For the most adventurous travelers, trekking to the ancient Machu Picchu citadel has been the highlight of their trip. There are different hike options to reach this historical sanctuary but the Inca Trail is definitely the most sought after experience through the Peruvian Andes and high jungle.
The Inca Trail was a network of trails that connected the Tahuantinsuyo Empire during the Inca era, along the way the Incas built resting, administrative, military, and religious centers. It used to have an extension of 23,000 km and intersected regions of Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.
Nowadays, the most well-preserved part of this ancient path is the trail to Machu Picchu, which starts from the 82 Km of the Inca Trail. It takes 4 days to complete this adventure and it’s considered a moderate to challenging trek.
As aforementioned, the Incas built structures to ensure the access to these locations, and most of them have remained hidden until their rediscovery in 1911. Luckily, while the Incas escaped from the Spanish conquerors, they managed to mislead the persecution to protect their people and sacred locations.
Nowadays, the Inca Trail remains one of the most in-demand activities in the region of Cusco. Therefore, if you’re up to this adventure, here we have listed some recommendations and answered some frequently asked questions so you can organize your trip!
The excitement of finally booking the Inca Trail hike has no comparison, but planning the packing list isn’t that much entertaining. However, this trek will be a lot easier if you know what to bring and what you should definitely leave behind.
All companies include porter services, but you would still have to carry a daily backpack with you throughout the trail, where you must keep the essentials for the hike. Packing smart is clearly not overpacking, but to know what you’ll definitely need for this trek.
Based on our experience as travelers and as a travel agency, we’ve come with the best packing list so you can start doing your own math according to your preferences. Remember, the porter carries your extra bag, where you’ll keep your clothes and other supplies, they will take the bags in each campsite and then pick it up the next morning.
With that said, let’s start with our essential packing list for the Inca Trail with the most important thing you must carry with you at all costs:
- Passport: If you were thinking of carrying a copy with you, let us tell you, you wouldn’t even get passed by the first checking point. To enter the Inca Trail, you’ll need to show your passports and get your details checked with the Inca Trail Permit. Also, you will need it to enter Machu Picchu.
Yes, we wanted to go a little bit extra by making this a single section. We thought you’d appreciate it to be highlighted. Continuing with our essential items, here is the clothing list you must bring with you for the hike:
- Raincoat / Waterproof jacket with hood. Whether you’re traveling during the rainy or dry season, keep in mind that you’ll be immersed in the cloud forest and the weather here can be quite drastic. Therefore, bringing a waterproof jacket with you would be the most suitable option for this trek.
- Trekking t-shirts. These are better for trekking rather than the regular cotton t-shirts that accumulate moisture and dirt. Consider taking at least 3 of these with you.
- A pair of lightweight hiking pants or hiking leggings.
- Lightweight shorts for the hike, it gets warm on the trail.
- Lightweight fleece jacket.
- Beanies for the cold mornings and evenings and sun hats for the afternoon, especially if you’re traveling during the dry season.
- Thermal layers for the evenings. Remember that temperatures are lower during the dry winter in the Andes.
- Hiking socks.
- Waterproof hiking boots.
- A pair of lightweight runners to give your feet a break from the extraneous walk once in the camp.
Regarding camping gear, most companies include basically everything. However, sleeping bags are usually not included in the price of the trek, but you can rent them from the companies or some shop in Cusco. Besides, you may want to get a head torch for the night camps and nighttime treks, like the hike to the Sun Gate.
Likewise, trekking poles may be useful for this adventure, they help to balance your weight and will surely avoid knee pain after the hike. We highly recommend bringing lightweight trekking poles, and you may want them to be retractable too, very easy to store.
Yes, there are toilets and shower facilities in each campsite. However, the toilets are a bit rudimentary to not say they are a little precarious, and showers are really cold.
The Inca Trail isn’t a highly challenging trek but it does make it feel itself with its steep ups and downs. However, the main key to successfully prepare for this hike is to acclimate your body before attempting it.
Even if you’re an experienced trekker, we advise you to spend 2-3 days in Cusco city to get used to the altitude. Besides, this ancient path will take you through altitudes over 4,200 meters above sea level, and trust us, you don’t want to deal with altitude sickness at this point.
If you want to be in your best physical condition, we recommend exercising before coming to Peru. However, this is not compulsory, but more like an improvement to help you get through it. Keep in mind that there will be many trekkers with different levels of fitness in your group, so don’t see it as a competition and take your time to enjoy.
Due to the high altitude of this location, some travelers may experience dizziness, tiredness, headaches, and shortness of breath. These are the symptoms of the so-called Soroche or Altitude Sickness.
This condition affects most travelers over 2,500 meters of altitude, regardless they have lived in higher elevations or at sea level throughout their whole life, thereby, it shouldn’t be taken for granted. However, we are not here to scare you off but to make things clear and easier for you:
- Drink plenty of water. Keeping yourself hydrated is the key to avoiding getting sick.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking at all costs. Alcohol is a dehydrator and smoking may cause or worsen shortness of breath.
- Take it easy on the first days. When traveling to high-altitude locations, make sure to not commit to physically demanding activities on the first 2-3 days.
- Drink coca tea or chew coca leaves. This medicinal plant is known for its healing properties and for helping with acclimatization.
There are some medicines that help easing altitude sickness symptoms, you can find Diamox or Soroche Pills in almost any drugstore in Peru. However, we highly recommend consulting with a doctor before taking any of these.
It takes up to 4 days to complete this historical trail to this historical sanctuary. On the way, you’ll pass by the most remote Inca settlements which offer a glimpse to what life was during the Inca times before reaching Machu Picchu.
As aforementioned, it doesn’t require a high fitness level or to be an experienced trekker to complete it. However, the key to avoid any inconvenience is to achieve acclimatization a few days before starting this journey, and to not overpack your daypack!
Unfortunately, you cannot hike the Inca Trail on your own since the Inca Trail Permit can only be purchased through a verified government tour company. The smallest group allowed are with a minimum of two passengers besides the guides and possibly porters.
To reduce human impact on the trail, the Peruvian government has limited the entry to 500 persons per day, this includes hikers, porters, cooks, and guides. Therefore, if you’re up to this adventure, we highly recommend you book the tour at least 6 months in advance.
It is worth mentioning that the Inca Trail Permit isn’t transferible, and during the rainiest month of the year (February), the trail is closed due maintenance.
The weather condition in this region is distinctive of the Peruvian Andean region, with a dry winter and a rainy summer. However, due to its geographic position, small chances of rain are expected even during the dry season.
- Rainy Season: It starts in December and ends around April. However, heavy downpours of rain are expected between the months of January and March. Temperatures range between 15°C and 5°C.
- Dry Season: This is considered the coldest season of the year, though it is significantly warmer during daytime. However, temperatures are significantly colder in early mornings and evenings.
We’d like to mention that the cloud forest has a different weather condition and though you may be traveling during the dry season, you may experience occasional rainfall. To learn more about the weather in Peru, please check our informative guide.
The short Inca Trail takes only 2 days and 1 night. It starts from the 104 km of the Ollantaytambo railway and passes by the Chachabamba and Wiñay Wayna archeological sites. The trail continues towards the Inti Punku (Sun Gate) to have an outstanding view of the Inca Citadel, to later descend to Aguas Calientes for some rest. The visit to Machu Picchu will take place on the following day.
The Inca Trail is in almost every passenger’s bucket list, not only for being the most visually striking path in South America but for having a great historical value. Dare to uncover the secrets of the Inca civilization with this famous trek! For more information about the sightings and the Inca Trail itself, please read our guide.