The Inca Trail trek to reach Machu Picchu is without a doubt one of the most rewarding trails in the world. The different landscapes that we encounter at these altitudes are really beautiful and are also punctuated by sites and Inca ruins that prepare us before the pinnacle of beauty, Machu Picchu. How to get there? What preparations? What price? We answer all these questions in this guide to go to Machu Picchu by the Inca Trail in 4 days.
The tips and information below come from our own trekking experience to Machu Picchu after a long preparation for our Peru travel itinerary. Yes, all the photos here are ours! Four days trek between mountains, jungle and llamas: here is the guide and our advice to know everything!
How to get to Machu Picchu: trek, bus or train?
Several solutions exist to go to Macchu Picchu:
- Trek to Machu Picchu: There are several treks organized to reach the site of Machu Picchu. Some are more popular (and expensive) than others, this is particularly the case of the Inca Trail.
- Train to Machu Picchu: take the train from Cuzco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes at the foot of Macchu Picchu.
- Bus to Machu Picchu: you have to find a bus that will take you to Aguas Calientes. Count 10 hours from Cuzco and prefer to do it at night if possible.
Different treks and alternatives to go to Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail trek is the best known for reaching Machu Picchu but there are other equally recommendable and alternative ones. Here are the best known.
Inca Trail trek [OUR CHOICE]: feasible in 3 or 4 days, this trek is by far the best known for reaching Machu Picchu. It is the only one to go through the Inti Punku (The Sun Gate) and offers various archaeological sites to visit on the way. The highlight of the trek is the Dead Woman’s pass at 4215m altitude. It is strongly recommended to book this trek in advance as it is limited to 500 people per day (guides, porters included)! The trek is closed in February (anyway it rains often at this time) for maintenance and it is also the most expensive trek.
Full details of our experience of this trek below!
Salkantay Trek: feasible in 5 or 6 days, this is the alternative most often chosen after the Inca Trail. Designated as one of the best treks in the world by National Geographic, it offers a view of the mountain Salkantay which rises to 6270m above sea level. Highest point of the trek at 4650m altitude.
Trek of Lares: feasible in 4 days, the trek of Lares trek 4 days leaves from Cusco and can take different routes. The highest point is 4200m above sea level.
Trek Choquequirao : feasible in 4, 8 or 13 days depending on the route chosen, the trek Choquequirao passes by the ruins of the same name and its highest point is 3150m above sea level.
Jungle Inca Trek: feasible from 2 to 5 days depending on the chosen route, this trek passes by Santa Teresa and allows some amusements such as zipline, rafting and hot springs.
Inca Trail Trek: 4 days of wonder!
Here we are! After looking for days to go to Machu Picchu, we chose the trek of the Inca Trail (Inca Trail, Camino Inca or Camino Inka)! This is 4 days of hiking in the mountains punctuated by Inca sites that can be visited or appreciated from some points of view. After having peeled and questioned several local agencies.
Days 1 (average) – 7h walk, 11km to go. We climb from 2600m altitude to 3350m altitude.
Day 2 (difficult) – 9h walk, 15km to go. We go through various altitudes including the Col de Warmihuañusca at 4200 m.
Day 3 (medium / easy) – 5h / 6h walk, 10km to go. We go through 2 very pretty lakes.
Day 4 – 2h / 3h walk, 7km to go. Raised very early in the direction of Machu Picchu through the door of the sun!
Note: The Inca trail is one of the most famous treks in the world, and can reach in 2 or 4 days Machu Picchu, from the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu of the Incas, on the bank of the sacred river Vilcanota. The path is paved with stones and includes stairs, tunnels and wooden bridges that cross rivers and valleys, cold Andean highlands and high tropical forests. More than 250 species of orchids can be seen along the way, as well as several species of animals, some of which are endangered. This trek combines perfectly the cultural and natural wealth.
