Inca Trails

  • Along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu - © from Flickr user LeeCoursey
  • The main structures of Choquequirao - © from Flickr user Bryand_nyc
  • Inca Trail - © from Flickr user PhillieCasablanca
  • Machu Picchu - © from Flickr user _et
  • Apurimac River From Choquequirao - © from Flickr user Roubicek
  • Choquequirao - © from Flickr user Rick McCharles
  • Machu-Picchu
  • Machu-Picchu
  • Machu-Picchu
  • Machu-Picchu
  • Machu-Picchu - © Guillen Perez
  • Machu-Picchu
  • Machu-Picchu
  • Machu-Picchu
  • Machu-Picchu
  • Machu-Picchu
  • Machu-Picchu
  • Machu-Picchu - © Tim Snell
  • View of Machu Pichu

Key information: Inca Trails

     
  • Hike the famous Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, or various less famous and crowded and arguably preferable alternatives.
  • Spectacular walking on ancient routes through the beautiful high Andes. Truly amazing "lost" Inca cities at the end. Machu Picchu is now painfully crowded and has lost some magic: its alternative, Choquequirao, is more remote and very special, although the walk to it is longer and tougher.
  • Beautiful mountain scenery, colourful indigenous people, history and tragic romance: these walks have it all.
  • These are tough walks in high, remote mountains, on which you will have to be self sufficient and where altitude can cause real problems. Come prepared.

Walkopedia rating

(Top 100)
  • Walkopedia rating99
  • Beauty34
  • Natural interest15
  • Human interest18
  • Charisma35
  • Negative points3
  • Total rating99
  • Note: Negs: altitude; popularity and crowding at Machu Picchu.

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Variable
  • Multiple day
  • Maximum Altitude: Very high. Classic Trail is 4,200m.
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable
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Apurimac River From Choquequirao - © from Flickr user Roubicek

WALK SUMMARY

The Inca civilization may have been mysterious, illiterate and short-lived (1300s to 1525), but its dominion was huge while it lasted, stretching some 5,500km north to south, and it left a remarkable legacy of stone temples, forts, palaces, cities, terraces and roads, sculpture, magnificent textiles and metalwork.

Their road system - some 33,000km of it - ran, famously, throughout their mountain empire, and traces can be found as far afield as Chile's Atacama Desert. With Cuzco as the Inca capital, the road system in its area was particularly extensive, with a huge amount of trekking along the ancient systems available today, including of course the world-famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Despite the encroachments, the lost city of Machu Picchu remains a miraculous place, perched at 2,400m on its Andean shoulder high above the Urubamba river, nestling around the iconic (sorry) Huayna Picchu rock spire.

The origins and purpose of the site are still controversial. The consensus now appears to be that, rather than the stronghold of the rebel-refugee Incas from the Spanish, it was a lost city-province that managed to remain concealed from the marauding conquistadors: not just Machu Picchu itself, but other towns, forts, and of course roads. And that the city was primarily a sacred site rather than a stronghold.

Walking in to Machu Picchu is one of the most moving (even spiritual) and thrilling journeys you can make - albeit tough. All routes involve crossing high(ish) passes in steep, tough mountains. Altitude will at a minimum make you suffer a bit on the higher routes.

The scenery ranges from huge views across high Andean ridges towards giant snowy peaks (indeed, you are right in under them on some of the trails) to deep gorges crammed with steamy jungle. Climb vast puna slopes - the treeless mountain-grassland - to the wild cloud forests of the high Andes. The Classic Inca Trail passes through one of the few remaining areas of indigenous Andean Polylepis forests during the ascent to Dead Woman's Pass.

Due to the massive range of altitudes (and thereby in climates), Andean flora and fauna boasts incredible diversity. The Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wildlife as well as its remains: 200 species of orchid, 400 species of butterfly, 700 of bird. In fact, the Sanctuary hosts almost 5% of the world's known bird species.

 

Most Inca Trails start from the spectacular railway from Cuzco past the foot of Machu Picchu. There are numerous options for walking into Machu Picchu.

