Your Day by Day Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The famous Inca Trail leading to the spectacular archaeological site of Machu Picchu is one of the most challenging yet rewarding ways to reach the Inca Citadel. Taking 4 days to walk the 26 mile-long Inca Trail, hiking between 6 and 9 hours a day, crossing 3 mountain passes and reaching a maximum altitude of almost 14,000ft.; the Inca Trail is a highlight of Peru in its own right.

Despite what seems to be a relatively short distance, the different terrains, unevenly spaced Inca steps and the high altitude will almost dictate the leisurely pace of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

With breath-taking Sacred Valley panoramic vistas and scenery surrounding you, there is no need to rush through this beautiful landscape…after all Machu Picchu is not going anywhere! Here is your day by day guide to hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu that will certainly be one of your most unforgettable travel adventures.

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The start of the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu / Source

♦ Day 1: Hitting the Inca Trail (7.5 miles – 5 to 6 hours)

Beginning early in the morning to ensure you aren’t still hiking after sundown, you’ll be transferred from your hotel to KM82, so called because it is 82 km along the railroad from Cusco. Meeting your porters, cooks and assistants, your tighten your boots, get out your poles and make any last adjustments before showing your passport to the personnel, allowing you to officially begin the Inca Trail. Crossing a bridge over the Urubamba River, make sure to take a photo marking the start of your 4-day Inca Trail experience. You’ll follow the soothing sounds of the Urubamba River that runs parallel to the trail for the first part of today until you reach your first stop at the small Miskay Community. At a height of 9,186ft. you’ll meet the locals of the community while trying the locally popular, refreshing and delicious drink known as ‘chicha’ which is made of purple corn, cinnamon, cloves and pineapple skins with a drop of lemon.

Leaving the Miskay Community behind, you’ll continue along the route where before long you’ll be able to admire the Andean landscape and various Inca buildings such as the ‘Patallacta’ Inca site at the base of a mountain.

This provides the perfect opportunity for your local expert Inca Trail guide to stop and provide you information about the surrounding flora and fauna as well as the Inca legacy. Walking for just a couple hours more along the Cusichaca River, you’ll reach a beautiful vantage spot where you’ll stop for lunch and have time to relax. Fed and feeling refreshed, you will continue along the last part of today’s hike arriving at a ready campsite, located in Wayllabamba at over 9,840ft. Here you’ll spend your first night camping under the star cloth sky, relaxing around a camp fire safe in the knowledge that astounding morning views await you in every direction.

Patallacta, Inca Trail

Admire the Patallacta ruins & Inca terracing

♦ Day 2: Passing Andean peaks & hiking through cloud forests (6.8 miles – 6 to 7 hours)

Despite today being your most strenuous section of the Inca Trail, the stunning views are bound to keep you distracted and that feeling of getting closer to Machu Picchu will keep those legs pumping. As you leave your campsite at Wayllabamba you’ll begin the day walking along a narrow road before entering a cloud forest that will shade you from the strong morning sun. This is where the most challenging part of the Inca Trail begins as you scale a number of steps which should be tackled at your own pace. Following this step exercise, you’ll arrive to Lluchapampa where you’ll be able to relax and let the satisfying burn of your legs cool down. The next challenge you will be facing as you leave the rest stop behind will be the highest point of the trail at the famous Warmyhuañuska Pass (Dead Woman’s Pass) located at 13,780 ft. above sea level. Although the altitude and relative steepness of this climb are the main difficulties that you’ll face at this section, you should have no problem due to acclimatizing in the Sacred Valley or Cusco a few days before.

The summit of the Warmyhuañuska Pass will repay you for your efforts with what is considered to be one of the most breathtaking views in the world.

As well as admiring the Andean landscape below, you will be able see the fruits of your labor with a classic view of the winding Inca Trail below. You will now begin your descent to your lunch stop and the camp of Pacaymayo (11,811ft.) along a winding trail through the Inca valley. During this last part of the trail it is possible to see a number of wild birds and your expert guide will be able to help point them out to you. After a long and exertive day, you’ll be able to enjoy the comfort and facilities at the Pacaymayo camp which has showers although we should mention that the water in this part is cold!

Pacaymayo Valley, Inca Trail

The impressive Pacaymayo Valley / Source

♦ Day 3: Admiring Inca ruins as you walk (9.9 miles – 8 hours)

Today is the longest day in terms of the distance you will walk, however it is also one of the most beautiful and interesting due to the marvelous Inca buildings that you will visit along the way. Leaving the Pacaymayo campsite behind you’ll soon arrive at the oval Inca building of the Runkrakay ruins which is believed to be an Inca watchtower. Following an interesting historical explanation of the site by your expert Inca Trail guide you will continue along the route until you reach the Runkurakay Pass. At 12,795ft. the mountain pass offers spectacular views of the surrounding Andes before continuing to descend into the valley below.

Within the vibrant valley full of colorful plants, you’ll soon reach the Sayacmarka ruins which is perhaps one of the most complete and well-preserved archaeological complexes along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

After spending some time exploring the various Inca fountains and water channels, you’ll continue your trek to Wiñaywayna which is considered one of the most beautiful Inca ruins, after Machu Picchu of course. Wiñaywayna means ‘forever young’ and it is said that the ruins acquired its name due to the abundance of an orchid that bears the same name. Having explored the beauty of the Wiñaywayna ruins and orchids, you will head to your last campsite of the Inca Trail, complete with hot showers, allowing you to get ready for tomorrow and the final day of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Wiñaywayna, Inca Trail

The ancient Inca retreat & terraces of Wiñaywayna / Source

♦ Day 4: Experiencing sunrise at Machu Picchu (2.5 miles – 2 hours)

The day you’ve been waiting and hiking for has finally arrived! To reach Machu Picchu in time for sunrise you’ll wake early to hike up to Inti Punku also known as the Sun Gate. Armed with a flashlight this short hike takes you along the ancient Inca Trail paths made of flat stone, carved into the cliff face. It is at the Sun Gate that you’ll also be treated to your first breathtaking views of the ancient city of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains.

Having taken numerous photos of the morning cloud slowly lifting off the ruins to reveal the site and the morning sun rises up, you will experience the true beauty of Machu Picchu.

Heading down from the Sun Gate and into the Inca Citadel, your expert Machu Picchu guide will give you an extended tour and explanation of the history the surrounding areas and the sacred legend of this World Wonder. Make sure to visit the Guard Shack at Machu Picchu where you can enjoy another spectacular view of the sun rising above Machu Picchu. With the Inca Trail now over, we recommend hiking to the peak of Huayna Picchu. Fortunately for Encounter Latin America traveler’s, entrance to the mountain of Huayna Picchu is already included and with limited availability and only two departure times (7AM and 10AM), booking ahead is vitally important! From the top of Huayna Picchu you will receive a unique perspective of Machu Picchu as Huayna Picchu towers 679 ft. above the Inca ruins.

The Sun Gate, Machu Picchu

Arriving to the Sun Gate for your first view of Machu Picchu

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Your Day by Day Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

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