Facts about the Inca Trail
You probably heard tales from fellow travellers about how tough the Inca Trail is: "You will die", "You will wish you had never heard of it" or "You will want to be airlifted out of there", these are just some of the ominous predictions that had been thrown by wild-eyed trekkers of all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life.
The Inca Trail is part of the more than 23,000 km of Inca road system built by the Incas across South America.
It connected the Tahuantinsuyo Empire from Colombia, the west of Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, to the centre of Chile and the north of Argentina.
The trails varied in quality and size, they could be up to 8 metres wide on the coast, in the mountains the paving was about one metre wide. The path was audaciously steep and climbed over the difficult Andean mountains.
Bookings for the Trip
- Permits for the Trail
There are daily non-stop flights to Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima (LIM) from:
Amsterdam (KLM), Madrid (Iberia), Miami (Lan), Los Angeles (Lan) or New York (Lan).
Some airlines offer good deals picking up a connecting flight to Lima from Miami, so if you are traveling from Europe or any city on the East side of the United States you might consider this option.
Most travelers do not need a visa to visit Peru, with a few exceptions of some Asian, African and communist countries. A valid passport is required, though. The passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your expected departure from the country.
When entering Peru you will be given a tourist card, called a Tarjeta Andina de Migración (Andean Immigration Card), to stick in your passport, don't lose it! All hotels make photocopies of this small document and must be returned upon leaving the country.
You will be impressed on how nice and modern is the new Lima Airport. The food court has a McDonalds, Papa Johns, Mediterraneos Chicken, Manos Morenas and Dunkin Donuts. There is a confortable "Smokers’ Bar" and a lot of security people around too.
If connecting direct to Cusco, Lan Peru has a 5:25 am. flight, otherwise it is recommended to stay in a hotel with a pre-arranged pick up from the airport.
The flight from Lima to Cusco costs about $180 roundtrip. It's a quick flight, seemingly reliable and, in general, no big deal.
When leaving Lima you will need to pay a $30 airport tax for the International flight and $7 for the domestic flight in cash!
For additional information check out the airport website at:
Jorge Chavez International Airport
While planning your trip, make sure that you can get your Inca Trail permit in time; otherwise you might have to postpone your trip another year. I recommend securing your trek permit first and then work your itinerary around the date of the trek.
Permits are sold on a non-refundable, non-transferable basis, this is to avoid blocking spaces.
Prices for the Inca Trail are most likely to increase on 2008, the government has not confirmed the price of the Inca Trail entrance fee nor Peru Rail has published the train ticket prices for 2008.
Check out this web and secure a permit according to the availability information from the National Institute of Culture in Cusco, the complete 4 days package costs US$ 350:
Inca Trail Reservations
Climate can basically be divided into two seasons, the dry season (normally between April and October, with generally sunny days, warm evenings and often very cold nights) and the rainy season (from December to March).
Just like anywhere else and specially all big mountain ranges, these are general tendencies. You could get an early afternoon shower of short duration in July or an amazing sunny day in January.
Depending on altitude and time of day, temperatures fluctuate between 10ºC (50ºF) to 22ºC (71ºF) in Cusco and 2ºC (35ºF) to 20ºC (68ºF) along the Inca Trail.
Be prepared for a wide range of temperatures, from sunny and warm during the day to freezing nights.
Recommendation: May or June are perfect since there is little rain but the vegetation is still rich!
For updated weather information check
Peru's National Weather Sevice
Inca Trail Supplies and packing tips
The golden rule is to travel light, so plan carefully.
Leave your luggage at the hotel in Cusco and take a small Backpack, this works best. Pack as light as possible but make sure to take a complete set of supplies, but nothing extra. Some tips here:
Be critical of the quality and the proper fit of your clothing. Cotton clothing should be avoided because it dries very slowly and is a poor insulator when wet. Instead, choose wool or synthetic fabrics that "wick" the sweat and moisture away from your skin.
Sealable bags are essential. They will keep your t-shirts dry from moisture and will trap odors from your stinky socks at the end of the day. Your electronics should be in a sealable bag as well.