  • The 3-4 day, 43km, Classic Inca Trail starts at km88 on the railway. A straightforward walk to the trail village of Huayllabamba is followed a couple of tough days in the highlands, crossing passes up to 4,200m high. Variations on the classic trail involve getting off the train earlier for walk in along the Urubamba river.
  • The Shorter (1 - day) Trail: from Chachabamba (km104 on the railway), an Inca site, cuts up to join the final section of the Inca Trail, a steep walk. A shame not to do a longer trail having got this far. Permits are needed for this walk - book well ahead.
  • The Silque Valley: this six / seven day hike (from Chilca at km77 on the railway) follows a lovely valley with old farmland, before crossing a high pass and dropping back down to join the Mollepata/Salkantay Trek at the Paucarcancha ruins, and the main trail at Huayllabamba. Not many foreigners, a huge boon!
  • The Mollepata (Salkantay) Trek (and then Classic Inca): this six / seven day trek starts at a different place, Mollepata, to the west of Cuzco. Superb walking takes you over a (very) high pass (close to 5,000m) near sacred, snowy, thrilling Salkantay, before dropping to join the Silque Valley Trail at the ruins of Paucarcancha and finally meeting the Classic Trail at Huayllabamba. (Permits required - book ahead.) See also its variant, the Santa Teresa Trek.

 

If you want to immerse yourself in Inca history and this superb landscape, but want to avoid the crowds at Machu Picchu, try:

 

You will need to camp out on these longer treks, so you will need to bring tents, sleeping bags, cooking kit and food as well as your personal possessions. The experienced and tough can do some of these routes themselves (organised expeditions are now compulsory on some), but most visitors hire a guide and/or porters. See "Practical Information" below.

 

Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital, is high (3,360m), so take time to acclimatize. There is plenty to see and do, and some great shorter walks in the area to get you going (see the Trailblazer guide for ideas). The best known is what we call the Cuzco Ruins Trek, a route that takes in many important sites in the vicinity.

 

There are also fine hikes around the Sacred Valley and further afield in the Cuzco area (see the Trailblazer guide for ideas): all accounts and photos are welcome! An excellent (but demanding) example is the day trek to the high ruins of Hochuyqosqo.

 

This whole area - the "Sanctuary" - and local culture, as well as the Inca remains, is extremely vulnerable. Think carefully about everything you do. See our responsible travel page, and read up carefully in advance.

www.tourdust.com organise an expedition here : we have travelled with Tourdust, and were delighted. They were very nice and flexible to deal with, and evidently cared about quality, as their walk was meticulously prepared and our support team were outstanding in every way. We are proud to be their partners.​

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Books and Maps

Suggest books and maps

Books on this walk     

The Inca Trail, Cuzco & Machu Picchu – Alexander Stewart, Trailblazer. A complete and very detailed guide.

Peru: Exploring Machu Picchu, Cusco, the Inca Trail, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca, Lima and Beyond – V!VA Travel Guides (Ricardo Segreda and Crit Minster): has an excellent, up-to-date section on additional treks and activities boasted by the Sacred Valley.

Other books

Backpacking and Trekking in Peru and Bolivia – Bradt

The Rough Guide to Peru – (recommended by Richard Danbury in a previous Trailblazer)

Peru – Lonely Planet

Peru Handbook – Footprint

Fujimori’s Peru – ed. John Crabtree and Jim Thomas

The Incas and their Ancestors – Michael Moseley

The Conquest of the Incas – John Hemming

Lost City of the IncasHiram Bingham

Machu Picchu – John Hemming

Chapters in Classic Treks – Ed. Bill Birkett; Trek! The Best Trekking in the World – Claes Grundsten.

Maps

Rough Guide Map Peru.

Trailblazer has good basic maps.

It can be tricky to track down detailed maps for the less famous treks (Choquequirao, Salkantay, Lares); however the “Classic” Inca Trail should be ok to source, and you might be able to make do with a ‘Cuzco and surroundings’ styled map for our Cuzco Ruins trek.

Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk. Online specialist source of worldwide maps. Also try www.mapsworldwide.com and www.trektools.com.

 

Best times to walk/weather

Best times to walk

April to October. Late April and May are best. June, July and August are over-busy (and, indeed, the Classic Inca Trail can get booked out). June, July and August get very cold at night. October and April can be very wet – but not necessarily miserable as long as you are well protected and in the right mental space.

Other times of year are doable – but usually very wet.

Weather

Generally fine in season, but come prepared for unpredictable mountain weather and cold nights.

