Complete Guide to Walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Are you interested in trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu? If you are interested, you are not alone! This is one of the favorite adventure experiences on the planet for many travelers. There are very few trails where you can literally walk through 500-year-old archaeological treasures, among some of the most beautiful mountains on the planet and reach to Machu Picchu. But first, you have to be prepared!

Here we are presenting you a complete guide for the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu, you’ll find everything you need to know to help you prepare for this world-famous trek. This full informative and comprehensive Inca Trail Guide includes background and historical information, route descriptions, trek logistics, and many other helpful tips to help you plan your epic Inca Trail Trekking experience.
An experience on the Inca Trail Trek and Machu Picchu

For many adventures people, Peru is one of the favorite travel destinations in the world, and there is no better adventure destination in this beautiful country than the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu. It really, is the perfect trip for anyone who loves nature, history, culture and adventure.

We are SUNRISE PERU TREK TRAVEL & TOUR an official and authorized Inca Trail Tour Operator, we lucky to run trekking packages to Machu Picchu; a leading adventure travel company and in the opinion to many travelers, we are the best operator of the Inca Trail Treks. Our guides were pioneers in the Inca Trail trekking and have more than 30 years of experience trekking to Machu Picchu.

The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is worth it?

Taking your time to walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is worth every currency. The trek is considered one of the best adventure experiences on the planet. There are very few places where you get the chance to walk through stunning terrain as you pass 500-year-old archaeological treasures. And at the end of your adventure, you will be rewarded with stunning views of Machu Picchu, known as the lost city of the Incas.

Inca Trail, or “Camino del Inca”, is one of the most important features of South America’s past and present, and the trek to Machu Picchu is unlike any other adventure in the world. There are very few trails where you can truly walk-through history like this one. During this adventure, you will constantly come across 500-year-old Inca archaeological sites and at the end of the trek, you will be rewarded with a great reward by climbing the Sun Gate or “Puerta del Sol” and reaching the legendary site of Machu Picchu.

Another factor that makes the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu one of the best adventure experiences on the planet is the diversity of topography you will encounter along the way. Whether you’re climbing stone steps, crossing wooden bridges over rivers, traversing rainforests, or navigating through cloud forests surrounded by scenic mountain peaks, this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Along the way, you might even see curious llamas, alpacas, spectacled bears, huge condors, and other fascinating Peruvian wildlife.Hike Inca Trail

The high-rise ruins of Machu Picchu are located on a mountain range 2,400m7874 feets above sea level, at the end of the classic Inca Trail route, in the Urubamba province of southern Peru. Looking at a map or satellite images of Machu Picchu, you can see that it is hidden in a deep forest, 80 km northwest of Cusco (the ancient Inca capital).

Machu Picchu is Known as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” and officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are plenty of good reasons to visit Machu Picchu at least once in your life! As the most widely recognized surviving symbol of the Inca Empire and one of the most important archaeological sites discovered on Earth, this Andean landmark is sure to thrill even the most seasoned adventurer. Breathtaking in both its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, thousands of people from around the world come to explore the site each year. The Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu is for any adventurer willing to travel through history and follow in the footsteps of our Inca ancestors.

Inca Trail history and Machu Picchu history

The history of the Inca Trail is astonishing. The Empire of the Incas extended into parts of what is now Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, and the original trail covered approximately 45,00km or 26,000 miles in these regions. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Trail was used as a key trade food, carry the soldiers, as well as for transportation with Llamas and Alpacas. However, parts of it were also used for ceremonial purposes and as a pilgrimage route.

Therefore, there are many fascinating theories about the purpose of the Inca Trail’s connection to Machu Picchu, which was built during the height of the Inca Empire. Some scholars believe that it served as an annual pilgrimage route to honor the god Sun or “Inti”, who is believed to have been born on the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca in the south of Peru. It is said that the Inca Trail follows the path of the sun’s rays at certain times of the year, from Lake Titicaca to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu construction spanned the reigns of two Inca rulers: Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438–71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472–93). However, just over a hundred years later, the city was mysteriously uninhabited. Historians have disputed the reasons for this, with some claiming that the invaders killed the city’s population during the Spanish conquest and others claiming that the city’s population succumbed to a smallpox epidemic, years before the Spanish arrived.

