Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
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The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the most famous treks in South America and is considered by many to be a top five trek in the world. This 26 mile trail takes you over the peaks of the Andes, through lush forests, and along ancient Inca paved pathways. Finally, after 4 days on the trail, you will reach your final destination: Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail hike is the perfect mix of adventure and history, certain to satisfy even the most experienced traveler. Read on to learn more about this iconic multi-day hike.
The Inca Trail hike is rich with culture and history. Built during the 15th century, the trail was originally used as a route of pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. The mountains were sacred to the Incas and, as a result, they would honor them by performing religious ceremonies and rituals along the way. It is important to keep this in mind as you take in the sights on the way to your final destination: Machu Picchu. Also believed to be constructed during the 15th century, this Inca citadel has inspired visitors for hundreds of years. Although its exact use is still undetermined, it is believed to have been a royal estate for Inca rulers. It was eventually abandoned 80 years after its construction.
What to Expect
Distance: 26 miles
Duration: 4 Days, 3 Nights
Completing the Inca Trail hike is no easy task. Unless you are a veteran backpacker, a guide will be necessary to complete the hike to Machu Picchu. They’ll lead the way and make sure you make it to your destination safely. You’ll need to pack for an extended backpacking trip. If you’re unfamiliar with what to bring on a backpacking trip, check out our beginner's guide to backpacking. The next challenge, after you’ve packed your bag, is to get to the trail. To do this, you’ll need to take a train or bus from the Peruvian city of Cusco to Kilometer 82, which is where you will begin hiking the Inca Trail. The trailhead is located on the North end of a small bridge that crosses the Urubamba River. It is situated just outside of a small city named Chillca.
The first day of your journey will be the easiest. The trail will be flat most of the day with a bit of elevation gain toward the end. The first day is a great day to get warmed up for the rest of the trek. Along the way, you’ll be treated to stunning scenery as the trail winds through trees and along the Urubamba River. Your day will end near ancient Inca ruins where you will set up camp and prepare for the next day.
The second day will test you. It’s all about climbing but will reward you with spectacular views. Your day will likely start early and get going quick. After you leave camp you will soon find yourself peaking out above the treeline to sprawling mountain views. You will continue to climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point on the trail. From there, you’ll begin your descent down beautiful stone steps, carved hundreds of years ago by the Inca.
As the second day is about climbing, the third day is about descending. One of the biggest misconceptions about hiking is that descending is easy. Going down a mountain takes a huge toll on your knees, which is why it's so important to choose the correct hiking boot. To minimize the risk of injury, make sure to keep your knees bent and in a ready position when descending a mountain.
Day four is the final day of hiking and the day you finally reach Machu Picchu. The last leg of the trek is a mix of trails and carved stone stairs that offer stunning views of the jungle. Before you complete the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you will arrive at a final set of stairs leading to the Sun Gate, where you get your first amazing view of Machu Picchu. From there, most hikers are tired and choose to do the tour of the citadel the next day, but what you do is up to you!
Tips for While on the Trail
Bring trekking poles. As we mentioned earlier, descending a mountain will take a great toll on your knees. Trekking poles are great for additional comfort and stability while on the trail.
Break in your boots! Stiff boots can suck! For a comfortable ride, we recommend breaking in your boots 1-2 months before your trip.
Bring sunscreen. Sunscreen is an often overlooked backpacking essential that will come in handy on the Inca Trail hike.
Train before you go. This hike will be a challenge. It doesn't take intensive training, but warming up before your trip with a few longer hikes won’t hurt.
Consider Salkantay! Salkantay is an alternative route that offers the same incredible views you get on the Classic Inca Trail hike. Although it’s longer, many people prefer this route because it sees less foot traffic. If you’re interested, check out our amazing guided trip that takes you along the Salkantay route and ends at Machu Picchu. It’s perfect for both beginners and novice hikers who want to challenge themselves.
There you have it: the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. This has got to be one of our favorite treks! The sights, the sounds, and the history make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience we know you will love!