Destination Inca Trail
Even though it’s just one among a multitude of paths across the Andes, the fabulous treasure of Machu Picchu at the end of its 43-kilometre path makes the INCA TRAIL one of the world’s most famous treks. Most people visit the site on a day-tour by train from Cusco, Ollantaytambo or Urubamba, but if you’re reasonably fit and can dedicate at least four days to the experience, arriving along the Inca Trail offers the most atmospheric and rewarding option.
The Andes and Sacred Valley climate both falls under the same category by having hot days with a lot of sunlight and extremely cold nights. It is always recommended to dress in layers with multiple items of clothing in case of a temperature drop or rise due to cloudiness. the rainy season falls between November to March, this causes warmer nights but also muddy trails. Even though the rain can be a disadvantage it can also create a mist that covers the mountain creating breathtaking views and a wide range of flora in full bloom.
The dry season falls between June to August, since there are fewer clouds this gives a perfect opportunity for panoramic views of snowcapped mountains. Less rain also means less vegetation, but this makes the Inca trail less difficult to conquer. Dressing in layers during this season is crucial because the temperature drops significantly at night.
The trail is accompanied by stunning views, unique flora and fauna and several ancient Incan architectural sites. This wonderful trek ends by walking through the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu.
Dead woman’s pass
Warmi (woman) Wañusca (become dead) is the highest point of the site at 4,215 meters high (13,828 feet). You can admire an amazing panorama from this point.
Inca trail wildlife
Acting as a bio-corridor between the Cusco Andes, the Sacred Valley and the lowland Amazon forest, the Machu Picchu Sanctuary possesses over 370 species of birds, 47 mammal species and over 700 butterfly species. In addition, there are around 300 different species hidden up in the trees of the cloud forest.
There are many impressive archaeological sites including Incan places, stone steps and tunnels, along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Among the highlights you will be able to see:
Llaqtapata, located in the middle of the Kusichaca River and the Vilcanota River. This is a resting place surrounded by terraces which were used to produce crops during the Incan times.
Runkurakay, an ancient Incan lodge with unique circular structures and precise stone masonry. It has remained in excellent condition over the centuries.
Sayacmarca, another Tambo (lodge) or checkpoint, in the same way as Machu Picchu.
Phuyupatamarka, the place of the clouds. Like many Incan sites, this is no exception, it has achieved a remarkable balance between nature and the environment.
Wiñayhuayna, Quechua for ‘eternally young’. It is also the name of an orchid that blooms all year round on the mountain where the Incan site is located.
Inti Punku, the Sun Gate. After the challenge is completed, you will walk through Inti Punku into the lost city of the Incas at sunrise.
Intipunku to Machu Picchu – Sun gate
A well-marked track from Wiñay Wayna takes a right fork for about two more hours through sumptuous vegetated slopes to the stone archway entrance called Intipunku (Gateway of the Sun), from where you will get your first sight of Machu Picchu. Aim to get to Machu Picchu well before 9.30am, when the first hordes arrive off of the train from Cusco, if possible.
It’s a very rough, two- or three-hour descent along a non-Inca track to the next ruin, a citadel almost as impressive as Machu Picchu, Wiñay Wayna – ‘Forever Young’.
Consisting of only two major groups of architectural structures – a lower and an upper sector – Wiñay Wayna’s most visible features are stone baths with apparently as many as nineteen springs feeding them, all set amid several layers of fine Inca terracing.
Nearby, there’s also a small waterfall created by streams coming down from the heights of Puyupatamarca. Much like today, it is believed that Wiñay Wayna was used by Incas as a washing, cleansing and resting point before arriving at the grand Machu Picchu citadel.
To reach Machu Picchu for the sunrise the next day, you’ll have to get up very early with a torch to avoid the rush.
It’s important to make time to acclimatize to the altitude before tackling the Inca Trail or any other high Andean trek, especially if you’ve flown straight up from sea level.
Inca trail regulations
- There are only 500 hikers allowed on the trail every day. The permits can sell out up to 5 months in advance, especially for the dry season.
- It is important to book Inca trail tickets months in advance.
- The Inca trail hike permits are available only from March to January. This is because the government annually closes the trail for maintenance.
- The only way to access the trail is to go with a tour operator. These policies are very strict which makes going independently impossible. Only with a specific license, some companies are able to take groups on the trail.
- All carrier animals are banned from the track, porters are hired and take care of most of the supplies, porters can be hired to carry personal items like backpacks.
- Private porters are able to carry from 8 to 15 kilograms. But you also have to remember that 2.5 kilograms has to be set aside for a pad and sleeping bag.
What to pack
- To enter Machu Picchu, your original passport is required.
- A comfortable backpack with tight straps is important on the trail and if you do not hire a private porter, expect to carry your sleeping bag and pad.
- A plastic or reusable water bottle is necessary.
- While hiking you will experience many different climates so taking a variety of clothes such as shorts, long sleeve t-shirts, lightweight pants and a fleece jacket.
- Once it hits night time, the temperature drops drastically, to prepare for this you need to take thermal underwear, gloves and a warm hat.
- Comfortable hiking boots are very important, to prevent injuries or blisters. It is also recommended to take shower sandals.
- During any time of the year, it is always recommended to take a rain jacket or poncho.
- To protect yourself from the sun it is important to take a strong sun block, a hat and sunglasses.
- Take a small flashlight, headlamp and plenty of extra batteries.
- For showering, you will need a lightweight towel and a small pillow for comfortable sleeping.
- Take toilet paper and wet wipes.
- It is a good idea to bring snacks that will help energize and lift spirits, like cookies, protein bars, chocolate and mints.
- If you like, a walking stick can be of great help.
- Never forget to bring your toiletries, such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, medication, etc.
- There are mosquitos in this area so remember to bring insect repellant. There is no malaria or yellow fever in this area.
- Bringing Peruvian currency (soles) to tip your team or guide.
- Last but not least, make sure to pack your camera with a full charge or extra battery packs.
How to book
- It is very important to buy tickets for the Inca Trail early but early planning does not guarantee a spot. Daily Inca Trail vacancies are limited and can be booked up to 6 months in advance.
- High season (April-October) – Book at least 2 to 6 months in advance.
- Low season (November-March) – Book at least 1 to 3 months in advance.
- To book the Inca Trail you must have a valid passport.