Everything You Need To Know About the Inca Trail
Tips & Advice From the Experts to Get You Through Every Day of Your Inca Adventure
Join us as we explore the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu so you can experience the highs and lows for yourself, along with some expert advice to make sure the whole thing goes Inca-redibly well...
First things first...
Km.82 to Huayllabamba
Distance: 12.1km / 7.5 miles
Tip 2: "Make sure your trek operator uses good equipment and includes inflatable sleeping mats - you'll regret it if you don't!"
Huayllabamba to Pacaymayo
Distance: 8.8km / 5.5 miles
On Day Two you will face Warmiwañuska. This is the highest pass on the trail at 4,200m and it's better known as "Dead Woman's Pass" but only because the peaks on either side make it look like a sleeping lady - honest!
Tip 4: "Buy good merino wool anti blister socks, I can't suggest them enough: my feet loved it and I had not even a slight skin peel wearing these socks, they were absolutely the best!"Kannan Venkat - Vividscapes
Tip 3: "Many people find that chewing coca leaves gives them the oomph they need to make it up to the high passes like Dead Woman's Pass"
Tip 5: "Take your time to enjoy the views! We hung out at the back of the group and enjoyed the scenery, took loads of photos and had the trail to ourselves – it was amazing!"Marianne Rogerson
Did you know batteries don't last as long at altitude? Make sure you pack extra for things like head torches, but especially for your camera - you'll be furious with yourself if you run out at a critical moment.
Pacaymayo to Wiñay Wayna
Distance: 8.8km / 5.5 miles
Tip 6: "Take walking sticks. They really do come in handy on Day 3, when you walk down thousands of steep stairs, saving your knees a significant amount of strain in the process."Cameron Yorke
Tip 7: "Train as much as possible before leaving and make sure you spend at least a few days in Cusco before you start your Inca Trails, so that you can get accustomed to the altitude."Claudia Tavani
Tip 8: If you're feeling fairly smug about how the trail is going so far, prepare to be brought back down to earth: the world record time for completing the annual Inca Trail Porter's marathon is just 3 hours and 23 minutes!
Make sure you have cash with you - you'll need it to tip the guides and porters, but you can also buy snacks (and beer!) at many of the campsites...
Tip 9: "In the main Machu Picchu complex early in the morning, don't be fooled into exploring down below too early. Instead, head up high to get an elevated view before everybody enters so that you can get as few people in the photo as possible." Jimmy Dau
Before You Go
Which Trail Should You Choose?
There are actually a few different routes to Machu Picchu. The 'classic' Inca Trail is the most popular option. This is a four-day, 43km hike passing through Huayllabamba, Dead Woman's Pass, Pacaymayo and Wiñay Wayna before arriving at Machu Picchu. In this guide we focus on the classic Inca Trail, but other good options are the Salkantay Trek and the Weavers Way trek.
The former is a little tougher than the classic route and the latter (also known as the Lares trek) a little easier and more 'family friendly'. We have detailed day by day itineraries for all the alternative Inca Trails on our website.
Inca Trail Permits
One of the most important things to look out for before you book or travel is permits. Many of the trails require a permit to walk them - and that goes for all the porters and guides as well. There are 500 permits for each day of the year, which may sound a lot, but trust us - these go fast! In fact, for peak months such as July and August, they regularly sell out four or five months in advance, with permits for some days in those months gone almost as soon as they go on sale.
The majority of permits are issued in February for the coming year and you can check permit availability online. Should permits have sold out and your travel dates are fixed all is not lost! You can still trek to Machu Picchu via an alternative route such as the aforementioned Salkantay trek (which many actually say is even better than the Classic trail, if that's possible).
It's hard to exaggerate the importance of sufficient acclimatisation before trekking the Inca Trail. We recommend a minimum of 3 nights in somewhere like Cusco beforehand, which gives your body enough time to get used to the thinner air. If you've never been at these kinds of altitude before, the way your body reacts can come as a bit of a surprise, particularly if you're generally fairly fit - shortness of breath, rapid fatigue, and headaches may well come as a bit of a shock but are perfectly normal and ease as you spend more time at altitude.
If you have time, it's great to be able to plan in a full acclimatisation schedule, where you start off in Lima and then head to somewhere at an intermediate altitude (Arequipa would be perfect) for a few days, before coming up to Cusco. Something like our Southern Cross itinerary would give you a perfect, gradual, acclimatisation for the Inca Trail.
