Inca trail to Machu Picchu – a complete guide!

Last Christmas and New Years 2018, my friends Vijay and Keyur and I did the Inca trail. And it is definitely one of the best experiences I have had in past few years. It was an achievement, especially after 4 days of hike and struggle in the rain (Yes, we learned that December is the rainy season and is not that very popular season to hike).

This post aims at providing the complete guide for the 4 days 3 nights Inca trail hike to Machu Picchu.

What is Inca trail?

The Inca trail is a hiking trail to Machu Picchu. It passes through some of the beautiful Inca ruins. The hiking trail varies from 2 days till 7 days. My friends and I opted for the 4 days and 3 nights Inca trail.

Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is a citadel for Incas. It was built in the 15th century and has three primary structures – The Temple of the Sun, Room of the Three Windows and Intihuatana (the ritual stone). Machu Picchu is voted as one of the new seven wonders of the World.

Why is it so famous and one of the best things to do?

The Inca trail is very famous because this was a religious route taken by the Incas to Machu Picchu in the 15th century. And each of the days involving the hikes are through some of the Inca ruins giving the hike a bit of history importance as well.

Preparations & Planning

Few of the questions which even I had while preparing for Inca trail was:

  • How many kilometres is the hike in total? About 44 kilometres.
  • Is it a hard hike? Yes, I will not lie, day 2 and 3 were very hard for me. Day 2 especially was the hardest.
  • How fit should I be? One should be reasonably fit to do this hike. It is not about the kilometres, it is more about the altitude we are dealing with.
  • What to pack for Inca trail? Refer my blog – Inca trail – packing list.
  • What should I wear? Anything that is comfortable for hikes.
  • How do I manage altitude sickness? I started taking a tablet Diamox (prescribed by my doctor) to deal with the altitudes. Slight headache is common but if you experience anything serious, then it is better to head straight down to lower altitudes and seek immediate medical help.
  • How much money should I carry during the hike? About 500 Sols
  • Should I carry anything else? Two most important things that we carried were the hiking sticks and head lamps.

Tour Operator

  • Inca Trail Reservations
  • Website: www.incatrailreservations.com
  • Telephone: 084-255305/247293
  • Mobile: 984 631 844
  • Address: Choqechaka 229-B, Cusco 08000, Peru

Cost

Tour Cost:

  • Inca trail 4 days/3 nights – USD 595.00 per person
  • Sleeping bag – USD 25.00 per person
  • Porter (up to 7.5 kilograms) – USD 65.00 per person
  • Total Cost = USD 685.00 per person

Preps:

  • Snacks – need basis
  • Water bottles (3 litres) – 30 Sols
  • First aid kit – AUD 60 (USD 50)

For what is required in First aid kit – refer my blog – My first aid kit.

On the hike:

  • Use of toilets – 1 Sol per person for single time use
  • Hot shower (only at first base camp) – 10 Sols per person for single time use
  • Water bottle – 5 Sols per bottle (the price of the water bottle increases as and when the altitude increase during the hike)

Tips:

  • Porter – 30 Sols per person (this is not a fixed amount and it completely depends on the service and the size of the group)
  • Cook – 50 Sols per person (this is not a fixed amount and it completely depends on the service and the size of the group)
  • Guide – 100 Sols per person (this is not a fixed amount and it completely depends on the service and the size of the group)

Itinerary

Previous day of the hike:

The tour company had organised a briefing session, where the guide gave us an overview of what to expect during the hike. We were also given our sleeping bags which we had to carry for our hike.

Day 1:

We were picked up by our guide and the bus driver at around 5:30 AM. After the drive of 2 hours, we stopped at one of the most beautiful places Ollantaytambo for breakfast. We again drove for another 30 minutes to the starting point of our hike – Piscacucho.

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At Piscacucho, there is a checkpoint where the hikers must register providing their passports for verification. Once the verifications were done, we finally started our hike at 10:45 AM.

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Checkpoint

The walk on the first day was relaxed and was at our own pace.  After walking the entire day, we reached our base camp – Wayllabamba for the night at 5:10 PM. Each group had their own resting place, more like a backyard of a house of the villagers. The place we stayed had good toilets and hot showers, which we could use by payment.