During and after the Spanish conquest, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu became a target for looting and theft. Germans Augusto Berns and J.M. von Hassel first discovered Machu Picchu during the 19th and early 20th centuries, respectively. However, due to the dense forest that had begun to accumulate around the abandoned city, Machu Picchu became much less of a target for looters than other, easier-to-access sites along the Inca Trail in Peru and in the surrounding area. The locals may also have kept silent to save their secret city from aggressive looting campaigns, so that by the 19th century only a few locals and scholars were even aware of Machu Picchu’s existence.lll

In 1911, American scholar and explorer Hiram Bingham rediscovered Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail in Peru and conducted the first official archaeological investigation there. A seasoned adventurer (due to childhood expeditions with his father) and a fan of Latin American history, Bingham spent time traveling the Spanish trade routes through South America. As a history professor at Yale University, he organized a group of scholars to go in search of the “lost city.”

Then, on July 24, 1911, a local guide directed Bingham to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Once there, he and his team began exploring and excavating the area, traveling back and forth in 1912, 1914 and 1915 to continue their work. Through the Yale Archaeological Society, the Machu Picchu area and several surrounding sites have been excavated and further academic research has been carried out. To this day, the area remains a historical treasure, adding much to the Inca Trail experience.

How to reach to the Inca Trail and reach Machu Picchu too.

Getting the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu now is not difficult; with international flights, efficient trains, and frequent buses, is much easier now; than it was when Hiram Bingham first visited in 1911. Depending on your preferred means of transportation to Peru, there are a number of different options. Most visitors pass through Lima, the capital of Peru. After arriving in Lima, you can take a short connecting flight (1-hour) or a longer bus ride (23-hours) to Cusco.Hike The Inca Trail

How many days does it take to Hike to Machu Picchu?

To hike to Machu Picchu, there are a number of trekking trails along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. However, the Classic Inca Trail is a 4-day trek, and but you can do 2-day Trek or 7-day trek to reach Machu Picchu. All trail has different starting points to where you can reach by car or By Trail.

Travel from the city of Cusco to the Inca Trail.

To Hike the Inca Trail, it is important to be in the city of Cusco. After experiencing some of Cusco’s offerings, it’s time to turn the attention to the classic Inca Trail trek. To travel this route to Machu Picchu, the government of Peru requires that you hire an authorized guide service or a travel agency like SUNRISE PERU TREK TRAVEL & TOURS, with the necessary permits to take hikers on the trip. Only authorized tour operators can get the permits for the Inca Trail.

The company you choose will often arrange road transport from Cusco at the start of the trek, and pickups will usually be early in the day (around 6:00am local time). The most popular place to start the Classic Inca Trail Trek is known as kilometer 82 or the community of “Pisqhakuchu”. Once you arrive at this location, you’ll usually do an equipment check, refill your water bottle, and make sure everyone is fully prepared to begin the journey.

The Inca Trails Trekking Routes

The short Trek to Machu Picchu (1 or 2-day trek)

Short trekking but beautiful; If you’re short on time or have problems with the altitude, then, you can hike to Machu Picchu in one day (leave early, of course!). To do this, you will take the train from Cusco to a point on the trail known as kilometer 104. From there, you will walk approximately 11km through the “Puerta del Sol” to Machu Picchu Sanctuary. It is an excellent option if you want to see Machu Picchu and experience a short section of the Inca Trail Trek.

