It has always been a dream of mine to hike the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu and as part of my 2 week trip to Peru, Bolivia and Colombia I finally realised it. I had a successful hike (apart from the weather), but that was because I was well prepared before setting off.

Things to know before you go

Permits

It’s essential that you obtain a permit for the Inca Trail trek and this must be booked and confirmed many months beforehand, but most overland tour companies can organise the hike for you. We can book a range of different tours and routes for you, but we must have full and correct passport details at the time of booking. This will be checked at the start of the hike and every detail must match exactly, so remember to bring your passport on the day.

(The entire Inca Trail is closed during the month of February for conservation work).

Have the right gear

Some well-worn and comfortable walking boots are vital. Likewise, a pair of sandals/flip flops to wear around the camp to let your feet relax after a day’s hiking. You need to pack light, comfortable clothing and plenty of layers as it can get very warm during the day and very cold at night. Prepare for all weathers; sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hat, woolly hat, waterproof coat, poncho and a decent torch are all essential. Also you will need a very good (and lightweight) sleeping bag, but this can be hired from the trek company if need be. Do note that everything in your bag must weigh no more than 5kg!

A bit of training beforehand really helps

Most people should be able to complete the trail without problems, but be honest with yourself – do you have a reasonable level of fitness to walk 30km over 4 days feeling out of breath at times? Some parts of the trek are incredibly steep, but a few comfortable day hikes or country walks would be enough to feel prepared.

For a little more advice, see our Machu Picchu information.

Day 1: Km. 82 to Huayllabamba (about 5 hours/13km)

This is the easiest day of the hike which helps you get acclimatised to the trek. Most of the hike is fairly flat with the start of the incline towards the end of the day.

There are a few formalities to complete; notably weighing your bags and permit checks which take a little while. It’s also where you first meet your amazing group of porters, cooks and your guide. These people are simply incredible; they each carry up to 25kg of equipment consisting of everything needed for your camp and run ahead of you to make sure everything is prepared for your arrival at the end of the day. You will soon become used to them whizzing past you and running the hike while you’re still struggling to walk.

Our amazing cook Pio managed to put together 3 course meals throughout the journey to make sure we were suitably fed and watered throughout, even making some clever fruit and vegetable sculptures in the process!

This first campsite was also perhaps our nicest campsite as we stayed on a local farm for the night. Our friendly hostess sold us snacks and bottled water for the journey at reasonable prices. The view from our tents was beautiful with the sun setting over snow-capped peaks in the distance.

Day 2: Huayllabamba to Pacaymayu (about 7 hours/9km)

This is probably the biggest challenge physically as most of the day is spent climbing up the top of Warmiwanusca (known as Dead Woman’s pass) at an altitude of 4,215m – the highest point on the trek.

The views are great along the way and you’ll be able to pause many times along the way for photos. Once you start descending from the other side you’ll immediately feel better and faster – and it’s not so long away from your second camp for the night.

Day 3: Pacaymayu to Winaywayna (about 7 hours/15km)

This is a mostly downhill trek and you steadily decrease in altitude, but this is where your walking poles come in handy as the descent can take a toll on your thighs and knees without them.

I had torrential rain on this day which made the pathway incredibly slippery and I fell over a couple of times. You’ll have views of the valley floor below if you have a clear day (sadly not for us). It’s also seen as the “cultural” day of the trek, as you visit several Inca ruins and the guide has some interesting stories as to what they were used for.

At the end of the day, you reach Winaywayna, where you will camp next to an enormous ruin that looks like a great amphitheatre. It’s a truly stunning finish line to reward you for the day’s trek and to prepare you for your final sprint to Machu Picchu.

Day 4: Winaywayna to Machu Picchu (about 1 hour)

Be warned - you start this last day incredibly early! We had a 3am wakeup call – but it’s worth it to get to the warden’s post first to start your trek to the Sun Gate in time for daybreak. After yet more permit formalities, an hour’s gentle walk takes you to the site of Machu Picchu.

Although there was no sun for us, it was still an incredible sight to arrive at the ancient city with an overwhelming sense of pride and achievement for completing the hike!

Your finish point needs no explanation; Machu Picchu really is an incredible place and thankfully as good as I’d hoped, despite the weather. Also included in your hike price is a guided tour, before your own free time to go around and grab a space at the top of the hill for the all-important photos!

I’m now looking into other hikes in the area to plan a return visit in the future, notably the Lares Trek and the Salkantay Trek – which my colleagues at Travel Nation Chris and Mark have completed, and I’m keen to find out more. This trip has really made me keen on more hiking trips in the future.

Machu Picchu, Peru

The Lares route: an alternative Machu Picchu hike

Chris West

Senior Travel Consultant
at Travel Nation
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Salkantay Peak, Peru

Inca Trail alternatives: the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu

Mark Keogh

Senior Travel Consultant
at Travel Nation
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Interested in the classic Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu?

If you’re interested in hiking the Inca Trail, I can help you plan your trip to Peru and get you booked on to a trip that suits you, with all the permits arranged. If you want to visit Machu Picchu in a more sedate fashion, I can also book you on to the scenic train that will take you there without the hike! To start planning your trip, just contact Graham.