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The Iconic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

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For many travelers to South America, completing the iconic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is high on the must-do list.

There is something quite magical, watching the early morning mist disperse and seeing the lost city of the Incas for the first time.

Before seeing this magical site, travelers trace the footsteps of an ancient civilization as they travel north from the capital of Cusco through the Sacred Valley and the ruins of Ollantaytambo and then finally the magical city of Machu Picchu.

Every year over 25,000 people come to Peru to walk the 43 kilometers built by the Incas that lead to the amazing site of Machu Picchu, which is located deep in the Cusco jungle.

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Given the popularity of the trek, the number of people able to commence the trek each day has been limited to 500 people (which includes both tourists and porters).

To commence the trek, you are required to have a permit which can be obtained 360 days in advance.

To avoid disappointment, it is recommended that you arrange your permit well in advance.

The Inca Trail

The only way to complete the Inca trail is by joining a tour group.

All tour groups more or less follow the same itinerary over 4 days and 3 nights.  The trek commences in the village of Pisqacucho and passes glorious dream-like scenery of beautiful snow-capped mountains, rivers, and valleys.

The trek passes through various altitudes, climates, and ecosystems.

The Inca trail is intense and challenging for most tourists and, for many, will be one of the biggest personal achievements they will experience in their life.

©Andrey Khrobostov via

On day 1 of the trek, you will pass archaeological sites including Q’ente, Pulpituyoc, Kusichaca, and Patallaca.

Continuing along the banks of the Kusichaca River, you will eventually get to the small town of Wayllabamba and Inca aqueducts, where you camp for the first night.

Day 2 is often the most challenging day for trekkers as you climb to 4.200 meters crossing the Warmiwañusqa pass.  You then descend to the valley of the Pakaymau River, where you camp for the second night.

Day 3 is the longest day with visiting sites such as Runkuraqay, the second pass at 3.800 meters above sea level.

You then descend to Yanacocha and up to Sayaqmarka, a Pre-Hispanic site with narrow streets and buildings.

Day 3’s campsite is usually near the Phuyupatamarca ruins or 3 km further at the Wiñay Wayna visitors’ center.

The final day is an early start, so you arrive at Machupicchu early after trekking across the jungle. Travelers can then take their time to explore Machupicchu before returning to Cusco or stay in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes.

©mailanmaik via

Choosing a Tour Group

Whilst most tour groups more or less follow the same itinerary, it is highly recommended that you do your research before deciding on a group and choose a group that looks after the porters appropriately.

Whilst some tour operators appear way cheaper than others, chances are they are not providing adequate clothing, food, or wages to the porters who do a fantastic job of taking good care of the trekkers.

Without a doubt, many tourists would not be able to complete the iconic Inca trail without the aid of the porters.  The porters carry on their backs all the necessary equipment for trekkers to have comfortable campsites.

The porters personally carry tents, tables, chairs, food, cooking equipment and assist trekkers with difficulties during the trek.

It is vital that during the trek, these amazing people get plenty of food and rest.  Unfortunately, not taking good care of the porters is where many tour operators save money – so be sure to book your trip with a reputable company.

More Peru Internet Ressources:

  1. 22 Things to do in Peru besides Machu Picchu

This post is sponsored by Inca Trail Tours.

Stuart Forster

Sunday 19th of November 2017

I think I will never tire of looking at photos of the Inca Trail and reading about Macchu Pichu. Hopefully I can add my own experiences at some point.