Independent Inca Trail information for visitors to Peru. This is a non-commercial site.
Inca Trail - Introduction
It's easy to get confused when talking about the Inca Trail. The Incas built a highly advanced network of nearly 40,000 thousand kilometers of trails to connect the distant corners of their vast empire that stretched from Quito in Ecuador down to Santiago in Chile and east to Mendoza in Argentina. Cusco was at the heart of this great empire. Almost all of the principal trails in the mountains surrounding Cusco were built or improved upon by the Incas. However, a particularly beautiful 43km section of mountain trail connecting the important Inca archaeological sites of Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca, Wiñay Wayna and Machu Picchu has become popular with hikers in the last 30 years and has become known as the "Inca Trail to Machu Picchu". Access to this section of Inca Trail is strictly controlled and only authorized trekking companies are allowed to sell this trek. All guides on the Inca Trail must be licensed and only a limited number of trekking permits are issued and must be purchased several months in advance (see Inca Trail Permit Availability). When booking an Inca Trail tour always book with a reputable trekking company and check the day-by-day trek itinerary. If the trek doesn't include a visit to ALL of the archaeological sites listed above then it may be possible that you are looking at a different trek completely!! There are many unscrupulous travel agencies in Peru who make a good living out of misleading visitors about the route of their Inca Trail. Some visitors only find out that they have made a mistake once they have started the trek! This guide will ensure that you are not one of them.
The Classic 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
This guide refers mainly to the Classic Inca Trail which starts at a place
known as Km82 (so called because it is located 82 kilometres along the
railway line between Cusco and Machu Picchu). It usually takes 4 days to do
this trek arriving at the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu for sunrise on the fourth day
(hence referred to as the Classic 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu trek).
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 4-day
Itinerary for a detailed description of this trek. The trek is rated moderate and any
reasonably fit person should be able to cover the route. It is fairly
challenging nevertheless, and altitudes of 4200m are reached, so ensuring that
you are well acclimatized is important. If arriving from sea level, plan to
spend at least 2 full days in Cusco prior to commencing the trek. This should
allow plenty of time for acclimatization and give you sufficient opportunity to
visit the city of Cusco and nearby Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman, Q'enko,
Pucapucara and Tambomachay, as well as spending a day or two exploring the
Sacred Valley of the Incas visiting the tradition market town of Pisac and the
fascinating Inca fortress at Ollantaytambo.
Although 90% of people do this trek in 4 days some people prefer to spread the trek over 5 days instead. You will therefore find a few trekking companies offering a 5-day Inca Trail trek. Before booking this trek it is a good idea to study the detailed itinerary. Although the 5 day trek allows you to avoid some of the busier campsites the group will often arrive at Machu Picchu around midday on day 4 of the trek (when Machu Picchu is very busy and it is too bright to take nice photos). The group won't be allowed time to explore Machu Picchu and will be rushed off to their hotel in Aguas Calientes. The group then returns to Machu Picchu by bus on the fifth day of the tour. This itinerary may be exactly what you want but the classic 4-day trek with an extra night in Aguas Calientes will probably be better suited to most visitors and will probably work out cheaper.
The Short Inca Trail (typically 2 days - no camping)
The Salkantay & Inca Trail Trek (typically 7 days)
The second alternative to the Classic Inca Trail trek is a more strenuous 7 day hike via Salkantay, a beautiful snow-capped mountain. This trek is usually done in 7 days although experienced trekkers should manage it in 6 days. The trek starts near the town of Mollapata and the first 3 days are spent trekking around the foot of the Salkantay mountain. On day 4 of the trek the trail joins up with the route of the Classic Inca Trail and visit the Inca archaeological sites of Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca, Wiñay Wayna before trekking to Machu Picchu on the final day. This really is a spectacular trek combining the best of snow-capped mountains and Inca ruins. However since trek permits are required this trek must be booked many months in advance. Trekking companies don't usually offer this trek as a group/pooled service and if they do it can be very expensive. The best way to arrange this trek is to book a private tour, great if you are ravelling with a group of friends or are part of a hiking club. If you require other trekkers then you could try posting a message on one of the many travel forums such as Lonely Planet Thorn Tree. More Information on the Salkantay & Inca Trail trek.
Note: It can often be confusing when it comes down to how the various Inca archeological sites are spelled. Most of the sites of interest have been given Quechua names. Quechua was the official language of the Inca civilization and still spoken by more than 7 million people (mainly in the Andean highlands of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia). However the language was a spoken language was never written down by the Incas. In modern times various people have tried to produce an official Quechua dictionary but so far have not succeeded. There are therefore many interpretations when it comes to how each place name is spelled. Even Cusco can be spelled 3 ways: Cusco, Cuzco or Q'osqo!! The letters c, k & q are frequently interchanged as are w, hu & ll !!
Inca Trail treks permits for departures March 2013 to December 2013
Inca Trail permits are required for the Classic 4 day trek, the shorter 2-day trek and the 7-day trek via Salkantay. Inca trail permits are currently only on sale for the months of November & December 2011 and January 2012. The Inca Trail is closed during the month of February. The Inca Trail permits for trek departures in March to December 2013 will not go on sale until around mid-January 2013 (exact date has yet to be announced) but we highly recommend that you still make a booking with the trekking company of your choice as soon as you can. The way the trek permits are released to the licensed tour operators is slightly complicated. Approximately two weeks before the trek permits go on sale all the tour operators have to submit to the government a full list of all their clients names and passport numbers. The permits are then issued on a lottery basis so that all companies have an equal chance of getting the permits. Obviously if the number of permits for a specific day is oversubscribed then there will be losers and some tour operators will have to cancel their trek departure, refund the trek deposit or offer an alternative departure date. Only clients with their names on this initial list will be issued with permits (dependent upon availability) so this is a good reason to make your booking before mid-December. Only after the initial round of permits have gone on sale does the system change to the sale of trek permits on a first-come-first-served basis.
Once the permits have gone on sale in January it is very likely that some dates will sell out immediately (dates such as the first week of March, several dates in April, many dates in May and a few dates around Inti Raymi in June (ie 15-28 June). Maybe a couple of dates in July will sell out and probably no dates in August. So if you want to book a trek departing in August you will probably still be safe to wait until February or even March to book.
As soon as the permits go on sale we will update our website to show how many permits are still available.
For more information see our web page Inca Trail permit availability
Site Map: Home Page / Introduction to the Inca Trail / Inca Trail Route options: (2 day Inca Trail, 4 day Inca Trail, 5 day Inca Trail via Santa Teresa, 7 day Inca Trail via Salkantay / Inca Trail Guided Tour / Inca Trail Tours / Inca Trail Map / Responsible Tourism / Porter Welfare / Inca Trail Weather / Choosing an Inca Trail trekking company / Inca Trail tour operators / Inca Trail preparations / Inca Trail trekking regulations / Inca Trail Permits / Inca Trail Availability / Inca Trail photos / Orchids on the Inca Trail / Machu Picchu / Related Websites
This is a non-commercial website. Copyright Andean Travel Web 2000-2012. All material used within this web site is original work and is subject to international copyright law. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited without prior permission from the editor. This web page was last updated in November 2012.