Inca Trail

Travel Guide South America Peru Inca Trail



Macchu Picchu

Macchu Picchu

© dmetraux

The Inca Trail is South America's most popular trek, leading to the infamous Machu Picchu ruins. The Incas built the roads well before Europeans discovered the Americas, in order to transport goods and carry messages throughout the Inca empire, which stretched from the northwest of South America to central Chile.

The main start point for the Inca Trail is Km 82. There are 3 different trails leading to Machu Picchu: Mollepata, Classic and One Day.



Classic Trek

  • Day 1: Easy trek (3-4 hours). Slight incline.
  • Day 2: Hardest day (6-8 hours). Steep ascent in parts. The toughest day, especially if you're not acclimatised or fit. Might be the day you want to hire a porter to carry your stuff.
  • Day 3: Long day (8-10 hours). Andean Flats (NOT), but not overly stressful - just a long distance to cover. This is the best day, because you get to see all the temples prior to the climax. At camp there are showers for everyone for 6 soles.
  • Day 4: Steep morning (1-2 hours). To the sun gate for dawn (depending on the weather) and then down into Machu Picchu.




Only 500 people are allowed to go on the Inca Trail per day (which includes porters and guides), so booking during peak season is essential. The peak season runs from roughly April to October.

Between November and March (excluding February, when the trail is closed), reservations are not as necessary - but it's still a good idea to play it on the safe side.



Tips for hiking the trail

If you are going on the trek, be sure to have rain-proof gear and warm clothes, particularly if you're travelling in the off-peak season. A large poncho that covers your backpack should be sufficient to keep you dry.

Hiring a porter
You can hire a porter for one day or for the entire trip. If you only want to hire a porter for a single day, day 2 is probably the best day, as it is the toughest hike. Costs range from around US$20 to US$100 for 4 days. Most porters give you a weight limit of around 7kg and will charge you extra if you go over this.

Tips for picking a tour operator

You can't do the Inca Trail without a registered guide or operator, so picking a reliable, well-priced tour operator is important. There are many tour operators and some are definitely not worth the money. What follows is a series of tips for helping you pick a tour operator:

Book through a tour operator, not a tour agency.
Try to deal with the operators directly, so you avoid paying a middle-man fee to the agency.

Ensure that the agency is EIRL Registered
This means that they have to be authorized by INRENA (142 tour operators) and be accredited. Click here for a full list. Some cheaper agencies are not accredited.

Check out their website
A professional-looking website is an indication that the outfit as a whole is more professional. However, this may also translate into higher cost.

Compare prices
The price depends on when you're going, for how long you're going, and how reputable the operator/agency is. During the off peak season, a rough price estimate for a 4-day trek is anywhere between US$ 350 (for lower-end operators like Pumas Trek Peru and Apus Explorer) and $ 450-600 (for higher-end operators like SAS, Tierras Vivas and United Mice). If you have a student card, it is possible to get a discounted rate. Note that if you're paying less than US$350, the porters, guides and cooks are probably being underpaid by the agency.

Ask questions
Call or email the agency and ask plenty of questions. The more reputable agencies will have staff with English knowledge (and often some German and French). Here are some questions to ask:

  • Are you a tour operator?
  • Are you a tour agency ?
  • Do I stay in your tents or someone else's?
  • What class of guide will I get? (There are three types of class, based on language knowledge: Class A have good English knowledge and know either French, German, or another language; Class B speak English (not as well as Class A) and Spanish; Class C will know a few words in English but mostly know Spanish)
  • Is my train ticket included in the price?
  • Is entrance to Machu Picchu included in the price?
  • Is the bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Caliente included in the price?
  • Does the train take me to Cusco or to Ollantaytambo?
  • How many meals do I get? (You should get at least 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 3 evening meals)
  • Do I have to carry my own mattress? (Some of the cheaper ones require you do this... which is additional weight)
  • Can I hire my own porter?
  • How much does my own porter cost and how much weight will he carry?
  • Do we get purified water? Do we have to buy it ourselves? Will you provide boiled water? (If you have to carry your own water, remember that water weighs a lot)
  • Do I get picked up from my hostel/hotel in a car or van?
  • Where do we leave from? (You should leave from about KM 82, which is the normal starting point for most tours - but this will be different if you're on a longer or shorter trek)
  • Do I need to bring my own sleeping bag?
  • How much does the sleeping bag hire cost for 4 days?
  • What do I need to bring with me? (They should provide you with a list of things i.e. flashlight, sun lotion, towel, etc.)




What follows are various costs associated with walking the Inca Trail, in USD:

  • Inca trail & Machu Picchu license : US$73 for 4 days (US$36.50 for those with a student card)
  • Train from Machu Picchu to Cusco : US$46 (Backpacker Class) Only one train a day.
  • Train from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo : $40 (Backpacker Class) 4 daily.
  • Hiring a porter: Prices range between $20 and $100 for the entire 4 days.
  • Tips for the porters and guides: Up to your discretion, but around 50 Soles per backpacker in your group is reasonable.
  • Bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes (also known as Pueblo Machu Picchu) : US$6-7 one way! Alternatively, you can walk the distance, but this requires a 1-hour, reasonably taxing walk.
  • Bus from Ollantaytambo (if you get off the train in Ollantaytambo): Ideally, your tour company will pick you up here to take you back to Cusco, but if this is not included in the price, it's not expensive: 10-20 Soles one way.
  • Water: Cost around 2 Soles (70 cents) at the start of the trail and goes up to 5 soles (US$1.70) for 350 ml later on.
  • Beer and other incidentals: Up to you. Purchase these on your first night's stop or your last night's stop. Some things also available en route, such as chips, chocolate, coca leafs, etc.



Getting there


The timetable for the train can be found at the train station in Cusco (near the market). You have to go inside to get it though, so speak nicely to the security guard.

There are two main classes: rich and backpacker. There is also a local train that costs around 15 soles, but this may only be open to residents.

Anyway, here's a rough copy of the timetable for the backpacker train from Machu Picchu to Cusco:

  • 17:00 - Train departs Machu Picchu
  • 18:36 - Ollantaytambo
  • 20:17 - Poroy
  • 21:23 - Cusco

There are also several partial services running from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo, it's possible to catch a bus to Cusco, which only takes two hours (this is shorter than the train ride). The bus drops you off at Plaza de Armas or Plaza San Francisco, which are both within walking distance of most hotels/hostels.


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This is version 22. Last edited at 20:07 on Nov 6, 15 by Utrecht. 5 articles link to this page.

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