South America's most famous trek is an unforgettable way to reach the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu. Along the way, the four-day trek takes hikers past three Andean mountain passes, Inca ruins, and views of the snow-capped Andes, culminating in a stellar sunrise over Machu Picchu—a UNESCO World Heritage site—from the Sun Gate.
For many travelers to Machu Picchu, hiking the Inca Trail through the Sacred Valley is as much a part of the bucket list experience as seeing the ruins themselves. It typically takes four days to cover the distance between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, with overnights at Huayllabamba, Pacamayo, and Huinay Huayna on the way. Shorter one- or two-day treks are also possible for more inexperienced walkers. To walk the trail, you need to join a group of fellow hikers led by a licensed guide. Trail permits are limited, with only 500 hikers permitted on the trail at any given time (including tour guides and porters), so you'll need to book ahead.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The trail is a must-see for adventure travelers.
- Inca Trail permits are limited, so it's important to book ahead.
- Everyone on the trail must be accompanied by a licensed tour guide.
- Dress comfortably and in layers. Don't forget sturdy hiking shoes.
- Bring a pair of trekking poles, even if you don't think you'll need them.
- Before your hike, give yourself a couple of days in Cusco to get used to the high altitude levels.
How to Get There
The city of Cusco serves as a base for trekkers heading out on the Inca Trail and is serviced by Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport. Most tours include pickup from Cusco hotels and the bus ride to Km82 along the railway between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, where the hike begins.
When to Get There
The dry season (June to October) brings the best weather and the biggest crowds to the Inca Trail; if you plan to hike during this time, be sure to book months in advance. The spring and fall shoulder seasons—May in particular—see fewer tourists and occasional rain. The winter months are prohibitively wet for most trekkers, and the trail closes for maintenance during February.
Alternatives to the Classic Inca Trail Trek
With the growing popularity of the Inca Trail (and the permit limits placed on it), visitors are considering alternative treks to Machu Picchu. These include the Lares trek, beginning in the town of Lares and finishing at the ruins of Ollantaytambo (a short train ride from Machu Picchu), and the Salkantay route, famous for its diverse scenery.