Inca trail

Complete Guide for (4 Days) Inca trail to Machu Picchu (2023)

For Christmas and New Years, my two friends and I did the Inca trail. And it is definitely one of the best experiences I have had in the 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 provides the complete guide for the 4 days 3 nights Inca trail hike to Machu Picchu.

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Inca trail to Machu Picchu - a complete guide!
PIN for later reference – Inca trail to Machu Picchu – a complete guide!

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Disclaimers:

  • The prices mentioned in the post are valid only at the time of publication. Ensure to check the booking websites for up to date information and prices.
  • Opinions and views expressed solely mine and are unbiased. If the post is a collaboration, then they are specifically mentioned.
  • Ensure to check the relevant websites for up to date information on COVID protocols.
  • For any adventurous activities, please note that there is a risk that can be dangerous. Ensure to read the terms and conditions with individual agencies recommended and do them at your own risk.
  • For visas, it is best to see the embassy website for any changing rules.

About Machu Picchu

The UNESCO World Heritage site Machu Picchu is a citadel for Incas and is one of the seven wonders of the world. At an altitude of 2430 metres, Machu Picchu is also known as the Lost City of the Incas.

Also read | I was in Peru for 7 days and most of my days were spent in Cusco.

Built in the 15th century, Machu Picchu has three primary structures:

  • The Temple of the Sun,
  • Room of the Three Windows and
  • Intihuatana (the ritual stone).

Machu means old or an old person and Picchu means pyramid and the name Machu Picchu was interpreted as an old mountain in the Quechua language.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

If you are short on time or do not want to hike the Inca trail, that is absolutely fine. You can still go see the magnificent Machu Picchu as a one day trip. There are a number of options that you can do in order to visit Machu Picchu in one day.

What is the Inca trail?

The Inca Trail is a hiking trail to Machu Picchu. The hiking trail passes through some of the beautiful Inca ruins, spectacular mountains and local villages. And the hiking days vary from 2 days to 7 days. The standard number of days is 4 days and 3 nights and which is what my friends and I opted.

Even though I hiked during December, I do not recommend that season as it rained throughout the trail and is definitely not comfortable for long hikes. The best season is to go during the dry seasons is between May and October. But these months get booked out pretty quickly so plan well in advance.

Why is Inca Trail so famous and one of the best things to do in Peru?

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 is through some of the Inca ruins giving the hike a bit of historical importance as well.

As a preparation for the Inca Trail and the altitude, you can first hike the Rainbow Mountain so your body gets acclimatised for the higher altitude.

Things to know before going on an Inca Trail

It is always best to be prepared and know a few things before attempting any outdoor or adventurous activity. A few of the questions which even I had while preparing for Inca trail were:

  1. How many kilometres is the hike in total? About 44 kilometres. These kilometres have to be done in 4 days.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. And any hiker can be hit by Acute Mountaineering Sickness (AMS).
  4. What to pack for Inca trail? Refer the below section Inca trail – packing list. The lighter the backpack, the better it is during the hike as you need to carry the backpack. There are porters that you can hire who will carry your backpacks for you.
  5. What should I wear? Anything that is comfortable for hikes. Layering up with clothes is the best. Depending on the temperature, you can remove or add layers.
  6. 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. Read the story of my porter who suffered from AMS during the Everest Base Camp (EBC) hike.
  7. How much money should I carry during the hike? About 500 Sols and carry cash as no cards are accepted anywhere during the trail.
  8. Should I carry anything else? Two most important things that we carried were the hiking poles and headlamps.
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Inca Trail Packing List

Some important things to keep in mind while deciding on the stuff that you need for Inca Trail are:

  1. Remember to carry a daypack separate to your backpack. This daypack is the bag that you will carry throughout the hike, which means that having it light is the best thing you can do for yourself.
  2. Having said that it is also important to carry the stuff which is absolutely required during the trail.
  3. The things that you carry must cater to the weather conditions and you need to be prepared to handle the worse.

One definitely needs a good quality daypack and a backpack on this trail. For a variety of high-quality backpacks, refer Top 16 Best Hiking Backpacks.

So here is the packing list:

  1. Passport & a zip lock bag to protect the passport.
  2. Hiking shirts and pants (I would recommend two of each, so if one wears out there is a backup).
  3. Underwear (a clean one for each day + an extra pair).
  4. Thermal top and pant (one pair).
  5. Socks – It is advisable to wear two pairs of socks each time to avoid blisters on the feet (two clean ones for each day + two extra pairs).
  6. Poncho/Rain gear. This is a must as it was continuously raining when I hiked the Inca Trail.
  7. Light Jacket.
  8. Hiking shoes – Very important and ensure you have used the shoes and are comfortable before going on the Inca trail.
  9. Flip-flops to wear while you are at the camps.
  10. Few disposable bags.
  11. Sleeping bag – As I had hired the sleeping bag and the trekking poles, so I did not pack them from home.
  12. Sleeping pillow.
  13. Toiletries:
    • Toilet paper.
    • Wet wipes.
    • Deodorant.
    • Eco-friendly Soap.
    • Toothpaste.
    • Toothbrush/tongue cleaner.
    • Chapstick.
    • Sunscreen.
    • Tweezer and pocket mirror.
    • Hand sanitizer.
    • Bug repellent.
    • Safety pins.
  14. Reusable water bottle.
  15. Trail snacks – Ensure you carry sufficient chocolates, dry fruits, and some eateries to munch on.
  16. First aid kit and Personal medication.
  17. Flashlight with extra batteries.
  18. Camera, batteries, and memory cards.
  19. Phone.
  20. Phone charger or a solar power bank.
  21. Travel adapter.
  22. Cash.
  23. Cap and a beanie.
  24. Sunglasses.
  25. Hand towel.
  26. Good book.
  27. Gloves.
  28. Insurance.
  29. Earplugs.

