One of the best hikes in the world is the
Is Machu Picchu the greatest man-made destination on Earth? The only ways to get there are to walk or take the train. While this trek is justly criticized as being too popular and over-regulated, it high on the life list of most hikers.
- also called El Camino Inca
WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE
- PERU, all things considered, offers the best alpine hiking in the world
- the Inca Trail is safe and easy to organize
- you can hire porters to carry your pack
- non-hikers survive this trek, usually
- visit 3 wonderful minor ruins en route
- use your own gear or rent in Cuzco.
- quota system limits to (supposedly) maximum 500 people a day to protect the trail
- mixed vegetation from jungle to alpine
- meet local guides and porters
- solo hikers can quickly hook-up with other trekkers
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Machu Picchu - Photo Neil Costeloe
- the Inca Trail is not inexpensive. Budget absolute minimum US$220. The best trekking companies will not be the cheapest. If you do not want to carry a pack at this elevation, be sure your trekking company has enough porters. Companies prefer you carry as much of your own gear as possible. Budget for a healthy tip for your support team if you are happy with the service.
- starting 2002 all hikers must be guided
- this trek is insanely popular & many are unable to get a reservation to start the date they wish
- officially you must book at least 1 month in advance, very difficult for many travellers. In reality, if you show up in Cuzco you may be able to find a spot or two by shopping all the different trekking companies.
- If you get fed up with Inca Trail hassles, consider Salcantay (Mollepata to Aguas Calientes), Choquequirao or other alternative hikes to Machu Picchu
- The Inca Trail is considered of medium difficulty by most hikers. But the climb to Dead Woman's Pass (4198m) can be a struggle! Most hikers feel some altitude symptoms.
- altitude sickness is a real risk acclimatize as many days as possible in Cuzco before starting the Inca Trail
- if your Inca Trail trekking company uses porters, be aware that some firms do not treat their staff well
- some trekking companies try to push legal limits to save money
- biting insects can be a problem
- steep sections can be muddy and slippery
- be aware that you do not arrive at Machu Picchu until at least 9:30AM when you hike the Inca Trail. The site is already crowded with visitors by then. If you have time, consider an extra full day at Machu Picchu after finishing the Inca Trail. Early mornings & late afternoons are superb.
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- most hikers sign on for the standard 4 day, 3 night, 38km route. (There are shorter and longer alternative itineraries.)
- the standard route starts at Km82 on the railway tracks, finishes at Machu Picchu
- each company camps at different sites. Shop around.
- lowest altitude under 2000m at Aguas Calientes
- most itineraries include 1 night at a hostel in Aguas Calientes, the tourist town in the valley below the ruins
- best months the May through September dry season though you can hike almost year round. Trail is normally closed for some weeks during Feb-March for maintenance.
- weather likely to be variable. Psych up for freezing nights & steady rain.
- most hikers reserve spots on the Inca Trail long before they get to Cuzco
- your guide or trekking company is responsible to organize all paperwork. This includes a 1-day ticket to Machu Picchu.
- the trek finishes at Machu Picchu. From the ruins you need either to catch the expensive bus down to Aguas Calientes, or walk (1hr)
- plan to visit the excellent Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo on either the trip in or after hiking the Inca Trail
- more details on regulations at AndeanTravelWeb.com
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INCA TRAIL GUIDES
There are many companies to choose from and the least reputable frequently change their names. A few who have been recommended:
BEST TREKKING GUIDEBOOKS
A good guidebook will enrich the experience.
Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes 2003 is normally our favourite, but the specific Danbury and Footprint guides are far more detailed. In 2006, Rucksack readers published the second edition of their Explore the Inca Trail - Megarry & Davies. It's by far the best format.
Looking to get to Machu Picchu without hiking the Inca Trail? There are less complicated, less expensive ways to hike to the ruins. South American Explorers Cuzco publish an inexpensive, useful small booklet called Alternative Inca Trails Information Packet. You can get it emailed or buy it in Cuzco. There are both guided and independent options.
Other useful guides for hikers:
Far more interesting is to follow guidebook maps.
- IGN 1:100,000 machupicchu & urubamba maps are the best topos
- buy them at South American Explorers Cuzco
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- no map is needed, actually, as you are guided. Follow the hordes.
BEST ALTERNATIVES WEBSITES
Start with these if you are looking for excellent alternative hikes to Machu Picchu.
BEST PHOTOS & TRIP REPORTS