Inca trail 1st day: departure and ascent
The first day of the Inca Trail trek obliges us to get up early, and we will learn later that it will be like this for the rest of the adventure. We leave Cusco before 6am in private van with our guide and the 4 other people who will accompany us during this journey three Peru and a Belgian. Direction the Sacred Valley Tour to reach Ollantaytambo. This is where it all begins. We then discover the whole organization for the next 4 days. It does not have to be said, it is extremely well prepared. Bearers, cooks, materials, tents and bags of all kinds, we are really aware that what we are about to do is a real expedition! Our bags are carefully weighed and dispatched because they are the carriers who take the mattress and sleeping bag. We only have a small bag of 7kg to carry during the 4 days, which is not bad for us Europeans when we go up and down hundreds of meters in every direction in a few days. The carriers, they have maximum 25kg on the back, it is impressive!
Everything begins at the famous km82, starting point of the trek of the Inca Trail. This is where we meet the other groups and the hike really begins. This first day is mainly used for acclimatization. We then drive along the Urubamba River and our guide explains the richness of this region and shows us some plants on the way, some are drugs, other medicinal for example. We are about 2200m above sea level when we cross the river and the first big Inca site that we can see is Llactapata, the “city of terraces”. The lunch is impressive, and the same quality will be at the rendezvous throughout the adventure. The cooks do not laugh and prepare not only nice dishes, but especially very good and hearty! On the road, we always stay with our group of 8, Caro and me with our Peru guide Danny, and the three Peru and the Belgian with their English guide. We will learn later that we are very lucky because some groups are composed of twenty people! We measure the chance to have almost a private circuit to get to Machu Picchu. At the end of the day, we arrive at Wayllabamba camp at 3100m altitude. Almost 1km of positive elevation the first day, fortunately it’s pretty cool and you can take breaks to drink when you want.
Arrived at the camp, everything is already prepared and the tents are mounted by the porters. The time that everyone gets organized, the delicious meal is ready. Different dishes in sauce or not, fresh vegetables prepared by the minute and dessert await us. It’s really amazing as we eat well during this trek, even better than the restaurant. Meals are always an opportunity to chat with the guide who briefs us on the next day and what awaits us, but also to share the customs of each country around the table. End of the meal, it is all black and everyone goes back to his tent for a well deserved night!
Inca trail 2nd day: the most difficult
The second day of trek is the longest and most difficult. Everyone is asked to go at their own pace and take a break whenever they wish. But we cannot stop and chat too long because 9 hours of walking and 15km of mountains are waiting for us and we still have to arrive before the night. We start with the Llulluchapampa Valley and after the first three kilometers we start the endless 2 to 3 hours of walking to reach the Warmihuanusca Pass (Dead Woman Pass) at 4200m altitude. We say endless, it’s because the path is long enough, but especially that we go up a lot without ever seeing too much when it’s going to stop. Each turn shows the next step and we see up in the mountain the very small silhouettes that are the previous groups or porters in front of us. This is the hardest part of the Inca Trail trek and when you arrive at the pass, it is not uncommon to be applauded by those who have arrived and are having a well-deserved break! At similar altitudes, the least effort is multiplied because oxygen is scarce! In case of problems, guides know what to do and a bottle of oxygen is provided for the most difficult cases.
No doubt, we are at altitude and we still climb another kilometer, the equivalent of 3 Eiffel Tower. Our guide gives us coca leaves to put between the cheek and the gum to help acclimate us to the altitudeand even if the taste is not really pleasant when you are not used to it, the feeling of numbness of a part of the mouth is amusing. The neck break is not stolen! We take some pictures with llamas, we wait for our group of Peru and after some good sip and have dried our things in the sun (yes, it is very beautiful, and it is hot!), Here we go again! We now descend to the Pacaymayo River through the Runkurakay ruins (3924m) which are very photogenic! The view of the valley below is simply splendid.
The continuation is punctuated of some climbs, but especially of descent to join the camp at Chaquicocha at 3650m altitude. Hop, 700m of delivered negative in the space of one afternoon after the kilometer of elevation gain. Here it is good, the legs are tired and the view of the camp in the middle of the mountains is superb. The meal is engulfed, some sores are treated and we collapse in our tents. It seems that tomorrow is a great day.