The Vilcabamba Traverse Route (trekking from 1 to 2 weeks)

This trekking is considered the most difficult trekking to Machu Picchu, it is 68 miles long approximately. The trail begins in the zone of “Capuliyoc”, located next to the town of “Cachora”, then follows a mile-deep canyon to the ruins of “Choquequirao”. Continuing the original route of the Inca Trail, then through a series of remote villages and enchanting landscape. The “Vilcabamba” Trail mimics the same trek that Hiram Bingham himself took when he rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911.

Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu (trekking from 1 to 2 weeks)

Comfortable Trekking. This is the only Inca Trail Trek where you have the option to sleep in a comfortable bed and take hot shower at the end of each day’s trek! Well, you need tour of the participants reasonably fit, The Salkantay Trail takes you through the mountain range of “Vilcabamba”, but allow the night rests in the fully equipped lodges along the route or in tents. The trail reaches 15,000 feet in elevation before reaching Machu Picchu.

Classic Inca Trail to Inca Trail (trekking from 3 to 5 days)

A Well-known trek to Machu Picchu. The Classic Inca Trail is the most popular trek to Machu Picchu of the four options that we have presented in this guide. It begins in the sacred valley of the Incas in the community of “Pisqhakuchu” known as Kilometer 82. During the trek, adventurers cover a total of 45km/26 miles and reach a maximum elevation of 4,200m/13,776 feet above sea level.

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Overview of the classic route of 4-days Inca Trail Trek

Pre- Trekking Info for Inca Trail Trek in Cusco

Highly recommended! It is advisable to spend a few days in Cusco before your Inca Trail tour begins to acclimatize to the higher altitude. This extra time will increase your chances of success in your adventure. In Cusco, you will have the opportunity to take walking tours and visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites in this historic capital of the Inca Empire. In the evening, savor the best cuisine of the world, sample the local cuisine of this agricultural region and perhaps sample one of the 3,000 varieties of potatoes grown here.

Day 1 of the Classic Inca Trail Trek.

The trek begins at a place called KM 82, about 3 hours from Cusco. The hike starts out relatively flat and is a great way to warm up for adventure. You’ll break for lunch at “Hatunchaka”, with the option to visit the archaeological site “Llactapata”, overlooking a spectacular backdrop of terraces and mystical mountains. Keep your eyes peeled for the gentle flight patterns of Andean condors soaring overhead. The trek continues into the Cusichaca valley, finally reaching the small town of Huayllabamba, which means “grassy plain.” The camp will here.

Day 2 of the Inca Trail Trek.

You will then follow another River colled “Huayruro” river/valley as it climbs steadily up through this narrow valley. It eventually opens up to a cloud forest of Polylepis trees and finally to a large “Pampa” a plain called “LLulluchapampa” (3800m). Here you will rest for an early lunch and in the afternoon continue up to “Warmiwanusqua” (or “Dead Woman”) Pass at 13,692 feet above sea level, you’ll be treated to a magnificent panorama. Take a minute to take some photos before descending into the Pacaymayo River for the second camp.

Day 3 of the Inca Trail Trek.

Another climb to the second pass passing the Inca ruins of Runkuraqay. From there, the trail passes through tall cloud forest as the scenery becomes increasingly dramatic.

Arrive at the Inca site of “Sayacmarca” and sit back for views of the “Aobamba” Valley. You can also take a leisurely stroll through tall structures before continuing along the ridge below the watchful peaks of Mount Salkantay to the west and Mount Pumasillo to the north. Follow the rolling stone trail to finally reach Phuyupatamarka, and continue down to the Inca site of “Phuyupatamarka”, where you can explore five fountains and an altar that the Incas may have used for ritual purposes. In the afternoon you will descend nearly 3,000 feet on a combination of trails and uneven stairs consisting of 1,500 steps carved from granite. The Willkanota River appears and lush jungle grows around you as bird songs and butterfly wings fill the air, eventually joining the sound of the river and training near the train tracks below (leading to Aguas Calientes). Take a trail to the Winay Wayna ruins to draw some energy from this ancient site, which translates to “forever young” and camp here.

