Hike the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

9 December, 2020 | Reccy Guide

The Inca were masters at building roads, as a result there are a number of ancient trails leading to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Of all the routes, the Classic Inca Trail, a 4 day, 3 night hike which takes hikers from a point close to the town of Ollantaytambo (~62km from Cusco, ~1.5 hour by road) to the ruins of Machu Picchu is the most established and popular. 

Explore trip itineraries, accommodation, transport, required gear, fitness plan, insurance and more

While there are many different ways (train, bus and multiple trek routes) to reach Machu Picchu, the Classic Inca Trail is the only route where the hikers get to enter through the famous Sun Gate just after sunrise and enjoy the descend to the magnificent Machu Picchu before the site starts getting crowded. You can spend a good 4 to 5 hours at the site before heading out to Aguas Calientes, the local town for lunch before taking the train or bus back to Cusco.

Seasons

Demand for this trek is very high during the dry season (May – Oct) when there is very little rain. Average temperature during the day is ~20C, however there is a significant drop in temperature at night, sometimes even falling below freezing. Demand for tour packages is very high during the dry season and trails are more crowded.

Demand is relatively less during the wet season (Mid Oct to mid Apr) when there is more rain, trails are more slippery and muddy. However, mountains and forests are more lush and green during this time.    

Duration

The Classic Inca trail is of shorter length (~40km) compared with some of the other trails leading to Machu Picchu. However, most of the trail is uphill and hence requires good physical preparation. Having said that, age is not a bar as hikers and tourists of all shape, size and age do this trail. Most operators have a minimum age requirement of 12 for this trek, however, many experts advise that below 14 year olds should not join this trek.

View during the Inca trail trek  

Hub

Almost all the Classic Inca Trail treks start from Cusco, a popular tourist destination in Southeast Peru. Cusco is the erstwhile capital of the Inca Empire, known for its history and of course as a gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Located at an elevation of 11,150 ft (3,330 m), Cusco is the perfect place for acclimatization; in fact it is recommended that you spend at least two nights in Cusco before commencing the trek. It is also the hub where you can take stock of your inventory and rent or buy any missing item from the packing list. 

Most of the tour companies who organize these treks have a team of support staff who carry everything required at the campsites. They also carry a duffel bag for each hiker, each weighing not more than 5 to 6 kg. Here you can pack your sleeping bag, sleeping mat, some spare clothes and toiletries. In your day pack you can carry some snacks, camera, water, sunscreen, and any medication you may need. Due to the wide variation in weather, you should pack for extreme temperatures and dress in layers. 

View of Inca ruins at Machu Picchu

Typical itinerary

  • Day 1: Travel from Ollantaytambo to km.82 in the morning and hike to campsite with a steep section towards the end
    • Approx. 6.8 miles/ 11 km | Elevation Gain: 350 m | Grade: Moderate
  • Day 2: Hike through cloud forest, steep climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass, descend to campsite 
    • Approx. 7.5 miles/ 12 km | Elevation Gain: 1,115 m | Grade: Difficult
  • Day 3: Very scenic with multiple steep sections,   
    • Approx. 9.6 miles/ 15.5 km | Elevation Gain:| -1,000m | Grade: Moderate
  • Day 4: Early rise to hike ~2 hours to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu.
    • Approx. 3.1 miles/ 5 km
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