How to Prepare for Hiking Peru's Inca Trail

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Inca Trail – arguably, it is the most famous hike in the world.  It is one of the most popular treks in Peru and South America. If you go online, you’ll find countless pictures of the Inca Trail. Hiking the trail through the Sacred Valley to the famous Machu Picchu is quite grueling but ultimately fulfilling.  The view at the top is incredibly awe-inspiring.  The exhaustion dissipates as you see the emerald peaks and the ruins of an ancient city.


Much of this trail is an original construction.  It covers three overlapping trails: Mollepata, Classic and One Day.  Mollepata is the longest trail.  It intersects with the Classic trail.  The whole trail passes through different types of Andean environment.  You will pass through a cloud forest, alpine tundra, settlements, tunnels and Incan ruins.  The whole trail ends at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu.  Climbing the two longest trails would require a 4200 ascent above sea level.

There is so much to see on this four-day trek, but nothing can compare to the moment you reach the Sun Gate and catch a glimpse of the ancient forgotten city of Machu Picchu.  It is a transformative accomplishment.

Reach Machu Picchu through the Incan Trail

The Inca Trail is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  The whole trek culminates in the ancient and lost city of Machu Picchu.  Not surprisingly, it is always included in people’s bucket list.  The Inca Trail offers lush awe-inspiring scenery, beautiful cloudforest and ancient ruins.  This trek is truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  Camp under the stars, watch the dawn break over the roof of Andes, pass ancient ruins, and breathe in pure mountain air.  Spend days trekking through sprawling countryside and quaint villages with thatched stone houses.  Surround yourself with llamas, alpacas and snow-capped mountains.

The Inca Trail is ideal for hikers or travelers who are eager to experience culture while taking on the challenge of one the world’s most challenging hikes.  While it is physically demanding, it is within the reach of most travelers. There are incredibly steep parts, but the exertion is definitely worth it.


Concern about erosion has led the Peruvian government to limit the number of people who can hike the trail per season.  The government has also limited the number of travel guide that can offer their service to travelers.  So, it is mandatory for people to book their trip in advance.  Only about 500 people are allowed on the trail daily.  Only about 200 are trekkers. The rest are guides and porters.  So, it is not surprising that it is incredibly easy to book the season quickly.

It usually takes about four to five days to complete the trail.  Some people choose to do a 2-day hike from Km 10.  The Inca Trail starts at two points, but these segments meet at the Patallaqta, a religious site that is also used for farming and housing.  It intersects with the Mollepata Trail at about 3000 meters at the Wayllapampa village.  This is a small settlement with about 400 inhabitants.


From the point, the trail turns west and ascends along the Kusichaka.  Pack animals are no longer allowed from this point.  Metal-tipped trekking poles are not allowed as well.  The trail ascends toward Warmi Wañusqa.  The Llulluch’apampa campsite is located in this stretch.  After crossing the pass, the trail will then descend into the Pakaymayu drainage and then ascends to the other side of the valley.  You will eventually reach the tampu Runkuraqay ruins at an altitude of 3750 meters.

This continues to ascend until you pass the Quchapata lake which is located in a deer habitat.  It continues on through high cloud forest and steeply heights.  At almost 4000 m, the view is quite spectacular.  The trail eventually reaches the Sayaqmarka, a small town.  You will then go through an Inca tunnel and a viewpoint overlooking Urubamba and Aobamba valleys.

When you continue your ascent, you will reach a campground at 3650 meters.  You will then go on a short descent and reach a site with extensive ruins, the Phuyupatamarka.  The trail will then descend until you reach a 1500-step staircase.  There are steps that were carved into granite.  You will also find another Incan tunnel in this area.


After passing through the tunnel, you will reach the town of Aguas Calientes.  As the trail nears Intipata, you will see a view of the Two Day Inca Trail.  The trail branches out to Wiñay Wayna, but the main trail leads to Intipata, an extensive set of agricultural terraces for potatoes, maize, fruits and rice.

The Wiñay Wayna, on the other hand, refers to both the camp site and the Inca ruins.  From the Wiñay Wayna, the trail undulates below the east slope of Machu Picchu.  The steep stairs lead to Inti Punku where the grandeur of the Machu Picchu is revealed.