An absolute must is a pair of good and confortable waterproof hiking boots.
Take what you will use, and nothing more. If a package of supplies contains more than a four-day supply, break it down. For example, take travel-sized toothpaste.
Everything on the list can be found in Cusco for reasonable prices. Consider buying supplies locally.
- Toilet paper and a towel
- Iodine water purification tablets
- Flashlight or Headlamp
- Hat, gloves, warm jacket, warm pants, warm socks
- Rain gear - typically a poncho
- A dry set of clothes for night - plan to sweat on the hike. Once you reach camp, you will freeze if you don't have a dry set of clothes to change into.
- Water bottle
- Some candy or school supplies to give to any mountain kid you would come across along the way.
- Over the counter medication (plasters, bands, cotton, aspirins, pills for stomachache, etc.).
- Camera and films
- Walking stick with rounded and rubber end.
- Dried fruit, candies and chocolates.
- Insect repellent.
- Sun screen Lotion.
- Sun glasses
- Sweaters and a jacket.
- Some local currency for the hot shower at the last campsite.
* Consult your doctor regarding prescription medication - anti-malarial (you will run into mosquitoes) - acetazolamide - helps with altitude sickness to some degree.
Finally, carry a whistle to summon help, if necessary.
Certain items can be rented or will surely be included on the tour you take:
Sleeping Bags (can be rented in Cusco as well)
You will be surprised of the excellent high-energy meals served during the Inca Trail, this does not mean you should eat voraciously. Trekking at these altitude is very tricky and can affect your body in many ways, including your digestive system.
Most of the organized tours include the services of porters and a cook, just like luxury camping, with a cooking tent, dining tent, tea in the morning delivered to your tent doors, hot water to wash each afternoon, and delicious meals served three times per day and they definitely exceeded my expectations everyday.
Breakfast: Fresh Fruits, hot drinks, (Tea, Coffee, Milk). Bread, Granola, Yogurt, Marmalade, Butter, eggs, Pancakes.
Lunch and Dinner: Vegetables Soups, Drinks, Main Dish (Fish, Chicken, Meats, Spaghetti, Chicken, Omelets, Vegetables).
Desserts (Chocolate pudding, Gelatin, Flan) Bread, Cheeses.
You don't get every item every day, but you will surely be satisfied after every meal. Vegetarian options are available upon request when booking your trek.
Water : What to do for water along the Inca Trail ?
Bottled mineral water can be taken from Cusco, bought at km82 (the start of the trek), at Wayllabamba (first night), at Wiñay Wayna (third night) and at Machu Picchu (final day), but the plastic waste is taking a terrible toll on the environment.
You'll come across a mountain spring, fountain or small stream along the way where you can fill up your water bottle, although the water looks it is always safer to use the Iodine water purification tablets or like some of our group enjoyed their Camelback hydration systems.
People you will meet
Doing the trek with a group is key to a good time. The camaraderie and support makes the entire experience unforgetable.
You are probably concerned that the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is over-hyped and over-visited, envisioning massive numbers of people tripping over themselves on the trail, competing for limited camping spots at night, and generally ruining the experience, it is not that way at all.
Even though there are five hundred people on the trail each day, you don't really see many of them most of the time. It's only when you reach the camp sites or lunch spots that you get an idea of how many other people are hiking along with you. Once you start walking it's rare to see anyone other than a porter running past you.
Along the way expect to meet adventurous people from around the world, from solo adventurers to groups of experienced hikers. When you're on the trail, it's easy to make friends quickly.
Inca Trail Tour Guide
Your tour guide is the connection to a great adventure. The guide will make sure to tell you all the information you need to know about the entire trail. You should trust the guide when it's time to set the pace, when to take a break and when to push it.
Your guide will also provide history of the Inca's Empire, the ruins along the way and Machu Picchu, don't panic when you hear those tales of how the Inca trail is haunted by the ghosts of dead porters. Your guide is crucial. Guides normally speak English, Spanish and Quechua.
Inca Trail Support Crew
The real heroes of the trek, without a doubt are the porters, Peruvian natives that will carry the tents, equipment and food. A team of surprising porters and your cook will be helping you out, some of them only speak Quechua.