Inca trail Day 3: the pretty jungle
During the previous days, we went through the plains, mountain passes, dry climates, and other wet. This third day takes us to the rainforest, and this temperate and cool climate makes us crazy. The legs are now used to get on and off and everything is done almost automatically. Finding a stick on the road to serve as support is nevertheless valuable to continue the trek of the Inca way quietly.
We go through two lakes at 3950m altitude which are a great opportunity to make pretty pictures. With the clouds passing by, it is an almost mystical atmosphere that emerges with the tall surrounding grasses. It’s a day of descent and we follow the steps and paths one after the other, almost mechanically. Fortunately, the scenery is beautiful and the weather is clear and pleasant since the beginning of the stay. It will take a few more hours to reach our arrival point at 2650m altitude. Not far from the camp, there is a site that must not be missed; it is Winay wayna, also called Intipata! It means “young forever” and it is accessible via a fairly flat path (phew) 5 minutes from the camp. Once there, it’s the reward of our day. A breathtaking site perched in the middle of the forest and overlooking the valley on steep terrain. If the day has not been too tiring, we can go down the stairs to survey the old ruins and take pretty pictures from below!
Inca trail day 4th day: the Holy Grail Machu Picchu!
The last day is the most exciting. This is the ultimate hike before discovering why we came from the other side of the world: Machu Picchu. It is about 4 am when we wake up and we go to the front in the middle of the night to reach the front door (closed) of the last portion you trek. The latter is inaccessible and prohibited from practice at night because it would be too dangerous. It will be necessary to wait for 5:30 so that the day begins to get up and that a ranger opens the access. We are 10m from the door; we do not waste time to start the last part our adventure because all the other groups are waiting behind them too.
It takes about 1 hour of walking to get to the most difficult part of this last portion, the Monkey Steps: huge steps that must sometimes climb with the help of hands. After 3 days of trekking in the legs without taking a shower, this last climb makes us sweat a little more to a place that our guide has spoken to us at length: the sun gate (Inti Punku). This is where many people take a well-deserved break. The site of Inca Trail in 4 days is in front of us, below, but we do not see it yet. It is after a few tens of minutes that the clouds rise, making appear the immense Inca city under our amazed eyes. Finally. He’s There.
It will take us an hour of descent to reach the Inca city which rises to 2400m. On the way, we meet many people who make the way the other way, and back! Certainly people who arrived by bus to Machu Picchu and who want to see the door of the sun with their own eyes. But the funny thing is that we get to smell the scents and shampoos of those who go back! They are beautiful and clean, it’s fun to see. We try not to imagine what they can feel when the trekking groups descend to Machu Picchu?
When we arrive on the site, there are not many tourists, but we feel that it will come. We then discover the 2 or 3 spots from which everyone takes his shots. These are all the photos we see in books, on Instagram and in all magazines that talk about Machu Picchu. We are here, in front of Machu Picchu. It’s real, concrete, and absolutely wonderful. We are lucky because the weather is bright and the blue of the sky contrasts with the ocher stones and lush vegetation of the surrounding mountains. Each photo could be a postcard and the various lamas who roam the city are also the subject of beautiful portraits.
After the (too) many photos, it’s time to visit! Our guide is great and takes all of this very seriously, as it has been the case throughout the trek with its many tips and information. It takes about 2 hours to visit Machu Picchu with different neighborhoods, squares, stones and points of interest. We discover then the ingenuity of the Incas and their ability to understand astronomy already very well at this time! And what about all these stones that fit perfectly into each other when they must weigh tons to unleash in the rainbow mountain ! After the visit, it’s free time and photo shoots galore. Around 10:30, the site is already filled with tourists and we feel very happy not to have done all this by bus and classic circuit and to have avoided this walkabout. Fortunately access is limited to 2500 people a day.
We hesitated a little after all the miles endured by our poor little legs but we still reached the Inca bridge (Inca Bridge) for half an hour more, quiet and without a big difference in height. The ride is nice but honestly, it’s … just a bridge, and you cannot even cross it. At least, we got a little away from the crowd 🙂We will then return to the site of Machu Picchu for some last photos before taking the bus to go down to town in Aguas Calientes to have a well deserved lunch! It is also possible to swim in hot springs. We thank our two guides who accompanied us during this trip (with a small tip) before joining the airport to spend a week in the Amazon!
