Inca Trail Hike: Trek options, cost, packing

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Inca trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the world. The journey will take you to the 15th-century Inca citadel sitting on the Andes Mountain in Latin America. Machu Picchu ruins are one of the main attractions in this citadel, it is one of the 7 Wonders of the World and receives at least half a million visitors per year.

Located Northwest of Cusco city in Peru, there are many ways to reach Machu Picchu, one of the most in-demand ways to get to Inca City is to take the Inca Trail hike. In this article, I discuss many topics about hiking the Inca Trail to help you make an informed decision on how to do it properly and safely.

MUST-READ: 3-weeks in Peru travel itinerary

HOW LONG IS THE HIKE TO MACHU PICCHU VIA INCA TRAIL AND HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE

INCA TRAIL HIKE

Inca City is actually not that far from Cusco, which is the main hub for travellers whose goal is to reach Machu Picchu. However, depending on how much time and energy you have, you can make the trip shorter or longer.

Inca Trail distance

The classic or most popular Inca trail hike is about 26 miles (42km) and often, it takes about 4 days and 3 nights. On the other hand, there are faster ways if you are willing to make the starting point different or you don’t need or want to have too many stops.

How long does it take to do the Inca Trail hike

Depending on the trek type you choose, it can be done between 2-4 days. Some people would start right from Cusco, others will choose a smaller village as a starting point. Some travellers want to add a handful of stops along the way, while others just want to get to Machu Picchu.

The most popular stop along the way are Llactapata and Willkarakay, The Last Inca Town, Dead Woman’s Pass, Runkuracay, Cloud Forests, Inca Tunnels, and even Sacred Valley to name a few.

To decide what’s the best length for you, get the classic Inca trail hike map, look up the stops, and write down which ones you want and don’t want to see. With this information, you can filter the type of hike trail and length for you.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO HIKE INCA TRAIL

INCA TRAIL HIKE

The temperature in Inca city doesn’t change that much throughout the year, but what you need to know when planning your visit is the peak season and rainy season. Since you want to do the Inca trail hike, you want to avoid the rainy months so you can camp and trek safely and with no mud if possible. Peak season also must be avoided since the prices of anything related to Machu Picchu spikes up.

The best time to hike the Inca trail is April to May or November to December, during this time, there is less chance of rain and you get to avoid big crowds and price hikes. Remember that winter and summer in Peru are the opposite of those north of the hemisphere. June, July, and August are the peak season for Machu Picchu.

But throughout the year, the temperature is pretty consistent which is between 57°F to 85°F (14°C to 29°C). Take a look at the hiking trail you will take though if there are a lot of open fields, make sure to cover up since the air is thinner on the highs of Andes Mountain, the intensity of the sun is much higher.

When is the peak season for Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

The peak season of Inca city is between June to August. If you are planning to go during this time, make sure to book your accommodation in advance and most importantly, get your Machu Picchu pass as soon as possible.

The Peruvian government started limiting the number of tourists entering Machu Picchu between 2,000-2,500 a day to help preserve the ruins. The bus tickets and train tickets are also booked up during this time in case you are thinking to take the train to Machu Picchu instead of hiking the Inca trail.

When is the low season for Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

January to April is the low season for Inca city and Machu Picchu. Although, I went in November and it was perfect. It wasn’t too hot, thin crowd, no rain during my visit, and it was easy to book accommodations, tours, and transportation.

Does Machu Picchu have a closed season

Machu Picchu including the Inca trail hike is closed during the month of February. This is the time the local government do repairs and maintenance to make sure to preserve the citadel and also the area is safe for tourists.

INCA TRAIL HIKE DIFFICULTY

Inca trail hike difficulty ranges from easy to hard. There are hikes that only start near the town near Machu Picchu called Aguas Calientes. Just outside of it, the trail from there to the top starts easy and can end pretty hard (depending on which mountain you choose to hike inside the ruins).

Being on a guided tour for the hike means there will be locals who are hired by the hiking company to help with camping stuff. You will carry your own backpack and whatnot, the tour company have staff who will carry camping gear, cooking materials, and even first aid kits.

If you pack light, the trail should be easier and doable. Simply make sure to phase yourself out, get enough liquids, and have a good night’s sleep.