Our porters were gentle, diligent, always smiling, always friendly and I could see that they really tried to do their best. They went in front of us to set up the camp at lunch and dinner and then packed up and left after us each time, passed us, and set up again. One of the porters even played a pan flute at the top of Dead Woman's Pass to encourage the hikers on.
What To See and expect
- In Cusco
- On the Trail
- In Lima
- In Arequipa
Cusco itself is endlessly fascinating, don’t skimp on time here. There are many different ways how you can explore the city. Some of the streets present a curious mix of old inca stonework with Spanish colonial buildings plonked on top, and there is plenty of evidence of the Inca civilization.
The area around Cusco is rife with Inca ruins and spectacular sights – Qoricancha, Sacsayhuaman, the Plaza de Armas, some are walking distance from central Cusco and some are several hours away including the most famously, Machu Picchu.
Downtown Cusco has a wide variety of arts, from indigenous culture to modern restaurants and wild nightlife.
While on the trail, you will appreciate beautiful scenery, wildlife and impressive Inca ruins. Be prepared for steps, mountains, forests, glaciers, sunrises, sunsets, waterfalls, streams, rivers, speeding clouds, and, if you're lucky, a speeding alpaca!
You probably heard bad stories about Lima but, like any capital, it is the center of economic and social activity of the country. We enjoyed our stay in Miraflores, the nightlife around this area and Barranco is gurantee of a great time.
As everywhere else, just use common sense on what to wear, what to carry and where you go, other than that Lima offers plenty of activities to make your stay in the capital enjoyable.
Arequipa is a gorgeous city surrounded by volcanoes, the Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu. Most of the buildings in the city are made of a white stone called "sillar", this is why it is called "The White City".
If planing on visit the deepest canyon in the world, Arequipa is your base for these tours. The two deepest canyons of the world are located in Arequipa, the Cotahuasi and the Colca.
Photography on the Trail
The Inca Trail is a photographer’s paradise. If you are shooting film, bring plenty. If shooting digital bring extra memory cards and lithium batteries. Imagine you are at the Intipunku on the fourth day of the trek with an amazing view of Machu Picchu, not the place you want your batteries to run out of juice or realize you have finished you last roll of film.
The Intipunku, or Sun Gate, is the classic entrance to the site, the unforgettable climax to over three days of slogging along the Inca Trail, through this doorway, you'll get your first look at the Lost City of the Incas.
Control your impulse to run down Machu Picchu and wait for the perfect shot! There will be clouds floating in and out, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. Sit back and relax, you have plenty of time!
A good zoom lens is heavy but valuable. A small tripod is also useful. Taking pictures with your zoom lens is a lot easier with the tripod. Since you are at high altitudes and UV light increases at these heights, UV filters are recommended to prevent a blue cast in photographs.
If photography is not critical for you, be confident that it's really hard to take a bad picture! Make sure you learn how to use all the available features of your camera.
Preparation - How fit you need to be
To trek you do not need to be an Olympic athlete nor a mountaineer but it is important to be relatively fit and in good physical condition before you start the Inca Trail. A few weeks of training, prior to arriving in Peru, will enhance your experience.
Try to spend an hour a day on the road. Walk upstairs rather than taking the elevator, if possible, walk or cycle when you would normally drive or ride a bus, take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. Better yet, go on hikes in your area.
Being able to run a few miles each day without issues is probably the best single physical activity you should consider. Other advice we heard was to spend time on the stepper; we can't argue with that.
While you are training you can also be breaking in those new trekking boots that may otherwise give you blisters on the first day of the trail.
Arriving in Cusco a few days early is also highly recommended. High altitudes affect everybody in different ways, even a marathon runner may feel debilitated. When in Cusco, go visit some ruins in the surroundings, have a little jog, you will probably notice heavy breathing. This is due to the thin air at altitude, not your lack of fitness.
After a day or two of aclimatization, you'll learn how much food your body can handle in a day, whether coca tea helps, or if acetazolamide is appropriate.
Classic 4 days Inca Trail Itinerary