Hiking The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: An Experience Like No Other

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When initially planning our RTW trip, we had a few must-sees and do’s that became the cornerstones of the trip. Hiking the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was one of the top things on that list. As with anything that you hype up in your head before doing or seeing it, the chance for disappointment is there.  I am happy to say that even though we built up the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu to epic proportions, not only did it not disappoint, but it exceeded our mammoth expectations. The hike to and payoff of Machu Picchu itself were something that dreams are made of, and I can’t stress enough what a magical experience it was. It truly is something I will remember for the rest of my life.


Choosing the Right Trip for You

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is an experience like no other, and it’s one that you will remember for the rest of your life.  This is a trail that you cannot do independently, so going with a tour group is necessary.  Choosing the right one is extremely important to your comfort, and going with the cheapest option on something like this is not advisable.  We offer 5 different trips that include hiking the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  Some are part of larger trips to the rest of Peru, so choose what’s best for you and start planning a trip you’ll remember forever!


What Trail to Take?


Let me preface this by saying that you have many, many options when it comes to hiking to Machu Picchu. The classic Inca Trail is most popular, most crowded, and most expensive. So you are probably wondering, “Why take this trail?”   Because it’s the only one that has hikers at the Sun Gate for sunrise over Machu Picchu, and for me, that trumped everything. That’s what I wanted to see, and even though I knew that bad weather could completely ruin this for me by totally obstructing the view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate, I was willing to take the risk (and thank God we did because we had a beautiful morning upon arrival).

Despite being more crowded (they still limit the trail to 200 trekkers per day) and expensive than other trails, we were quite happy with our decision. It passed by many other Incan ruins, and it was a bit shorter and easier than alternative treks. Despite hearing some complaints from hardcore trekkers about the crowds, we didn’t find there to be too many people at any one time. Everyone goes at their own pace and the crowds stretch out along the way. Being that we aren’t expert hikers, this route just seemed like the right one for us. Keep in mind that if you do decide to hike the Inca Trail, it will have to be booked in advance, sometimes many months in advance. The advantage of hiking one of the alternative trails is that you can just turn up in Cusco and book it. You’d have to be really lucky for this to happen when hiking the classic Inca Trail.

How to Prepare


For more in depth information geared specifically for hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, check out the following tips:

  • Don’t worry, be confident, you’ll be fine- Virtually anyone in decent physical condition should be able to finish this hike.  It’s a smart idea to do some training and get in as good of shape as possible obviously, but if you aren’t a marathon runner, you’ll be fine. It is a very challenging and difficult hike, but on the trail, we saw, among others:
    • several people in their 60’s, none of which were those freakish people in their 60’s who really like they’re 30 (you know who I’m talking about).  While a few were struggling mightily during parts of it, they finished and were all smiles on day four traipsing around Machu Picchu.
    • a woman who was 6 months pregnant. You can argue about the stupidity of this among yourselves, but I just wanted to point out that she made it just fine.
    • a woman in our own group who had never hiked or camped before-yep, that’s right
  • Rest and acclimate- Pretty self-explanatory-get to Cusco several days before your hike and rest and acclimate. All the tours featured here allow for a few days acclimatization time in Cusco.  If you have the extra vacation time, then arrange to come even earlier.  The more time you have in Cusco, the better off you’ll be.  One of our trips mentioned above combines hiking the Inca Trail with exploring the Sacred Valley around Cusco.  It has trekkers exploring the ruins around Cusco before departing on the Inca Trail hike.  This is a good opportunity to add a little activity in, which helps with acclimatization, before heading off on the trail.  Cusco can be a party town with lots of opportunities for drinking yourself silly.  Don’t give into temptation.  I like to drink and party with the best of them, but take my advice and wait until you’re finished, then feel free to drink yourself stupid.
  • Bring appropriate clothing- No matter what time of year, it can rain in the mountains. Some times are obviously wetter than others, but even in dry season you can get rained on. On the same note, it can get really cold, especially at night. So bring lightweight, moisture wicking clothing that you can layer. You will probably be adding and shedding clothing all day long during your hike, so just be aware and come prepared. A poncho or rain jacket is advisable, as is waterproof footwear. Non-waterproof footwear=wet feet=blisters=sucky time on the trail.
  • Be smart in how you pack- Packing for a multi-day trek, especially if you’ve never done so before, can be frustrating and confusing. So much depends on your pack. Is it top loading or front loading? How many, if any, outer pockets are there? Here are a few tips for packing your bag. If you have someone else with you to share the load, even better.
    • Know exactly where everything is in your pack-being organized is very, very helpful while on the trail. You don’t want to have to rip your pack off and unpack the entire thing to find your rain jacket when the skies open up.
    • If you plan on taking a lot of pictures, have your camera easily accessible in your pack or just have it on your person so you can quickly whip it out.
    • Have snacks easily available-if you have an outer pocket that you or your hiking partner can easily get to, this is a good place to keep them. Having to take your pack off and rummage through it find a cookie is annoying.
    • Keep your things you know you won’t need on the trail (like your sleeping bag and mat) in the bottom or in a place that won’t get in the way.
    • In short, just use common sense when packing. If you know you may need it when on the trail, then put it near an exit point of your pack so you or your partner can easily grab it.

  • Bring walking sticks- You can rent these from many different places in Cusco. Do it. Walking sticks are a life saver, especially on day three when going down the Gringo Killer. They save so much stress on your knees, so just get them and thank me later.
  • Learn a little about the Incas beforehand- Check out the Museo Inka in Cusco before coming. Another option is to explore the ruins in and around Cusco. Read a few books or at the very least your guidebook about the history of the Incas, the Inca Trail, and Machu Picchu.  Your guide will be very well educated on all this stuff, and you will learn tons during the trek itself, but it always helps to have a little background information before you go. Then you can throw out little facts you learned and everyone will think you’re smart, so win-win, right?
  • Go at your own pace-I can’t stress this enough. The best way to get yourself into trouble while on a long hike is to hike above your means. If you’re hiking with someone else and they are faster, just be honest with yourself and accept it. Don’t try to be a hero and don’t try to make it a race. Go at your own pace, stop and rest when you need to, drink plenty of water and eat plenty of food, and just enjoy yourself. You’re doing this for fun, remember? Running the trail and trying to keep up with the porters will not be fun.

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