MACHU PICCHU HIKE DIFFICULTY

INCA TRAIL HIKE
Last leg of Machu Picchu Montana (peak from Machu Picchu ruins)

Now, some may argue that the hike from the citadel to one of the mountains doesn’t include the Inca trail but I beg to differ. One thing you need to understand, once you reach the ruins – where the old walls are or simply look up Machu Picchu, is that’s not the peak. Of course, you can simply end your hike here but if you want to go another level, you can.

There are two mountains that stand around Machu Picchu ruins. One is called Huayna Picchu and the other is Machu Picchu Montana. The Huayna Picchu is much easier to hike and has a better view of the ruins which takes about 2 hours, the top is about 2,720 m.

While Montana is about 3-4 hours and the top is 3,061 m, I hiked this one because even during low season, Huayna Picchu’s ticket was sold out. I didn’t regret it, while you can barely see the ruins from the top of Montana, the view was exhilarating, you will see mountain tops with snowcaps, it was epic!

Montana is harder to hike, nearing the top, you will have to almost crawl instead of walk and if you hate heights, you may want to avoid this one. The “crawl” at the top is built on steps/stairs which were about 1.5 metres wide without railings.

INCA TRAIL HIKE ELEVATION

INCA TRAIL HIKE

As I mentioned before, depending on where you are starting, the elevation will differ. What is sure is if you are doing the classic trail, it will start at about 2,600 m, then it ascends to 3,3000 metres. The highest point of the Inca trail is at 4,200 metres but there are hiking tours that can bypass and reroute the trail that fits you best.

WHAT TO PACK FOR THE INCA TRAIL HIKE

The good news is, if you are booking a guided tour, which you should, they will provide camping gear such as a tent, sleeping bag, and even a poncho. The main things you should pack and bring with you are:

PACKING TIPS: Smart packing for 3-week trips

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO BOOK FOR THE INCA TRAIL HIKE TOUR

Depending on when you are going. If you are going during peak season (June-August), make sure to book your Inca trail hike, Machu Picchu tickets, and train ticket (back to Cusco from Machu Picchu), at least three (3) months before.

If you are going during a low season like me, I didn’t book anything until two weeks before I arrive. I also got the Machu Picchu ticket the day before I actually enter Machu Picchu ruins which were fine unless you want to hike Huayna Picchu instead of Montana.

However, even if you are going to Machu Picchu during the low season, I still recommend you book accommodations, tickets, trail hikes, and trains at least a month before your trip.

INCA TRAIL HIKE TOUR AND COST

The Inca trail hike classic which is about 4 days and 3 nights, costs between $500-$1,000 USD. The price changes depending on the accommodation and train class (for going back to Cusco). If you go with the lowest budget and don’t mind stripping down all the luxuries, you can get the prices of $500-$600.

When booking a tour, you should make sure that it includes the ones you want to be covered. For example, the tour guide fees, tents and sleeping bags/accommodations, food, insurance, Machu Picchu pass, and transportation to bring you back to Cusco.

To save money, some visitors would only book the going there part and handle the train tickets on their own. This works best especially if you don’t want to hike the Machu Picchu ruins and peak the same day you arrive in Aguas Calientes.

Instead, you only need to book the entire hike and let the tour operators know you don’t need accommodation in Aguas Calientes, a Machu Picchu pass, and a train ticket back to Cusco as you wish to spend a few days in Aguas Calientes instead.

LAST TIPS

I can’t really say if the Inca trail is suitable for you or worth it because I’m not sure the type of person you have. But if you don’t mind being uncomfortable for a few days, have limited food choices, physically can, and have hiked longer than a day before, you should definitely do this.

If you are short on time, you can still do a mini-hike which means, you can take the train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo. It will take you to the town called Aguas Calientes, from here, you can hike to Machu Picchu ruins then hike from there to either top of Huayna Picchu or Montana then hike back to Aguas Calientes which will take the entire day if you go as early as 7 am.

If you physically can’t hike at all, you can catch the train to Aguas Calientes then from there, you can take the bus to Machu Picchu ruins and back to the town then catch the train back to Cusco or Ollantaytambo.

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Dreaming of hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu? Here's everything you need to know from planning, which tour to take, and what to expect via @threeweektraveller

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