It's also worth noting that rich food, alcohol and nicotine can have disagreeable effects at altitude, so lay off the booze and fags when you first get to Cusco and when it comes to eating out, go for little and often rather than one big blowout.
As your main luggage will be left at your hotel in Cusco, we suggest taking a well-fitting, comfortable backpack with you for the Inca Trail. Unless you have paid extra for a private porter, you will have to carry all of your personal supplies and clothing, as well as your sleeping bag and mat. RealWorld Holidays, and other tour operators, often provide you with a sleeping bag and mat, however you are expected to carry them, so ensure you have room in your backpack.
Within your group there will be a number of general porters who will carry cooking equipment, water, food, tents etc. They will set off ahead of you to set up lunch stops and camps every night, and cannot carry your personal items.
If you have paid for a private porter, you must have your backpack ready for pick up the night before you begin the Inca Trail. There will be a weight limit, which is usually around 14kg. Your private porter will also set off ahead of the group to help set up camp, so you won’t have access to your belongings during the day, which is why we recommend taking a day pack for your camera, drink, snacks, extra layers etc.
- Layers, layers, layers! – At altitude the weather can change quite suddenly, and it’s often quite cold first thing on a morning and at night, so lightweight layers are perfect. Eg shorts, tracksuits, vests, long and short-sleeved tops, thin fleeces.
- Plenty of spare clothing – If you get wet, muddy, or sweaty, you’ll want clean things to change into. Plus, if the weather suddenly takes a turn for the worst you can layer up.
- Extra socks – After a full days hiking it’s nice to have a clean pair of socks to put on, and if it rains you should change your wet socks straight away, so take more pairs than you think you’ll need.
- Waterproof jacket/poncho – During the rainy season this is essential, however even during the dry months we recommend taking a lightweight waterproof, as wet clothes will weigh you down.
- Warm clothes – It can drop below freezing on a night, and although your tent and sleeping bag should be rated ‘all seasons’ we recommend packing warm jumpers, hats, gloves etc. You could even give your private porter an extra blanket to carry, as getting a good night’s sleep is vital if you’re to enjoy the Inca Trail.
- Sunhat – If you’re lucky enough to get nice weather you’ll need a hat to protect you from sunstroke. Plus, it’ll hide your messy hair if you opt out of using the camp showers!
- Worn-in hiking shoes/walking boots – Probably the most important item on your kit list! You’ll be walking the equivalent of a marathon, and the terrain is uneven in places with many ups and downs, so good shoes should be a priority.
- Flip-flops or sandals – After a full day squashed into a pair of boots your feet will thank you for some air! Also, you might want to wear flip-flops whilst showering.
- Swimsuit – There are hot springs at Aguas Calientes, so don’t forget to bring a swimsuit if you want to use them!
The camp facilities are basic, so make sure you have extra toilet roll and hand sanitizer, as well as things like shampoo, soap, deodorant and toothpaste. Also, don’t forget a lightweight towel for showering. We recommend the small travel towels, which dry quickly and don’t take up too much space.
- PASSPORT! – When you book your Inca Trail permit, you provide your passport details and the permit is tied to those details, so you need to ensure you take that passport with you (if it’s expired take both your old one and your new one just to be on the safe side). You won’t be allowed to enter Machu Picchu without it, so keep it in a secure, dry pocket in your personal bag.
- Blister plasters – It might sound obvious, but no matter how worn-in and comfy your shoes are, you’re probably not used to wearing them for so long in such mountainous terrain. Avoid them rubbing at all costs, and put blister plasters on as soon as you feel even a hint of discomfort.
- Water bottle – Although the porters will carry enough water for the group, you’ll need a personal water bottle to make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day. You can fill it up at rest stops.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen - Although it might not feel hot, at altitude the sun’s rays are stronger, which means you’re more likely to burn. So sun lotion is a must, as are sunglasses, which are equally good at shading the sun and hiding tired eyes!
- Snacks – The porters will carry and prepare all of your meals, but it’s a good idea to take things like energy bars and chocolate with you to keep you going throughout the day.
- Bug Spray - Although the Andes shouldn’t be swarming with mosquitos, particularly at the higher elevations, it’s a good idea to wear insect repellent, and we always recommend buying a good quality spray with DEET in.