Note: Ensure you check the expiry date before using any of the medicines. And ensure you don’t carry the scissors and tweezers with the first aid kit if you wish to take the kit as a carry on baggage. The scissors and tweezers must be in the check-in baggage.

Inca Trail Tour Operator

There are many tour operators that take hikers on an Inca trail adventure. I went with the Inca Trail Reservations and I booked them through Viator website. The guide who came with us was very good and knowledgeable. He gave us a lot of information on the trail and during our dinner.

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

One of the things that you need to be aware is that the food served along the trail is not fresh. That is because of the accessibility. The porters and the mules carry the food for all four days and hence the meat is not fresh as and when the day passes.

How much did the Inca Trail cost?

I have provided our detailed expenses for the Inca Trail. Note that the tour cost will increase or decrease depending on the agency you go with and the number of days you opt for. The expenses mentioned here is only for the 4 days and 3 nights Inca trail.

Disclaimers:

  • The prices mentioned in the post are valid only at the time of publication. Ensure to check the booking websites for up to date information and prices.
  • Opinions and views expressed solely mine and are unbiased. If the post is a collaboration, then they are specifically mentioned.
  • Ensure to check the relevant websites for up to date information on COVID protocols.
  • For any adventurous activities, please note that there is a risk that can be dangerous. Ensure to read the terms and conditions with individual agencies recommended and do them at your own risk.
  • For visas, it is best to see the embassy website for any changing rules.

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 for the tour = USD 685.00 per person.

Preps

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

On the hike

  • Use of toilets – 1 Sol per person for single-time use.
  • Hot shower (only available 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 increases during the hike).

Tips

It is expected to give the tip on your last day of the hike. This is not a fixed amount and it completely depends on the service and the size of the group. You can discuss this with your hike mates and come up as to how much you wish to tip. The prices mentioned below is what we gave during our hike and is indicative.

  • Porter – 30 Sols per person.
  • Cook – 50 Sols per person.
  • Guide – 100 Sols per person.

4 Days 3 Nights Inca Trail Hiking 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 – Cusco to Wayllabamba via Piscacucho

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.

025A6863
Starting point of the hike

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

025A6868.JPG
Checkpoint

The walk on the first day was relaxed and was at our own pace.  After walking the entire day, we reached our first base camp Wayllabamba at 5:10 PM to spend the night.

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 paying extra.

025A7001
First camping site
Statistics
  • Starting point of the hike: Piscacucho with an altitude of 9000 feet (2750 meters).
  • Total kilometers = 11 kilometers.
  • Base camp: Wayllabamba with an altitude of 9840 feet (3000 meters).
  • Grade of hike: Moderate.

The ruins that we passed during the hike:

  • Pulpituyuq.
  • Llaqtapata.
025A6956.JPG

Day 2 – Wayllabamba to Pacaymayu via Warmiwanuscca

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

Complete Guide for (4 Days) Inca trail to Machu Picchu (2023)
Highest point of the hike – 4215 mts

We reached the Pacaymayu base camp at 5:45 PM. This base camp had common resting area for all hikers including the hikers with other agencies. The place had shared 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 kilometers = kilometers.
  • Highest point: Warmiwanuscca with an altitude of 13776 feet (4200 meters).
  • Base camp: Pacaymayu with an altitude of 11155 feet (3400 meters).
  • Grade of hike: Very hard.

The ruins that we passed during the hike:

  • <None>.

Day 3 – Pacaymayu to Intipata

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.

  • Note: There is no checkpoint at Pacaymayu base camp as well.
025A7201

We reached the base camp that was at Intipata at 6:30 PM. This base camp had common resting area for all. And the place had shared 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 meters).
  • Total kilometers = 16 kilometers.
  • Base camp: Intipata with an altitude of 8692 feet (2650 meters).
  • Grade of hike: Hard.

The ruins that we passed during the hike:

  • Runkuraqay.
  • Sayacmarca.
  • Winaywayna.
  • Phuyupatamarca.
025A7289.JPG
One of the ruins

Day 4 – Intipata to Machu Picchu

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.

At this point, 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 meters).
  • Total kilometers = kilometers.
  • Base camp: Machu Picchu with an altitude of 7875 feet (2400 meters).
  • Grade of hike: Moderate.

The ruins that we passed during the hike:

  • Machu Picchu.
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Machu Picchu

Hiking route and elevations

Below graph provides the snapshot of the route and elevations of Inca Trail:

Complete Guide for (4 Days) Inca trail to Machu Picchu (2023)

Crew that accompanied us throughout

  • 1 Guide
  • 3 Porters
  • 1 Cook
  • 3 hikers (us)
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Food and 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 at each base camp 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. Do not forget to carry the toilet rolls.

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.
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Closing Notes

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu has been one of the most exciting things I have done. The trail, people and the landscapes were magical and I will always cherish these memories forever. If you have any more questions about the trail, feel free to send me an email on info@solopassport.com or solopassport@gmail.com.

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