Day 4 of the Inca Trail Trek.

Finally, you will come to a series of steep stairs that lead to the Puerta del Sol or Inti Punku. Passing through the “Puerta del Sol”, the mighty citadel of Machu Picchu appears.

Typically, after trekkers complete this Classic Inca Trail trek, they are tired and hungry and want to go for lunch. Some hikers choose to do their full tour of the citadel the following day. If you opt for this, you will pass just outside the citadel of Machu Picchu, spotting the ruins as you descend the mountain to the entrance area. Here, you’ll take a short ten-minute bus ride to downtown Aguas Calientes, where you can then walk back to your hotel and relax for the night.

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The Key Sites of Machu Picchu

Informative Tour within Machu Picchu¡ In Machu Picchu, it usually takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to do a complete tour of the sanctuary and see the main sites. It can get crowded, as 2,500 people a day can visit the citadel. However, there are several sites that you cannot access because the Peruvian government has restricted them for conservation purposes.

The Machu Picchu sanctuary is nestled between the Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu mountains and is considered one of the most beautiful and picturesque sites of the Inca Empire. Walking among the ancient walls, gates, paths and stairs gives a unique feeling to this archaeological site, a site that transports you centuries back in time. Below, we will cover several of the highlights of this sanctuary to look out for. Your guide may have a particular order in which you visit these sites. For that reason, they’re not presented in any particular order of preference below, though they’re definitely all the ones you don’t want to miss!

  • The “Intipunku”: or the Sun Gate, it was once an integral part of the city’s defenses, preventing attacks from penetrating Machu Picchu. Watching the sunrise from “Intipunku” is one of the most spectacular views you will encounter on your Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu.
  • The “Intihuatana”: or “the place where the sun is tied” is one of the best-known Inca sites. Polished and sculpted monolith, this stone is found in one of the pyramids of Machu Picchu. Its importance is manifested both by its location and by its four sculpted peaks, which indicate the four cardinal points of the site. Many who have visited the “Intihuatana” have reported feeling a strange aura or energy in the presence of the stone.
  • Sacred Plaza: Possibly the most famous monument in Machu Picchu. With impressive views of the mountains, the sacred plaza contains three important Inca buildings: the Main Temple, the Temple of the Three Windows, and the House of the Priest. The sacred plaza also clearly illustrates the skillful and magnificent feats of engineering and architecture performed by the Inca.
  • The Sacristy: also translated as “the house of ornaments”, this room was used by the Incas to store their ornaments. The building is also the most beautiful man-made site in Machu Picchu. Along with the vast amounts of stone used to create the three magnificent walls, the Inca also etched the interior space and entrance stones with intricate carvings.
  • “Wiracocha” or the Main Temple: It is located in the sacred square, the location of this temple is of great historical importance to the Incas, as the plaza also includes two of the city’s great temples. The temple itself has a magnificent structural design, in keeping with the architectural styles of the time.
  • Ceremonial Baths: Located next to the temple of the Sun and the Inca Palace. there are 16 ceremonial baths located throughout the city. Taking advantage of the mountainous terrain to channel fresh water over the walls and into the bathing areas, these baths were and still are a space for socialization and community.
    Temple of the Condor: This is one of the best examples of the incredible stonework that the Incas are famous for. The name of the Temple of the Condor is inspired by the natural formation of the rock on which it is located, which is reminiscent of a condor in flight. Patinated over the centuries, this stone was considered an important symbol for the Inca people, representing “the spirit and higher levels of consciousness.”
  • The Temple of the Sun: Located behind a gated urbanized section of Machu Picchu, this temple is a truly impressive feat of Inca design and structural engineering. Chosen for its high elevation, the temple is located here to display its celestial attributes: the taller the structure, the closer its connection to the Sun. This location was also considered important for astrological experiments and religious procedures. With its circle of sacred stones and spectacular design, this temple is a stunning example of how the man-made Inca structures perfectly complemented their stunning natural settings.