- Cash – You’ll want to carry a small amount of money on you to spend in Aguas Calientes and also to tip the guides and porters, but we recommend leaving more of your cards and cash in a safe at your hotel in Cusco if possible.
- Medication – It goes without saying, but ensure you have more than enough prescription medication, as well as extras like headache tablets and throat soothers in case you get ill. One of the porters will have a first aid kit with them, but you might want to carry your own provisions too.
- Merino wool socks – These ensure breathability, and are good at preventing your feet from getting sweaty. Cotton, on the other hand, will absorb moisture much more, and won’t prevent rubbing.
- Convertible trousers – They might not be the most fashionable attire, but convertible trousers are perfect for the Inca Trail, as they mean you can easily switch between shorts and trousers all day.
- Bandana – This is another versatile, light-weight item that can be used for sun protection during the day and an added warm layer at night.
- Head torch – The camps are poorly lit at night, so a personal head torch is ideal. Plus, if you’re walking at dusk it can come in handy to make sure you don’t trip over anything.
- Walking poles – To prevent your knees from taking a battering walking poles are a good idea, as your body probably won’t be used to so many steeps inclines, and some of the paths can be a bit unstable. The lightweight, foldable ones are a good option to save space, and you can hire walking poles in Cusco before you set off.
- Camelback/hydration bladder – A water bottle will suffice, but some people prefer the convenience of a camelback. You need to stay well-hydrated during the Inca Trail, so if your bag doesn’t have a handy side pocket for your water you might want to consider this option.
- Hydration tablets – These are great if you find it hard to drink enough water, as they improve the taste and contain electrolytes. Plus, if you’ve had an upset tummy they will help you rehydrate.
- Inflatable pillow – You won’t be provided with a pillow, and unless you’re happy using your bag or a rolled up jumper, an inflatable pillow is a really good idea.
- Ear plugs – You’ll be sleeping in close proximity to your fellow trekkers (who may snore), so if you’re a light sleeper it’s advisable to bring ear plugs.
- Wet wipes – Experienced campers will know that wet wipes can be a godsend!
- Plastic bags – They are great for putting wet or dirty clothes in, using to cover your backpack in the rain, and also sitting on if the ground is wet.
- Camera – Don’t forget your camera! Hiking the Inca Trail is a lifelong dream for many people, so you’ll want to take as many photos as possible.
- Extra batteries – This is important because batteries don’t last as long at altitude, and you don’t want to run out before you even get to Machu Picchu!
What NOT to Pack
- Jeans – They’re heavy to carry, hard to dry if they get wet, and not very comfortable or warm, so leave your jeans at home! Aguas Calientes is an extremely laid-back place, and you won’t see people dressing smart for meals, so your walking clothes will be absolutely fine.
- Laptop and other valuables – These will weigh you down and are completely unnecessary. You’ll be so exhausted on an evening that you’ll barely want to read a book, let alone check your emails. Plus, you won’t get Wi-Fi until Aguas Calientes.
- Alcohol – Believe it or not we've seen this on other packing lists! Drinking at altitude can affect people in different ways, and you don’t want to be hungover. There are locals selling cold beers at a few of the campsites anyway, so there’s no need to carry a bottle of vodka in your bag…
You probably know that since Peru is in the southern hemisphere, their summer is our winter and vice versa. So you're probably thinking that December is the perfect time to trek the Inca Trail... Well, you can definitely do it, but you'd better pack your waterproof. You see, as well as being the Peruvian summer, late November to early March is also the rainy season in the Andes and things can get very wet indeed at that time of year. In fact, during the wettest month (February) they usually close the Inca Trail altogether.
By contrast, although the nights are cold during the Peruvian winter, days are fine and clear and usually pretty warm. In fact the sun can be quite fierce and you'll find yourself slathering on the sun cream! July and August are often given as the best time of year to trek the Inca Trail but for our money we'd rather go for May or June - the nights aren't quite as cold but the days are still dry and everything is lovely and green after the rains.
We hope you've enjoyed these Inca Trail tips and hints. The Inca Trail really is a fantastic trek, and we're keen for as many people as possible to enjoy it. Hopefully this guide will spur you on to complete your very own Inca Trail trek, and of course we'd be delighted to help you organise it! If you'd like to get in touch, just tweet us, call us, or use the form below to drop us a message.
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