The Inca Trail is one of the most popular hikes around the world, with up to 75,000 tourists following the paths of the Incas to the historic Machu Picchu every year. Hiking the Inca Trail was hands down the highlight of my trip to South America last year and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. You can read about my experiences hiking the Inca Trail on Day 1 & 2 and Day 3 & 4. I thought I would provide a resource for other travellers with information about the hike and my own tips to help you complete it and of course, have the time of your life!
So here is my guide to hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu!
Inca Trail Overview
How long does it take to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu? The main hike to Machu Picchu starts at Km 82. The hike is 42km in length and takes 4 days to complete. Fun Fact: You would be surprised to know that the record time for hiking the Inca Trail is only 3 hours!
Who should I book my hike with? We hiked the Inca Trail with G Adventures at the tail end of the high season in late August 2014. I would highly recommend G Adventures to anyone wanting to hike the Inca Trail. Our guides were knowledgable and made the hike fun for everyone, even those who were struggling. The porters were just incredible and the chefs made some of the best meals we had during our entire time in South America. If you are unable to hike with G Adventures, another highly recommended tour company by fellow travel bloggers is Llama Path.
When should I book my hike? The number of Inca Trail permits are limited to 500 per day, with only 200 of these for hikers – so it’s important to book in advance. If you’re planning on hiking the Inca Trail during the high season between May and October, it’s important to book at least 6 months in advance. We booked our late August hike at the very end of January and the permits completely sold out not long after we booked! For the low season between November and April (closed during February), you should buy your permits at least 3 months in advance.
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• Give yourself time to acclimatize. Most people on our hike could feel the altitude in one way or another – including headaches, blood noses and nausea. Take time to breathe, hydrate and chew on some coca leaves to help with the altitude sickness. Also, be sure to arrive in Cusco a few days earlier to give your body time to adjust to the high altitudes.
• Hire a porter. Unless you are really, really sure you won’t need one….but you probably will. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do the hike without one! They will be your lifesavers along the trail. They will carry your duffel for you along the trail, therefore the only thing you will have to carry is your daypack. We were lucky enough to each have an individual porter included in the price of our tour.
• Use walking poles. Whether you hire them through your tour company or independently, they will make the hike so much better for you. They will make the hike downhill on the loose, rough rocks so much easier on your knees and ankles – trust me.
• Take your time. There is no time pressure for the hike, except perhaps the end of the day. So go as slowly as you need. Our group split into three different hiking speed groups. Some people in our group were speedy and reached certain sections of the trail before the estimated time, others came in hours after them.
• You don’t have to be super fit to complete the hike. I’m not going to lie and say that the hike isn’t tough. There are definitely challenging sections, most notably the second day up to Dead Woman’s Pass. If you are of reasonable fitness, you will be fine! Some tips – build up your endurance before you go by hiking around your area, walk in zigzags up the steps along the smaller stones, break the trail into sections and resting when you make it to those points (and if you’re anything like me, treat yourself with snacks at these times!)
• Be prepared for the Inca toilets. Forget the luxuries of having toilet paper and well, an actual toilet. Just a heads up, expect a hut with a small hole in the ground. Oh, and you will be sharing these with all of the other people on your trail – so make sure you roll the bottom of your pants up before walking in.
• You might get sick. This happened to me and I’ve heard of it happening to others as well. So just be aware that you may just get an awful stomach bug and make sure you are well-prepared for it.
• Expect all kinds of weather. We were lucky enough to have perfect weather for the hike up until we reached the cloud forest on Day 3 where we had a little bit of spitting rain. Apart from this, our days were filled with beautiful sunny skies but the nights were exceptionally cold (especially the second night). Be sure to bring a warm sleeping bag, some thermal layers and warm socks to wear to bed. Dress like an onion in the morning because although it’s freezing to start off with, as soon as you start your hike you will start to get hot and need to start taking off different layers.
• Keep your necessities in your daypack. Keep all of your most important items and those items that will come in handy in your daypack. There’s no use of having something that you need in your duffel bag. It’s important to have a few things on you at all times – water bottle, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, band-aids, hat, camera, snacks, sunscreen, lip-balm and a headlamp.
• Stay positive & enjoy yourself. This is my number one tip. You’re on a once in a lifetime trip so be sure to take time to stand back and remind yourself where you are and how far you’ve come. Every difficult part of the trail is worth it. Have an incredible time!
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So you’ve booked your hike and are now wondering what to pack? Here’s a list of what I brought along to my Inca Trail hike. Please Note: I do tend to overpack and I may find some things more important than others will. So you may have to adjust this list to suit your own needs and the weather.
Additional tips on packing list:
• On shoes. I worried for a long time whether to wear hiking boots or sneakers, and ultimately I decided to wear a pair of ASICS sneakers. I’m happy that I wore sneakers and found them to be perfectly fine for the hike. However, everyone is different and it’s important to wear the shoe that will be best for you and the season that you are hiking in (if we were going in the wet season we probably would have reconsidered our choice).
Also, make sure you bring along a pair of thongs as well. After hiking for so long during the day, your feet will definitely thank you when you slip them on at the campsite.
• Baby wipes. Although you’re provided with warm water in the mornings and afternoons for ‘showers’, these will come in handy for that purpose too.
• Money. Make sure you bring some cash to tip your guides/porters as well as some small change if you would like to buy any food or drinks along the trail on the first couple of days.
• Entertainment. When you’re not hiking it’s a good idea to bring something to do when the night rolls in. We often played card games together as a group.
• Sleeping gear. We were provided with a sleeping bag and thin foam mattress through G Adventures. We were given the option to buy a blow up mattress as well but decided against this because it would take up too much room in our limited 6kg duffel bag. It was a little uncomfortable but in the end we were so exhausted that we fell asleep anyways. We also brought along a packing cube which doubled as a pillow and I recommend bringing a sleeping bag liner if you are going in the colder months.
• Snacks. Bring snacks but not too many (remember you will be having three-course meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner). We brought along some M&Ms, gummy lollies, Muesli bars and hard-boiled sweets.
• Water. The last chance to buy water is on the second day, after that your porters will provide you with clean water every morning at the campsites. I found having my CamelBak to be incredibly useful for the hike as I could have a sip of water while I was hiking without having to stop and find my drink bottle in my bag each time. It was also handy to have a water bottle to use when I was brushing my teeth or washing my hands after a restroom stop.
• Head Torch. Do not forget one! They are so much easier to use around the campsite than a torch is. Just think about how difficult it would be to make your way to those toilets when it’s dark and trying to juggle your torch and toilet paper too.
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Have you hiked the Inca Trail? Feel free to share your experiences & any extra tips!
Any questions? Ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to help!