For the more adventurous travelers, trekking to the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu is the most exciting point of your trip. There are different hiking options to reach this historic sanctuary, but the Inca Trail is definitely the most sought after experience through the Peruvian Andes and high jungle.
The Inca Trail was a network of trails that connected the Tahuantinsuyo Empire during the Inca era, along which the Incas built rest, administrative, military and religious centers. It had an extension of 30,000 km and crossed regions of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.
Currently, the best preserved part of this ancient path is the trail to Machu Picchu, which starts at km 82 of the Inca Trail . This adventure takes 4 days to complete and is considered a challenging hike.
As we mentioned previously, the Incas built structures to ensure access to these places, and most of them have remained hidden until their rediscovery in 1911. Luckily, while the Incas escaped from the Spanish conquistadors, they managed to throw off the persecution to protect their town and sacred places.
Today, the Inca Trail continues to be one of the most in-demand activities in the Cusco region. Therefore, if you are up for this adventure, here we have listed some recommendations and answered some frequently asked questions so you can organize your trip.
What to pack for the Inca Trail hike?
The excitement of finally booking your Inca Trail trek is unmatched, but planning your packing list isn’t nearly as entertaining. However, this hike will be much easier if you know what to bring and what to leave behind.
All companies include porter services, but you will still have to carry a small backpack the entire way, where you will store the essentials for the day’s route. Packing smart is not about overpacking, but knowing what you will definitely need for this hike.
Based on our experience as travelers and as a travel agency, we have prepared the best packing list so you can start making yours according to your preferences. Remember that the porter carries your extra bag, where you will store your clothes and other supplies, they will take the bags to each camp and pick them up the next morning.
That being said, let’s start our essential packing list for the Inca Trail with the most important things you should take with you at all costs:
– The Passport: If you were thinking of taking a copy with you, let us tell you that you would not even go through the first checkpoint. To enter the Inca Trail, you will have to show your passport and along with the Inca Trail Permit. Additionally, you will need it to enter Machu Picchu.
Continuing with our essentials, this is the list of clothes you should bring for the hike:
– Rain Poncho / Waterproof jacket with hood. Whether you travel during the rainy or dry season, keep in mind that you will be immersed in the cloud forest and the weather here can be quite drastic. Therefore, carrying a waterproof jacket with you would be the most suitable option for this trek.
– Trekking t-shirts. They are better than regular cotton t-shirts that accumulate moisture and dirt. Consider carrying at least 3 of them.- A pair of light pants or hiking tights.- Light shorts for the hike.- Light fleece jacket.- Beanies for cold mornings and evenings and sun hats in the evening. afternoon.- Thermal layers for the nights. Remember that temperatures are lower during the dry winter in the Andes.
– Mountain socks.
– Waterproof mountain boots. -A pair of light sneakers to give your feet a rest once at camp.
When it comes to camping gear, most companies include basically everything. However, sleeping bags are not usually included in the price of the packages, but you can rent them from a store in Cusco or from the same company you are traveling with. Additionally, you may want to get a headlamp for night walks.
Trekking poles can be useful for this adventure, they help balance your weight and will surely prevent knee pain after the hike. We highly recommend bringing lightweight trekking poles, and if they are retractable they will be easier to store.
Are there showers and bathrooms on the route?
Yes, there are bathrooms and showers at each campsite. However, the bathrooms are a bit rudimentary if not somewhat precarious, and the showers are really cold although some camps offer hot water for an extra cost.
How to prepare for the Inca Trail?
The Inca Trail is not a very challenging hike but it makes itself felt with its steep climbs and descents. However, the main key to successfully preparing for this hike is to acclimatize your body before taking it.
Even if you are an experienced hiker, we advise you to spend 2-3 days in the city of Cusco to get used to the altitude. In addition, this ancient path will take you through places higher than 4,200 meters above sea level.
If you want to be in your best physical condition, it would be best to exercise before coming to Peru. Keep in mind that there will be many walkers with different fitness levels in your group, so don’t see it as a competition and take your time to enjoy.
How to prevent altitude sickness?
Due to the high altitude of this location, some travelers may experience dizziness, tiredness, headaches, and difficulty breathing. These are the symptoms of so-called Soroche or Altitude Sickness.
This condition affects most travelers above 2,500 meters of altitude, regardless of whether they have lived in higher areas or at sea level throughout their lives. However, we are not here to scare you, but to clarify and make things easier for you:
– Drink a lot of water. Staying hydrated is the key to avoiding getting sick.
– Avoid alcohol and tobacco at all costs. Alcohol is a dehydrator and smoking can cause or worsen shortness of breath. Take it easy the first few days. If you are traveling to high altitude places, make sure you do not do physically demanding activities for the first two days. – Drink coca tea or chew coca leaves. This medicinal plant is known for its healing properties and for helping acclimatization.
There are some medications that help relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness, you can find Diamox or Soroche Pills in almost any pharmacy in Peru. However, it is highly recommended to consult with a doctor before taking any of them.
How long does it take to complete the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?
It takes up to 4 days to complete this historic path to the citadel. Along the way, you will pass by the most remote Inca settlements, which offer a glimpse of what life was like in Inca times.
How difficult is the Inca Trail?
As mentioned above, it does not require a high level of fitness or being an experienced walker to complete it. However, the key to avoiding any inconvenience is to achieve acclimatization a few days before starting this trip.
Can you do the Inca Trail on your own?
Unfortunately, you cannot hike the Inca Trail on your own, as the Inca Trail permit can only be purchased through a certified tour company. The smallest group allowed is a minimum of two passengers plus guides and possibly porters.
How far in advance do you have to book the Inca Trail?
To reduce the human impact on the trail, the Peruvian government has limited entry to 500 people per day, this includes hikers, porters, cooks and guides. Therefore, if you are up for this adventure, we recommend that you book the excursion at least 6 months in advance.
It is worth mentioning that the Inca Trail permit is not transferable, and that during the rainiest month of the year (February), it is closed for maintenance.
What is the best time to travel the Inca Trail?
The climate in this region is characteristic of the Peruvian Andean region, with a dry winter and a rainy summer. However, due to its geographical position, small rainfall is expected even during the dry season.
– Rainy Season: Starts in December and ends around April. However, heavy downpours are expected between the months of January and March. Temperatures range between 15°C and 5°C.
– Dry Season: It is considered the coldest season of the year, although it is much warmer during the day. However, temperatures are significantly colder in the early morning and evening hours.
We would like to mention that the cloud forest has a different climatic condition and even if you are traveling during the dry season, you may experience occasional rain. Consult this guide and learn everything about the climate in Peru .
What is the difference between the short Inca Trail and the classic one?
The Short Inca Trail lasts only 2 days and 1 night. It begins at kilometer 104 of the Ollantaytambo railway highway and passes through the archaeological sites of Chachabamba and Wiñay Wayna. The path continues towards the Intipunku (Sun Gate) to have an exceptional view of the Inca Citadel, and then descend to Aguas Calientes to rest. The visit to Machu Picchu will take place the next day.
On the other hand, the Classic Inca Trail lasts 4 days and 3 nights, passing through different archaeological sites and the most impressive natural settings. Keep in mind that this is a somewhat challenging hike, and passes through points above 4,000 meters in elevation.
The Inca Trail is on the wish list of almost all travelers, not only for being the most impressive trail in South America, but also for having great historical value. Dare to discover the secrets of the Inca civilization with this famous hike. Don’t forget to check out our Peru travel packages while you’re here!