For detailed weather information, have a look at: www.worldweather.org or www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides

 

Getting there/transport/permits/fees

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Many people coming from Europe will use Iberia from Madrid to Lima. American Airlines flies there from Miami. Various airlines from Lima to Cuzco.

Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital, is the starting point for almost all Inca Trail treks. It is high, so take time to acclimatize properly – there is lots to see and do in this area.

Permits are needed to do the Classic Inca Trail, Shorter Trail and Mollepata Trek and need to be got a long way ahead. As at early 2011, there were only a bit over 700 permits for tourists per day (plus more for porters etc) on the classic Inca Trail. Expedition organisers should arrange these.

The Lares Trek does not require a permit, which can make it a good option for those arriving without long-laid plans.

 

Route(s)

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See Walk Summary above.

 

Map of Inca Road System

From Wikipedia Commons, by Manco Capac. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

 

Possible problems, health, other warnings

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  • Altitude: likely to affect you. Acclimatize appropriately, with some day walking in the area (usually around Cuzco, come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases.
  • Mountain weather: rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Some of the trails can get very slippery when wet. Come prepared.
  • Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
  • Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
  • Harmful animals of all shapes and sizes, including snakes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
  • Beware of dogs: throw stones if they threaten, keep well clear if possibly rabid.
  • This is remote country: food and other supplies will not be readily available and help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
  • Health risks: this is a relatively undeveloped country, and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
  • Thieves, pickpockets and even muggers can lurk, in towns and on the trails. Read up and take all appropriate precautions. A guide / porter is helpful.
  • Be sensitive about photographing people. Are you sure they want to be photographed? Ask permission if in doubt.

See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Make sure you have appropriate insurance.

 

Guided or independent?

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Independent

You can do most of these walks independently, but the high routes are demanding walks and suitable for the experienced and fully prepared only; and some are required to be organised by approved operators.

Guided/supported

Most people form or join organised/supported expeditions for the longer trails. Given the remoteness of the country, many will prefer to do it this way, and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Organisers will also arrange for permits to be obtained.

You will pay less if you arrange an expedition locally, but you will have to take care as there are some unscrupulous operators.

If you are booking with a company, make sure you are using a reputable firm: they need to be authorized to organize Classic Inca Trail treks. Rip-offs are common, especially with online booking. Responsible travel means trying to ensure porter welfare and fair pay: try to use a responsible company (which can be hard to assess), and assume that very cheap expeditions may be thus because the porters are being underpaid. Complain if you think the porters are not looked after well. Check that operators guarantee to secure permits.

A middle course, and perhaps the preferable one (in that it provides flexibility and reduced burden to carry while enabling a small group), would be to hire a porter/guide or an arriero (muleteer with mules, invariably two). Note that mules are not allowed on the trails between Huayllabamba and Machu Picchu. They can be hired through agencies or in some villages, which can be preferable from the point of view of getting money into the local economy. Non-porter guides are in theory hirable, but can be hard to find. Meet him/her/them and get comfortable before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed – including how you will eat, overnighting and, of course, remuneration!

Organised expeditions (which still includes hiring a qualified guide but not porters (ie, you will have to do your own carrying) as of early 2011) are now compulsory on some trails – the Classic Trail and Shorter Trail – and may become so on others. Check well ahead.

Trekking here is now expensive – the Classic Inca Trail now starts at USD$40.

Expedition organisers include:

 

Accommodation

There is a huge range of possible accommodation in Cuzco. The guidebooks have a selection. There are various accommodation websites. Search “Cuzco accommodation”. Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation.

Camping is almost always the only realistic option on the trails.

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Other information and tips

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Befriend your porters, treat them with respect, and tip generously for good service.

 

Useful websites and information

There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us. 

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Other things to do in the area

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Other walks

Peru has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be. See the Trailblazer guide for a selection of other (including short) walks in the Cuzco/Sacred Valley/Inca heartlands areas. See also:

Other activities

Explore the Cuzco and Sacred Valley areas.

Shopping, if you must

We are not a shopping website. But, there are lots of genuinely interesting and beautiful things about and anything bought from local people must be of some help to this desperately poor area. So, wallets out!

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Choquequirao - © from Flickr user Rick McCharles

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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The main structures of Choquequirao - ©from Flickr user Bryand_nyc...
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Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more

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