You want to hike the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu the world wonder, but do not have four days left? Then a day hike on the Inca Trail is just the thing for you!
In this article you will find a detailed description of the 13-kilometer day hike on the Inca Trail that I did during my Peru tour with Intrepid Travel. Then I answer all the important questions about booking, travel, altitude sickness, and luggage and visit the ruined city of Machu Picchu.
The legendary Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is the king of Peruvian trails and a true once-in-a-lifetime experience that many people are on their bucket list. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a total of 45 kilometers long and takes you from the banks of the Rio Urubamba on the 82 km to the mysterious ruins Machu Picchu, which is high in the Andes at over 2,300 meters altitude. The complete hike takes four days. You cross three mountain passes, passing gorges with tropical vegetation, rainforests, waterfalls and remote Inca ruins. Overnight stays in tents in designated camps along the route.
Since the Inca Trail is the most popular hike in South America, you should look into signing up early. The hike is only possible with a certified guide and a pre-booked admission.
Do not you feel like camping? Is the four-day hike over three mountain passes too exhausting for you? Or are you simple and do not have enough time available, but still want to experience the magic of the Inca Trail? Then a day tour on the Inca Trail is just the thing for you! You will walk the last leg of the journey and, like everyone else, end up at the sacred Sun Gate Inti Punku and visit the ruins of Machu Picchu.
Starting points for the day hike
The two possible starting points for the last section of the Inca Trail are either Cusco or Ollantaytambo. From both cities, take the train (Inca Rail), which will take you, to the starting point of the hike. But the train journey in nostalgic ambience alone is a real experience!
Hike on the Inca Trail
Arriving at the 104th kilometer, your passport will be checked and the day’s hike on the short Inca Trail 2 days can begin. The first highlight is the ruins of Chachabamba. Then the path leads past waterfalls, through dense rainforest, over steps and stones, always uphill and downhill.
During the hike you will always be rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains as well as of the river Urubamba, which meanders far away through the valley. Along the way grow gigantic trees, tropical plants and a variety of bright orchids.
Winay Wayna ruins
After about four hours you will reach the impressive Inca ruins Winay Wayna, which are terraced on a steep mountain slope and surrounded by dense greenery. In my opinion, this place is just as fascinating as Machu Picchu. The big advantage: few tourists come here. With a little luck you’ll have the ruins almost for you and your hiking group alone.
Sonnentor Inti Punku
By far the most exhausting part of the day’s hike awaits you in the last few meters in front of the Sun Gate Inti Punku. Would be too boring, if you would come snuggled here, because breathtaking views are all the more valuable, if you struggled struggling, right? Anyway, you can reach Inti Punku with a flushed head and completely out of breath, because before you have to conquer some extremely steep steps.
Once at the top, you should first take a breather and enjoy the magnificent view. You are now standing at the gateway to the world wonder Machu Picchu, at an altitude of 2,750 meters, and are looking for the first time at the legendary Inca ruins and the nearby mountain peak Wayna Picchu. The many people teeming with the ruins seem like ants from up here.
If you pass the Sonnentor, it is still about half an hour’s walk to the temple complex.
World wonder Machu Picchu
After a total of 13 kilometers covered, you arrive in the ruined city with tired bones and heavy legs. Although thousands of people are jostling their way through the narrow streets and the light is not exactly the best conditions for taking photographs, this moment is absolutely magical and no matter how many times you have already seen Machu Picchu in pictures, standing in that place once in your life is an intoxicating feeling that you will not forget so quickly.
And that is certainly not because Machu Picchu is considered a wonder of the world, but rather because of the seclusion of the place, in the middle of the Peruvian Andes, as well as the buildings that the Incas created here so many years ago. Numerous legends surround the
creation of Machu Picchu, but due to lack of evidence, the true story of this place will probably remain a mystery forever.
Morning fog at Machu Picchu
After spending the night in Aguas Calientes, the village at the foot of Machu Picchu, the next morning you should definitely take the bus back to the ruined city. Believe me, it is worth to visit Machu Picchu a second time, because in the early morning the mood is completely different. At the entrance, it is best to keep right and follow the path to the Inca Bridge. Above the ruined city you will find large grass areas where you can take pictures undisturbed and enjoy the view.
With a bit of luck, even fog will hang on the surrounding mountain peaks and envelop Machu Picchu in a mystical cloud. When golden sunbeams break through the fog and illuminate the green cliffs, you win the jackpot. Just sit down and watch the natural spectacle. It blew me away!
Guided tour of the ruins
Another advantage of a second visit is the rest of the time, which you can now use for a guided tour of the ruins, because so far you have only looked at the Inca city from above. A guide can explain you the individual buildings exactly and gives you a lot of interesting background information to the wonders of the world. For example, I was fascinated by the construction technique used by the short Inca trail here. Tons of heavy stone were stacked by human hands with millimeter precision and hold until today – and without any mortar.
Important information about the Inca Trail & Machu Picchu
Do I have to expect altitude sickness on the Inca Trail?
