The Inca Trail is, without a doubt, the best option to get to Machu Picchu. There is nothing comparable to walking the path to the door of the sun and, from this privileged enclave, see the citadel of Machu Picchu between clouds and mountains.
It is a path without much difficulty, you are accompanied by a guide and you have several options of duration: 2, 3, 4 and 5 days. There is no excuse for not living this incredible experience!
1. What is the Inca trail?
This is the name given to the road that arrives at Machu Picchu and that starts from the outskirts of Cusco. That’s what it’s called, but really, it’s not a single path. There are thousands of kilometers that joined the different territories of the Tahuantinsuyo (Inca empire). This section is the most famous for reaching Machu Picchu from Cusco, the 2 most tourist places in all of Peru.
Cusco, as the capital of Tahuantinsuyo, was the center and main hub of all roads. In fact, his name in Quechua is Qosqo, which means navel. It was the equivalent in South America to Rome in the whole Mediterranean basin.
These roads were traveled by caravans of llamas transporting goods between different parts of the empire. Each of them could be made up of hundreds of animals.
They also served for a fast communication between parts of the empire. For this work, a post system based on stretches and runners was established, chaskis, which was running at full speed to transmit the message to the next runner. So until the message reached its final recipient. They even took fresh fish to Cusco in less than a day.
2. How long is the Inca Trail?
There are several options, depending on your availability of days. From 2 to 5 days are usually the options offered by tourist agencies.
Also keep in mind that you CAN NOT do the Inca trail without an authorized guide. The authorities of Cusco have defined it this way to guarantee safety and preserve the path in optimum conditions.
- Inca Trail – 2 days: This option is the most demanded, since it is more comfortable when sleeping in a hotel/hostel in Aguas Calientes.
- Day 1: Take the train in Cusco until you reach to the km 104, where the road starts. The places visited are: Suspension Bridge over the Urubamba River, Chachabamba archaeological site, Wiñay huayna archaeological site, door of the Sun (Inti Punku), arriving at Machu Picchu in the afternoon.
- Day 2: Visit of citadel of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu (if you bought the ticket with a ticket to visit it).
- Inca Trail – 3 days: A more complete option but harder for the route and the height that is reached.
- Day 1: Travel by bus from Cusco to km 82, where the trail starts. The places that are visited are: archaeological site of Llactapata, population of Huayllabamba, arriving at the camp of Llulluchapampa at the end of the day.
- Day 2: 21 km route with several high passes (Warmiwañusca at 4,200 meters above sea level), archaeological sites of Runkurakay, Sayacmarca and Phuyupatamarkael, coming to camp in Wiñay huayna.
- Day 3: Walk to the door of the Sun (Inti Punku), descending from here to the citadel of Machu Picchu. In the afternoon return to Cusco by train.
- Inca Trail – 4 days: The best option in relation to the days available. It is not as tired as the 5 day option and you can see more places than in the 3 day option.
- Day 1: Travel from Cusco through Ollantaytambo and, from there, to km 82, where the trail starts. The places that are visited are: mountain slope in parallel to Urubamba River, Miskay, archaeological site of Patallacta, arriving at the camp of Wayllabamba at the end of the day.
- Day 2: Travel hard until you reach Luliuchapampa and, once you have rested, continue climbing until you reach Warmiwañusca, located at 4,200 masl At the end of the day you will camp in Pacaymayo.
- Day 3: Walk hard until the ruins of Runkurakay. Continue the path to the archaeological site of Sayacmarka and, later, to Puyupatamarka. At the end of the day you will camp in Wiñay huayna.
- Day 4: Tour to door of the Sun (Inti Punku). Descent to the citadel of Machu Picchu. In the afternoon return to Cusco by train.
- Inca Trail – 5 days: The most complete option of all and where you can see more places. Of course, you will need vacation days and to be fit.
- Day 1: Travel from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and, from there, to km 82, where the road starts. The places that are visited are: walk along the shore of the Urubamba River, population of Chilca, arriving at the Piscacucho camp at the end of the day.
- Day 2: Start of the hike early in the morning, visit the archaeological site of Llactapata, arriving to camp in Huayllabamba.
- Day 3: Ascent of 16 km with some high passes (Warmiwañusca at 4,200 masl), visit of archaeological sites of Runkurakay, Sayacmarca and Phuyupatamarkael, coming to camp in Pacaymayu.
- Day 4: 10 km route less demanding than previous day, visit of archaeological sites of Phuyupatamarca and Intipata, arriving to camp in Wiñay huayna.
- Day 5: Tour to door of the Sun (Inti Punku). Descent to the citadel of Machu Picchu. In the afternoon return to Cusco by train.
3. What is the price of the Inca Trail?
It is not cheap. In the last years it has gone up a lot of price. It costs approximately between 450 and 750 dollars, depending on the number of people in the group, the days and the services that are included (train tickets, accommodation, …).
It may be somewhat cheaper to hire the agency directly in Cusco, but the demand for tickets to travel the Inca Trail and visit Machu Picchu is so high that you have to book it well in advance (even months).