Flying in to Peru

When traveling to Peru, you might want to consider bringing their currency with you.  But if you forget to do that, you should avoid changing your money inside the airport.  Experience has taught us that you will likely get ripped off.  You could find currency exchange shops near your hotel.  You can probably get a better rate for your money.

If you are scheduled to arrive at night, it is a good idea to have a taxi cab waiting for you.  Make the reservations ahead of time.  You will find taxi companies offering reasonable rates online.  You can also hire a taxi if you plan to do some sightseeing.  Make sure to use authorized vehicles.  These are the vehicles with a yellow strip located at the upper edge of the license plate.  Always negotiate the price before you jump in, and make sure you pay in soles not in dollars or other foreign currency.

Should You Book Ahead?

YES!  You need to make a reservation before you even fly there.  You need to pay for your entrance fee in advance as well.  Bookings should be done:

•    December, January and March:  Book 5-7 weeks in advance
•    April, October and November: Book 8-10 weeks in advance
•    May and September: Book 3-4 months in advance
•    June, July and August: 5-6 months in advance

 

The trail is closed in February.  The permit is limited to 500 persons per day.  This covers the 2-day, 4-day and 7-day trek.  Get your permit from machupicchu.gob.pe  Trekking independently is absolutely prohibited.  All trekkers must be accompanied by professional and qualified guides.

How Much Will It Cost You?

The price for a 4-day guided trek ranges between $560 to $1600 per person.  This includes entrance fees and train fares.  It might be a good idea to buy the trek from agencies inside Peru.  The price is a little more expensive when you buy from a tour agency outside Peru.

Although services vary, the fee may cover the following:

•    Bus fare from Cusco to the beginning of the trek
•    Guide and assistant guide for larger groups
•    Porter fees
•    Entrance tickets to Machu Picchu
•    Camping equipment including food, cooking equipment, tent and sleeping mattresses
•    Return trip to Cusco


If you feel you need an extra porter, you may have to hire another one and pay between $120 to $160 for a 4-day porter service.  Porters, along with cooks and guides, have permits to enter the trail.


What Can of Weather Should You Expect?

Usually, from January to December, the maximum temperature ranges from 19°C to 21°C.  It hits the hottest 21°C during the months of October to December.  It is usually just about 19°C at the start of the year.

The minimum temperature ranges from 0°C to 7°C.  It is usually colder during the months of June to September with the temperatures ranging from 0°C to 3°C.  The wet months are January to March and later in the year October to December.

What Should You Bring?

Although your tour guide will probably your camping equipment, there are some things that you need to bring in order to help you climb the trail more easily:

•    Trekking sneakers and socks
•    Bug repellant
•    Sunscreen
•    Sunglasses
•    Rain coat or poncho
•    Light clothing for day hike and warm clothing for cold nights
•    Convertible pants (one that you could convert into shorts)
•    Sun hat or cap
•    Water bottle

Do You Need to Physically Prepare for the Hike?

You need to be fit before you take on the Inca Trail.  It is a misconception that because about 250 people do the Inca Trail then it must be easy.  Actually, it isn’t.  The whole thing involves tremendous physical exertion. You would need to climb about 4000 ft.  Combine the altitude with the extreme weather, you can imagine how hard the trek actually is. So, make sure to prepare for the hike before you actually go to Peru and do the trail.

You also need to prepare yourself for altitude sickness.  You should consider spending a few nights in Cusco to acclimate yourself.

Great Beginners Guide to Preparing for the Inca Trail Hike

Introduction on What to Bring and What to Expect when Hiking the Inca Trail

Inca Trail Links:
Andean Travel Web Guide to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Inca Trail tour operators

Image Credit:

5 Things to Know Before you Trek Machu Picchu via travelculturemag.com
Trek the Inca Trail via detourdestinations.com
Observing Humanity on The Inca Trail via inspiringtravellers.com
Phuyupatamarka via eyeandpen.com
Inca-Trail-Peru via travelandescape.ca
I think I'll go to South America via trexrunner.com
INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU via illswwas.tk

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