Questions about Machu Picchu and Inca trail
How to trek the Inca Trail?
- To do this trail, it is mandatory to go through an accredited agency. Either you book directly by contacting an agency via the Internet in advance (which we have done), or you are going to Cusco where many agencies will offer their dates based on the remaining available places (if any).
Is the Inca Trail trek really difficult?
- The answer is not so simple. Before leaving, we were a bit prepared by running. We were not great athletes and it was especially good for endurance and breath. The trek itself is not exhausting and does not include any technically difficult passage. It is especially the altitude that makes it tiring with a lot of altitude in a few days. The legs and knees take a hit and you have to have enough breath anyway. But it is largely feasible when one is in a standard form. The guides are there to take care of us and everyone is going at their own pace, it’s not a race.
Which agency to choose for the trail of the Inca Trail?
- There are many agencies that make the trek of the Inca Trail and beware of scams or bad conditions. Each agency that offers this trek must have a specific license. We can only recommend the one we went through (Xtreme Tourbulencia). We spent a lot of time comparing agencies, comparing prices, reading reviews and bad adventures of each … If needed, a list of agencies is available here .
What price for the trek of the Inca Trail?
- When we started looking how to reach Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail, we saw a little all the prices. It takes between $ 550 and $ 800 on average for 4 days. It is possible to do it in 5 days to rest a little more, but it will obviously be more expensive (rather in the $ 800).
Who takes care of the Inca Trail?
- This hike is very popular. It is the Ministry of Culture Cusco that manages this hike of the Peru National Heritage. The paths and installations are upgraded thanks to that.
When is the best time to trek the Inca Trail?
- The trek is closed in February for renovation and maintenance of the path. All the rest of the year, hiking is possible but you should know that the rainy season is between December and March. The big dry months are June, July and August, and are donated in the months when we are likely to meet the most people, and for which it will be necessary to book well in advance. We did the trek in November and we did not have a single drop of rain, it was just perfect! After, we can never predict the weather.
How many people do the trek of the Inca Trail?
- Every year, thousands of tourists including the Inca Trail. It is one of the most famous and popular hikes in the world. Yet only 500 people a day are allowed to practice it, only half of them tourists. The others are guides, porters, cooks, etc. Find out as soon as possible when you want to trail.
What to expect for the Machu Picchu trek?
- Take the bare minimum. Unless you pay an extra for a porter to take care of your bag (we did not do it), you will have to carry your bag for 4 or 5 days. With hundreds of meters of vertical drop, each kilo counts and feels on the knees forcefully. Often, it is hot during the day (especially in the sun) and cold at night (Rainbow Mountain Hike Peru 2 Days requires). So take light clothes that dry quickly, but also have something warm at night under your sleeping bag. It’s better to have 2 or 3 garments that can be stacked easily. Of course, do not neglect walking shoes! Yes, porters do all this a few times a month in sandals, but they are used to🙂 Sunscreen and flashlight are essential and the camera will be your best ally to come back with perhaps the best pictures of your life.
Ascent of Wayna Picchu (Huayna Picchu)
- If you still have energy and a little money, you can also climb the Wayna Picchu. This is a mountain located in front of Machu Picchu, it is the one seen in front of the classic photo of these Inca ruins, it forms a peak. And necessarily with a pic like that, it goes dry! Do not be afraid to climb the steep steps. It takes 2h round trip and this time, feel in good physical condition. There are only 400 places per day
One of the Peru with whom we did our trek had reserved her place to climb the Wayna Picchu but finally gave up because too tired. The ticket can be bought on the official website or via your agency. Be careful to choose the time of the climb to estimate according to your arrival on the site!
So much for our guide to the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu! We have shared here our information, advice and experience to do the trek of the Inca Trail and visit Machu Picchu. It was an incredible experience, as much during the 4 days of trek as during the discovery of Machu Picchu, and we come back with images and memories full of the head! Surely an experience not to be missed in his life if we have the opportunity to do it!
If you have any questions, we will gladly answer them in the comments?
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