It’s not just a stunning hike. It’s an adventure, a journey that leads to one of the new seven wonders of the world; Machu Picchu.
To locate the famous Inca Trails, you need to navigate yourself to the south-East of Peru, South America. The city of Cusco acts as the Inca epi-centre providing train, plane and bus facilities and the most prominent access point to both the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
While you can’t fly directly to Cusco from the United States, Europe and Canada, you can get frequent and cheap fares from Lima – Peru’s capital city. Hot tip: try to score a seat on the left-hand side of the aeroplane for incredible views of the snow-capped mountains.
Most tour operators and guides will ask you to meet in Cusco to meet your fellow trekkers and receive your trail briefing. If you are planning to travel in the dry season you must book well ahead to avoid limitations in dates, costs and tour companies. Spontaneity and last-minute luck are possible during the wet season but considering the epic popularity of this hike – we suggest booking your favourite tour company as soon as possible.
It’s also important to note that there are numerous paths to Machu Picchu. It’s best to pick one that best matches your itinerary, price range, physical ability and desire for hiking.
Inca Trail #1 – “The One-Day Trail” – 1 day (can camp overnight)
For those on a tight schedule, or with limited physical ability, there is a single day option. Starting at KM104, a steep three-hour hike will lead you to an incredible ruins site called Winay Wayna. Hikers have the option to set up camp for an overnight experience or continue straight on to Machu Pichu. If you stay overnight, the benefit is an early rise and viewing of the Sun Gate, or Inti Punk, at dawn. Either way, entering the ‘lost city’ will be magical.
Inca Trail #2 – Mollepata/ Salcantay Trek – 5-8 days
This alternative trail, named for Mount Salcantay, meanders through the stunning Mollepata Valley and reaches new heights at an altitude above 15,000 feet. Mount Salcantay, at a whopping 20,500 feet high, was once a sacred peak to the Incas. Today, it is still prominent within the Andean religion. This path will take you through the famous cloud forest, along an ancient Inca highway towards to ruins of Llactapata. This trail provides a rare side-on view of Machu Pichu. On the final day of the hike, you can get to the famous complex by heading downhill to the train station and catching the shuttle to the base of Machu Picchu.
Once inside the epic archaeological find, tourists must adhere to one of three set routes and back-tracking is not possible. The Peruvian government has implemented these measures for all tours and trails in hopes of preserving the global treasure and mitigating overcrowding.
Inca Trail #3 – Classic Inca – 4 days
The Classic Inca Trail is four days, three nights of vigorous trekking, rising early and retiring late. The ‘Royal Highway of the Incas’ was built over 500 years ago and is still universally visited and appreciated. The starting point is known as ‘km.82’ and is 40 minutes outside of Ollantaytambo.
Each tour company will dictate the exact route of your journey, but they generally follow the same well-established path beginning at km.82 where you will begin the first 11 kilometres of your adventure.
The classic trail will also take you through the unimaginable magic of the cloud forest before conquering the treacherous Dead Woman’s Pass. This will be the most difficult day as you rise to 1,115 metres high and complete 12 kilometres of solid stepping.
Generally, by the fourth day of the hike, you will reach your destination. The journey ends as you wander through the majestic Sun Gate. The stunning vantage point above the site will have you hopping and skipping along those last few kilometres to reach and then explore the incredible ancient sanctuary that is Machu Picchu.
It’s important to note that the aim of the game isn’t to finish each day as quickly as possible or to reach the campsite at a designated hour. The best part of the Inca adventure, like all others, is the journey. No matter which trail or tour group you choose, you will see unimaginable and unforgettable sites that will make any physical challenge all the more worthwhile.