The Inca Trail in Peru is one of the world’s best loved hiking trails, not least because it leads to one of the seven wonders of the world - the incredible Machu Picchu.
The Inca Trail is located on a mountain ridge above an area called the Sacred Valley, and is loved by walkers and non-walkers alike.
It’s a 26 mile (41 km) walk, usually consisting of around 10 hours per day, taking 4 days and 3 nights of camping, over valleys, cliff edges, steep steps and up rocks. It’s not for the fainthearted, but it is an unforgettable experience!
Get in shape before you go
Walking the Inca Trail can be tough on the body - so it’s important to be in tip top shape before you go. It’s recommended that you be in ‘moderate to good’ fitness before you go, so it’s important you have a full health and well being check before deciding to undertake the hike.
Due to erosion of the trail, only 500 walkers are allowed on the trail per day, including porters. The Peruvian government issues all of the permits for the trail in January each year, and every walker is required to have a guide. You can get a permit only through a registered tour operator.
The area of the hike is mountainous, and at a very high altitude, so nausea, dizziness and breathlessness can occur if you haven’t taken the safety precautions. Ensure you have plenty of water, a good tour guide, lots of food to snack on, and most importantly, don’t push yourself too hard! Take a rest when you feel tired, you’ll be short of breath more easily so it will feel harder than normal.
Highlight of the trail
Trekkers normally take four or five days to complete the “Classic Inca Trail” but a two-day trek from halfway on the trail is also possible. Starting at 2,600 metres (8,500 ft), the trail ascends to 3,300 metres (10,800 ft) on the first day. The second day ascends over ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’, the highest point on the trail, which you’ll reach at almost halfway into your hike. From the bottom, it looks like a lady lying down, hence the name! It’s over 4,200 metres (13,779 ft) above sea level, so expect this climb to be a difficult one! When you reach the top though, you’ll feel proud of yourself that you made it, but then realise that there’s still a long way to go! This is the most dangerous point in terms of altitude sickness, however, you do not spend long at this altitude and by the afternoon you’ll be back at 3,600 metres (11,800 ft).
Camping on the trail
There are 16 camping spots on the trail, the largest and most popular being Winay Wayna, which has electric spots, toilets and showers. The trail is easy to camp; plenty of open spaces where you can enjoy tales of the Incan warriors around a campfire, beneath a blanket of starry skies! Usually your porter will carry your tent and any heavy items, but if you’re hiking alone, ensure you pack a lightweight tent.
Food on the Inca Trail is usually delicious! You’ll enjoy meals such as a hearty bowl of quinoa porridge before your trek or maybe some flambeed banana to help with your energy levels on the hike.
When you’re camping, make sure you pack for a variety of conditions to deal with the intense heat of the midday sun and the cold mountain nights spent camping on the Inca Trail. It’s probably best to deal with these extremes by using several layers rather than one thick jumper as the weather can vary from one hour to the next.
Machu Picchu - a breathtaking sight
Once you’ve completed the 25 miles (40 km), you’ve got just 1 mile (1.6 km) to go before you reach the end. It’s best to get up as early as possible, so you can see the sunrise over the incredible terrain. Just before Machu Picchu, about ½ mile (0.8km), is the Sun Gate. This was a gate that the ancient Incas lined up where the sun would shine directly through the gate, aligning with Machu Picchu.
Arriving at Machu Picchu is a breathtaking sight, and something that really cannot be put into words - it has to be seen to be believed! It’s a stunning area of Incan ruins, filled with wandering alpacas and many more tourists.
Machu Picchu, or the ‘Old Peak’ as it is also known, was built around 1450, and is a UNESCO world heritage site. One of the most amazing things about the site, and the trail in general, is that many of the building blocks weigh 50 tons or more, yet are so precisely fitted together that you couldn’t even fit a thin piece of paper in between them.
It will take about an hour or more to explore all the different aspects of Machu Picchu and the ancient ruins. Be aware of the llamas that are wandering around!
Hiking the Inca Trail
Hiking the Inca Trail can be a life-changing experience. It will challenge you, enthrall you, delight you and surprise you. But most of all, it will stay with you.
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