Another point to keep in mind is how formal the agency is. Not all are equal and if you skimp a lot on the price you can find unpleasant surprises: a guide who does not know the way well, bad camping equipment (if you choose the option of more than 2 days), etc …
4. What clothes to take to the Inca trail and Machu Picchu?
Being jungle brow, beginning of the jungle area, the climate is quite unstable. The temperature does not vary much during the day but it is likely to rain, even if you see a bright sun.
We recommend bringing the following equipment:
- Good trekking boots (GORE-TEX type).
- Several layers of clothing, to adjust according to the temperature.
- A good raincoat.
- Sunglasses and sunblock.
- Insect repellent.
- Water and food (chocolate, nuts).
In the case of completing the Inca trail for more than 1 day, the agency will tell you what you should bring and what they provide.
5. Before traveling to Cusco and Machu Picchu
Before traveling to Cusco, and from there to Machu Picchu, you must take into account a series of things to prepare the trip:
- When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu? When is the rainy season in Machu Picchu?
- Where to buy the Tickets for Machu Picchu ? What options are there? What do you have to do to climb the Huayna Picchu?
- What train options are there? Where to buy train tickets to Machu Picchu?
- Is any vaccine necessary? Are there many insects?
- What is soroche? How does altitude sickness affect me? What can be done to minimize the effects of altitude sickness?
- Where to stay the night before? How to climb to the citadel of Machu Picchu?
The answers to these and other questions, we solve them with our tips to travel to Machu Picchu
6. Inca trail
We chose the 2 day option as we came from Chile and we did not have many vacation days. But sure we will repeat and that time we will do the 4 day tour, to live the complete experience of the road and see places that we could not.
Start of the adventure
The agency that we hired happened to look for us by the hotel very soon, almost had not dawned. Still sleepy, but with a huge desire, we went to the train station in Cusco (Poroy). There we calmly await the arrival of our train.
Once on the train we were enjoying the views. We had chosen the Vistadome train and it was a great choice. The wagons have sunroof, so we could also contemplate the beautiful mountains of this mythical place.
We went enjoying the trip until we reached the KM 104, where we got off the train. Now we would begin to feel the Inca trail!
We just started to walk and arrived at the first place of interest: Chachabamba. This archaeological site is not very well preserved, but it already gave us an idea of how the Inca constructions were.
According to the guide, this site did have some importance as a religious place, as well as checkpoint for the entrance to the Machu Picchu citadel.
We could also contemplate the first sample of the domain that the ancient Incas had when carving the stone. This Inca altar was used for animal ritual sacrifices.
Beginning of the Inca Trail
We continue walking and we started the Inca trail. With calm, but steady pace, we went through the first sections of the road.
Little by little we went up the side of a mountain. We already saw the Vilcanota-Urubamba river, which we had crossed before, from a certain altitude.
And what about the mountains that surrounded us. Full of lush vegetation and covered in part by clouds. What a magical place!
The road is not complicated, although there are certain areas that narrows a bit. But there is no problem, it is more, it gives a touch of adventure.
We follow moving up the mountain slope without problem. A well-marked road with spectacular views of the Vilcanota-Urubamba River and all the nearby mountains.
This zone is jungle eyebrow, that is, the beginning of the jungle part of Peru. This is why it rains pretty much all year round, forming small waterfalls on the sides of the route.
We continue ascending the Inca trail. We were already near the ruins of Huiñay Huayna, which meant that we reached the highest part of the road. From then on we would descend little by little, except for a small hill along the way, until we reached Machu Picchu.
Ruins of Huiñay Huayna
Bordering the mountain we could already contemplate the mythical ruins of Huiñay Huayna (or Wiñay Wayna). Surrounded by lush vegetation, you could still see the buildings and cultivation terraces of this place.
We climbed a side of the ruins and we were contemplating this beautiful settlement. It is impressive how this ancient civilization could build in such steep places.
Once we reach the top, we contemplate it for the last time and continue on the path. If this first contact with the Inca constructions enchanted us, we could not imagine what we would feel in Machu Picchu …
Shelter on the road
After a few minutes we arrived at a small shelter where we could recover our strength. The Incas called these places on the road “tambos”.
There was not much left to get to Machu Picchu, we were already only 7 km from our target. We contemplate once again the Urubamba River, as well as the mountains that flank it, and continue with renewed strength.
Door of the sun (Inti Punku)
Arriving at this final part we find a rather steep stone staircase. They impressed, but we were not going to stop. We were already very close to Inti Punku, one of the entrances to Machu Picchu.
We continued the journey and we arrived at the Door of the sun, from which we could contemplate the mountains …
… and, among the clouds, Machu Picchu (old mountain in Quechua), with its magical citadel, and Huayna Picchu (young mountain), with its impressive vertical wall.
What a wonderful thing! What a mix of nature and the remains of a city erected centuries ago! It is an almost magical combination.
