in Cuzco for US$10.
*Please note: If you are travelling in winter and you do not wish to invest in a 4 season bag you may want to consider purchasing a 3 season bag plus a sleeping bag liner and bringing additional clothing.
Good quality, comfortable footwear is essential. Whatever you wear on your feet the most important thing is comfort. It is vital to ensure your boots are well worn in and lightweight. Ankle support and waterproofing is recommended but if you already have something comfortable with good grip on rocks then don’t go rushing out to buy new boots – you are better off with your well worn in pair!
During the Inca Trail trek your main luggage will be stored in Cuzco and you will receive a small duffle bag at your Inca Trail briefing (which will be held the evening before you start the trek) to pack clothes for 3-4 days. Your team of porters will carry these bags together with the food and equipment for the trail. Please note that you will not have access to these items until the end of each day as the porters will always be ahead of the group and you should therefore bring a day pack in which you can carry personal belongings such as your camera, water and sun screen etc. By Peruvian law the duffle bag carried by the porters must not weigh more than 5kg (10lbs) which is to include your sleeping bag - this limit is set to protect the health of porters. All bags will be weighed before being accepted. If you require more than 5kg, it will then be your responsibility to carry the extra amount together with your day pack.
Click here for our recommended Inca Trail trek packing list.
See our Peru adventure tours page for the full list of packages that include the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.