Since many places in Peru are over 3,000 meters high, you should expect the altitude sickness on a Peru round trip, which has symptoms similar to sea sickness and can, but does not necessarily have to hit anyone. To avoid headaches, dizziness, nausea and tiredness, you should get used to the altitude before starting the trek. Give your body one to two days to acclimatize. You can do this wonderfully in Cusco, because the city is located at 3,399 meters.
Since you can overcome relatively large height differences in a short time on the Inca Trail and make a physical effort, the altitude sickness can still strike during the hike. Therefore always make sure to drink enough water, take breaks and not to overstrain. Listen to your body!
When is the best travel time for the Inca Trail?
The best time for a hike on the Inca Trail is the dry season between mid-March and mid-December. During the dry season there is an absolute high season in Peru, but outside of this time you run the risk of walking in constant rain. Incidentally, the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance in February.
Where do I leave my luggage during the hike?
During the hike, your main luggage will remain at the property in Cusco. The hotels are set for such tours and have secured storage rooms. For the one night in Aguas Calientes you will be provided with a so-called duffle bag, a small cloth carry bag, which will be transported to the hotel during the hike. Everything else you take with you in the day pack.
How long in advance do I have to book the Inca Trail?
To protect the path of the Inca, the surrounding landscape and the ruins along the way, the Inca Trail permits are limited to 500 people per day. Since the demand is extremely high, you should book your hike at least six months in advance. This is especially true for the main season. For the booking you need a copy of your passport. The train and bus tickets as well as the tickets for Machu Picchu by train 2 days can also be booked online in advance.
If you are traveling with Intrepid Travel in Peru like me, everything is organized from Peru (Cusco) and you do not have to worry about anything. You will be picked up at your hotel in Cusco in the morning, taken to the starting point of the hike and taken back to the starting point after the night in Aguas Calientes and the second visit to Machu Picchu. Admission to the Inca Trail, all transfers, entrance to the ruined city and hotel accommodation are included in the price. You can find all information about my journey with Intrepid Travel here.
Are there alternative routes to the Inca Trail?
Since the Inca Trail is one of the most popular routes to the ruined city of Machu Picchu, it is often booked out for months in advance. Fortunately, there are some alternative routes that I have not hiked yet, but still want to introduce you briefly:
The three-day Lares Trek will take you from the village of Lares to Ollantaytambo, crossing the 4,450-meter Ipsaycocha Pass. This trek is very little frequented and offers you fascinating insights into the life of the Peruvian rural population. The only drawback: You do not arrive in Machu Picchu itself, but in Ollantaytambo and from there, like all other day visitors, take the train to Aguas Calientes and from there the bus to Machu Picchu, which I personally do not like so much.
The 71 kilometer long Salkantay Trek to Inca Trail starts in Mollepata and leads you over the 4,600 meter high El Paso to Aguas Calientes. Also on this hike you will not arrive on foot in Machu Picchu. The big advantage, however, is that the Salkantay Trek has no access restriction and you therefore do not have to apply for a permit.
The Vilcabamba Trek starts in the Vilcabamba Valley and takes you to Aguas Calientes within five days. On the way you cross three passes. The hike is accordingly demanding and only suitable for experienced hikers.
What should I have with me on the hike?
For a day hike on the Inca Trail including accommodation you will receive a so-called duffle bag, a small carrying bag for one day. It will be transported to your next accommodation the morning before the trek and will be waiting for you in the evening. Here you can pack some change clothes, sleeping things, cuddly socks, toothbrushes, washing clothes, charging cables etc.
In your day pack , which you carry with you during the hike, you pack your passport (very important for the hike as well as for the bus!), Sufficient drinking water, snacks, sun cream and your camera. Depending on the weather, it is best to put onions. A windproof fleece jacket and a hat against the sun can not hurt. Be sure to be prepared for sudden rain showers (pack rain poncho !) And make sure you are wearing good hiking boots .
Where can I sleep after the hike?
If you arrive in Machu Picchu in the late afternoon, it is best to take the bus to Aguas Calientes, also called Machu Picchu Town. A ride costs you 12 US dollars. In Aguas Calientes you will find
many restaurants, cafes, small supermarkets and plenty of souvenir shops, as well as hot springs where you can relax your tired legs.
As a place to stay I can recommend the Hotel Inti Punku , which is located just a few meters from the train station.
Is it worth it to visit Machu Picchu twice?
In my opinion, it is definitely worth the morning after the hike to start again by bus. The reasons are several. For one thing, after the hike, you arrive in Machu Picchu late in the afternoon. Until the plant is closed, you will not have much time to let the wonder of the world rest on you or visit the ruins. In addition, Machu Picchu is completely overcrowded at this time of day and sprayed only a little charm.
The next morning, you should leave early in the morning (preferably before dawn) to experience the true magic of Machu Picchu. At this time you have the best chance of atmospheric light and fog. Had I not experienced such a morning, I might have been disappointed with Machu Picchu.
If you stay overnight in Aguas Calientes, you can catch one of the busses starting at 5 am, which will drive to the ruined city every 5 minutes. Best to queue up early and calculate long waiting times. The round trip costs a total of 24 US dollars. Alternatively, you can walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. The trail is quite steep and takes about 1.5 hours.