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Statistics:

  • Starting point of the hike: Piscacucho with an altitude of 9000 feet (2750 metres)
  • Total kilometres = 11 kilometres
  • Base camp: Wayllabamba with an altitude of 9840 feet (3000 metres)
  • Grade of hike: Moderate

The ruins that we passed during the hike:

  • Pulpituyuq
  • Llaqtapata

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Day 2:

We were woken up at 5:30 AM with Coca leaves tea. Hot tea was definitely a luxury, after a rainy and freezing cold night. We were then served with delicious breakfast at 6:45 AM. While we were eating our breakfast, the porters packed our tents and the backpacks that they had to carry. Our group was late and we started the hike at 7:30 AM where other groups had left an hour prior to us. Note: There is no checkpoint at Wayllabamba.

The views on the way were spectacular.

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The toughest day in the entire Inca trail was day 2. The hike was very steep and I felt the hike was never ending. On this day, we reached the highest point – Warmiwanuscca and then had a steep decline to our next base camp – Pacaymayu.

We reached the base camp at 5:45 PM. This base camp had common resting area for all. The place had toilets which were again common for all the groups.

Statistics:

  • Starting point of the hike: Wayllabamba with an altitude of 9840 feet (3000 metres)
  • Total kilometres = 9 kilometres
  • Highest point: Warmiwanuscca with an altitude of 13776 feet (42000 metres)
  • Base camp: Pacaymayu with an altitude of 11155 feet (3400 metres)
  • Grade of hike: Very hard

The ruins that we passed during the hike:

  • <None>

Day 3:

This was another challenging day. We were woken up at 5:30 AM with Coca leaves tea. The breakfast was served at 7:00 AM and we started the hike at 7:30 AM from Pacaymayu. There is no checkpoint at this base camp as well.

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We reached the base camp – Intipata at 6:30 PM. This base camp had common resting area for all. The place had toilets which were again common for all the groups.

The night after our day 3 hike was the New Years eve 2018 night. When everyone was celebrating New Years all around the World, we were exhausted and had gone off to sleep at 9:30 PM.

Statistics:

  • Starting point of the hike: Pacaymayu with an altitude of 11155 feet (3400 metres)
  • Total kilometres = 16 kilometres
  • Base camp: Intipata with an altitude of 8692 feet (2650 metres)
  • Grade of hike: Hard

The ruins that we passed during the hike:

  • Runkuraqay
  • Sayacmarca
  • Winaywayna
  • Phuyupatamarca

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Day 4:

Since the porters had to leave for Cusco and had to bid farewell to us, we were woken up at 3:30 AM. We were provided with packed snacks and we waited at the checkpoint which was few metres from the camping place. The checkpoint opened at 5:30 AM where we registered ourselves again. We had done our Inca trail almost and we had only few hours of hike to Machu Picchu. After few hours of hike, we had reached Machu Picchu at 8:30 AM. This was an awesome moment for all of us. We all were here, including the other group members whom we had met and talked along the way. All of us had cheered and motivated each other during our hikes. It was a proud moment for us. Each one of us had a story and each one of us had a reason to have done this strenuous hike of 4 days – it was emotional and it was satisfaction that all of us had.

Statistics:

  • Starting point of the hike: Intipata with an altitude of 8692 feet (2650 metres)
  • Total kilometres = 6 kilometres
  • Base camp: Machu Picchu with an altitude of 7875 feet (2400 metres)
  • Grade of hike: Moderate

The ruins that we passed during the hike:

  • Machu Picchu

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Hiking route and elevations

Crew

  • 1 Guide
  • 3 Porters
  • 1 Cook
  • 3 hikers (us)

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Food & Accommodation

  • A cook travels with the porters for the entire 3 nights. The food was very delicious and there was never a time where one meal was repeated the next time. Each meal involved Coca leaves tea, snacks & soup to start with, main meal and sometimes dessert. At the end each day we were given the Moonya leaves tea as well.
  • The accommodation was in a tent. There were toilets around the camping area and were decent enough to be used. The ladies toilet were not the western toilets but the squatting ones. Carrying the toilet rolls are the best idea.

Lessons learned

  • Ensure you weigh your backpack with the sleeping bag and the sleeping mat – The porter would carry 7.5 kilograms of weight that includes the sleeping bag and the mat. The sleeping bag and sleeping mat hired from the tour operator will weigh about 3 kilograms and 1 kilogram respectively.
  • Ensure you carry enough water and snacks for four days. If you do not want to carry water bottles, carry the water purifiers to purify the water available in the streams.
  • Ensure you carry sufficient cash (at least 500 Sols) which includes the tips as well.
  • December is probably not a good season for the hike. December is the rainy season and it constantly rained for 3 days.
  • It is good to carry a small pack during the hike with some snacks, water, sunscreen and few more things required during the hike. The porters will not walk with you and hence the access to your bag is not possible during the hike.