Reaching Machu Picchu is a trek within itself, even if you choose to only walk from the 5* Sanctuary Hotel at the entrance gate, or ride into Aguas Calientes by train and then hop on a bus up the hill. However it has to be said that trekking through the stunning Andean countryside allows you to follow in the footsteps of the Inca’s and past pioneers to explore the delights of the Peruvian mountain landscape, culture and colonial heritage. Passing by remote villages, ancient terraces, flowing river streams and stunning vistas you will soon get a real sense of the challenges that the Inca’s had in building their citadels in the heart of a mountain range.
'The Classic Inca Trail' is one of the trails that ends at the world famous 'Machu Picchu', the largest and best preserved ruin of an Inca settlement. For Centuries it was buried deep in the high Jungle (at 2,472m/8,000ft) until it was rediscovered by an academic from Yale named Hiram Bingham in 1911. He took 60 boxes of Inca artefacts back to the States which the Peruvians have been trying to recover ever since.
The trek is 50kms which does not sound very taxing until you take into account the altitude and difficulty of the terrain. It takes 3 days to complete. The trail is now limited to 500 persons per day, porters included and permits for the peak summer season sell out months in advance.
If the 3 day trek does not appeal to you then pop over to our travel blog page where you can find out all the news on another six alternatives, most of which require no permits, and some include taking part of the journey by train!
‘At-a-Glance’ Illustrative Itinerary
DAY 1 (12km): An early morning start is required for the 3 hour picturesque bus ride through to KM82, the start of the trail. You will pass through the villages of Chinchero, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. Hikers cross the Vilcanota River and follow the trail along the course of the Urubamba river, located in the valley with the same name, and then gradually ascends to the Piscacucho Valley in the direction of Huayllabamba, the town where you will camp for the night.
DAY 2 (11km): The day begins with an ascent to the first and highest pass on the Inca Trail tour: Warmiwañusca (4200 m). This is the spot where you will have some of the best views of the Vilcabamba and Vilcanota Ranges, the white peaks, and incredible splendour that surrounds them. You will continue the Machu Picchu hike on the trail to the Pacaymayo campsite.
DAY 3 (16km): From Pacamayo it takes about an hour to climb up to the ruins of Runkuracay. The descent from there lasts about 2 hours, the destination being the Sayacmarca archeological complex. The name Sayacmarca means 'Inaccessible Town' and describes the position of the ruins perfectly, protected on three sides by sheer cliffs. No one knows the exact purpose of these ruins.
After a visit, you’ll re-join the trail, soon finding yourselves in the typical climate of a semi tropical cloud forest as you trek towards Phuyupatamarca, The trail then climbs up to the 3rd pass (3,700m). The view from the pass offers excellent views of several snow-capped peaks including Salkantay (6,271m) and Veronica (5,750m). The trek continues to Phuyupatamarca, the most impressive Inca ruin so far, and the departure point for the last campsite at Wiñaywayna, where stand the remains of the second most important Incan archeological site on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Day 4 (4km): You will head off in the direction of the famous Inti Punku or “Gateway of the Sun”, and once there experience the first glimpse of majestic Machu Picchu. After a brief hike, arrive at the long awaited outpost and be rewarded with a well deserved rest, immersing yourselves in the energy that pulsates through this magical spot. Afterwards, there will be a guided tour that lasts a few hours, before descending to the town of Aguas Calientes to board the train back to the city of Cusco.