Hiking to Machu Picchu was one of my first destination hikes and it didn’t disappoint! The world-famous hike on the Camino de Inca, or the Inca Trail as it’s often called, in the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu is the most popular and direct way to get to the ancient ruins. Over 1.2 million people visit per year and many trek the Inca trail or other alternative trails to see the ancient city. Celebrated as Peru’s most famous hike, the classic Inca trek to Machu Picchu can be considered one of the world’s iconic trekking experiences. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the new seven wonders of the world.
The Inca Trail is the classic route which follows the original trails that the Incas would have taken from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Be prepared for stunning mountain ranges, diverse flora and fauna (over 220 species of orchid have been found in the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary, as well as many species of birds, animals and reptiles) and archeological sites.
This trail is also limited to 500 trekkers per day (out of this a portion is earmarked for porters and guides). Securing a permit means booking early is critical and the busiest season is May-September. This classic route is typically completed on a four day three nights itinerary but can also be lengthened or shortened. The average trek distance per day is 12km, with a maximum altitude of 4,200m, and is a moderately challenging hike that can be completed by most people who are fit and well acclimatized. Accommodations on this four-day hike are in tents and all meals will be provided by the tour company. Here is my journey on the Inca Trail toward Machu Picchu:
1. Day 1 Cusco-Km82-Wayllabamba (3,000)
Cusco, Peru is the jumping off point for this hike and is a great base to spend a few days acclimatizing yourself to the altitude. I spent about two days in Cusco walking around the city and getting used to the altitude. On the start of the four-day hike, be ready for a lovely two-hour drive that will take you through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo and onwards to Km82 - the start of the trail. This is where I caught my first glimpse of the Veronica Snow Mountain (5,720m). Before we started the hike, we took a lovely group pic in front of the Inca Trail sign then began walking for approximately three hours until we came to our first set of ruins – the Llactapata Ruins where we stopped for lunch before continuing onward through lush farmland and woodlands to Wayllabamba where we setup camp for our first night. We reached our camp quite early in the evening and had plenty of time to get to know our group, many of whom were from Europe and the Americas. One of the joys of group trekking is the opportunity to meet many like-minded people from various walks of life and I found this to be deeply enriching.
2. Day 2 Wayllabamba – Warmiwañusca (4,200m) – Pacaymayo (3,600m)
The second day on this trail is known as the toughest day of the four-day trek and is commonly referred to as the Dead Woman’s Pass day. This pass is the highest point in the Inca Trail at 4,200m and you will be rewarded with a stunning panoramic view of the area. However, though the climb up is continually steep, the scenery is stunning and worth every step. The downhill portion after this is rather welcoming and we ended up at our second camp, Pacaymayo, around 2:30pm in the afternoon. Being at camp by late afternoon means you have a chance to stretch you muscles, unwind, journal, and really absorb the beautiful surroundings.
3. Day 3 Pacaymayo – Phuya Patamarka (3,600m) – Wiñay Huayna (2,700m)
After a good night’s sleep, I was ready to ascend towards the second most important pass on the trail which lies at 4,000m. We reached the Inca Ruins of Runkurakay and the Inca citadel of Sayacmarca and then continued trekking towards Puya Patamarka (Cloud-level town), another important archaeological monument, where we stopped for lunch. After lunch, we hiked toward Wiñay Huayna (Forever Young), a beautiful Inca construction and setup camp near to the ruins. I was hoping for a good night’s sleep on day 3 as we had to be up quite early the next day to begin the final trek to see Macchu Picchu. It rained a bit on the night of day 3 however, and some of the rain drops seeped into my tent and onto my head, not to mention it was quite cold, so sleep eluded me this night. But I still woke up fresh and alert, the adrenaline had kicked in, and I was ready for the final portion of the trek.
4. Wiñay Huayna – Machu Picchu (2,500m) – Cusco
We were up early this morning by 3:30am and after another delicious breakfast we began our hike for about an hour through the forest before we arrived at the Sun Gate (Inti Punku) by sunrise for our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. I took the most photos here of the awe-inspiring view before setting off further down the path to explore the ruins. After a two-hour guided tour around the ruins, we wandered around to explore the area by ourselves before we head back by bus to Cusco.
I did this hike in May and found the weather to be perfect. I experienced some rain at times but it was mostly dry and rolling clouds brought in a cool breeze which was ideal for the hike. I only had to carry a day backpack filled with water, a clothing layer or two and snacks while the porters carried my actual bag filled with my clothes, my tent, sleeping bag, and food for the group. The camping accommodations are very comfortable, the sleeping bags provided keep you warm during the cold nights and overall the camp sites are simply stunning. I trained for this hike for about three months in my hometown in San Francisco and attempted as many steep uphill hikes as I could every weekend. Hiking does not come easily to me so practice hikes are always helpful for me as it helps me increase my stamina and provides me with the mental confidence to undertake such multi-day hikes. This hike inspired me to attempt more multi-day destination hikes because not only is the journey challenging and always teaches me something about myself, but the views, once you reach the final destination, are magical and unforgettable!