And not only Machu Picchu, also the mountains and valleys around are worthy of admiration.
Arrival to Machu Picchu
With a lot of emotion in the body, we started the final descent to the citadel of Machu Picchu. We were already close, we could see the citadel among the clouds!
Until we arrived. Mission accomplished! We were in the mythical city of Machu Picchu!
We arrived at the perfect time. The citadel was closed to visitors and we still had light to be able to enjoy and take pictures of this wonder of the world.
Descent to Aguas Calientes town
Once we just contemplated the citadel of Machu Picchu, and the Huayna Picchu, we took one of the buses that go down to Aguas Calientes. The road is steep and with many curves, but in just 20 minutes we were in the population.
Accommodation in Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes, also called Machu Picchu village, is the nearest town. It is located at the foot of the mountain, separated only a few kilometers from the citadel of Machu Picchu.
Basically, it is the population where you spend the night before going up to Machu Picchu. Here you have at your disposal a variety of accommodations: hotels, hostels, private homes, …
Although it is small, has some places to visit: the statue in honor of Pachacútec, the Urubamba River that runs through it and some gift markets. You can also relax in its thermal water complex.
7. Machu Picchu, new wonder of the world
Due to the unstable weather in this area, it is better to climb to Machu Picchu as soon as possible. This way you will have less chance of rain and clouds.
We got up early, like at 6:00, we had breakfast and went to the bus stop that goes up to the citadel of Machu Picchu.
The journey is quite short (20 minutes). However, we had time to contemplate the valleys and the Urubamba river flow between the mountains.
Citadel of Machu Picchu
We deliver the ticket and we go quickly to the entrance, where you can see the first views of the impressive citadel of Machu Picchu.
We started the tour through the area of cultivation terraces, which were located on the side of the citadel.
Afterwards, we entered inside the citadel, where we could contemplate the archaeological remains of this magical Inca city:
- Main temple. This was the most important building, in the ceremonial sense, of the city. Unlike the temple of the 3 windows, this construction had more polished and linear walls.
In spite of the time, the walls of this temple are conserved in a pretty good state. Moreover, considering its antiquity and the natural disasters that have affected Machu Picchu (earthquakes and torrential rains).
- Sun Temple. Very important place of worship where religious ceremonies were held, mainly during the austral winter solstice (June 21).
As in Chachabamba, in this temple you can also see a large carved stone, which made the functions of main altar.
- Royal Mausoleum. It is located under the temple of the Sun. Here you can see a very well worked stone, which means that it was an important place. It is also believed that mummies were deposited inside. It is even believed that, in this place, rested the mummy of Pachacútec (responsible for the construction of the citadel of Machu Picchu).
- Intihuatana stone (‘where the Sun is moored’ in Quechua). It is one of the archaeological remains that has been most studied in the citadel. In spite of that, it still does not have its exact meaning. The most accepted theory is that it served as a reference point for observing astronomical events.
- Temple of the 3 windows. It stands out for its 3 trapezoidal windows (typical of Inca buildings). Due to its location, near the sacred plaza, it is believed that it was important as a religious building. It is one of the most important temples of Machu Picchu.
- Sacred Square. Main esplanade of the citadel of Machu Picchu. It is located right in the middle of it and surrounded by different constructions.
- Acllahuasi. It is believed that it was the home of selected women (Acllahuasi in Quechua), who dedicated themselves to religious ceremonies. In this place you can see several altars and rooms reserved for the cult.
During the tour of the citadel we also find a nice llama. Of course, we do not get too close in case he spits us out.
8. Huayna Picchu, the best views of Machu Picchu
This mountain, located just in front of Machu Picchu, is another of the attractions that you must visit (if you do not have vertigo). If you are interested, remember to buy the entrance to Machu Picchu with this option (there are 400 spaces per day).
It takes about 30 minutes to climb to the top, but it’s worth it. The views from there are spectacular.
9. Nearby places of interest
Machu Picchu is world famous. Few places are so energetic and magical with this. But it is not the only place of tourist interest in the south of Peru, you should also visit:
- Cusco and its archaeological sites: The old imperial capital has a lot of heritage to visit: Qoricancha, Pisac, Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puka Pukara, Moray, Ollantaytambo, Tambomachay and Chinchero are waiting for you.
- Lake Titicaca: It is the highest navigable lake in the world. Cradle of Andean cultures, is another destination that you should not miss in your trip to Peru.
- Puerto Maldonado: Peru is not only the coast and the mountains, it also has a large area of jungle in its territory. This city, located on the banks of the Madre de Dios River, is an excellent option to visit not far from Cusco.
If Machu Picchu is a magical place, getting there by an ancient trail used by the Incas is … Incredible!
Do not hesitate, plan your trip through Peru with our travel configurator and discover: Lima, Nazca, Iquitos (the Amazon jungle), the Cordillera Blanca (Huaraz), Cusco and archaeological sites, Lake Titicaca, Ica desert, Paracas,… ¡y muchos sitios más!
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Kiss and hugs.