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Your Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Looking to hike the Inca Trail? Here’s everything you need to know!

Whatever the opposite of outdoorsy and active is.. that’s what I was! The 4 day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu hike was without a doubt the most difficult challenge either of us had undertaken. It challenged our bodies and also our marriage, but we’re glad we checked it off our bucket list.

Ultimate Guide: How to Hike to Machu Picchu in Peru //

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Last Updated: March 8, 2024

Your Ultimate Guide to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Hike

If you’re asking whether it was worth all the blood, sweat and tears during the hike (why not just take the train?) The views alone were completely worth it. Then, there’s the added bonus of your sense of accomplishment when you finally reach Machu Picchu (Those other guys who took the train? Cheaters!)

When to Go

The busiest season for this hike is March & April. We happened to go in early August, which is the turn of the season from dry to rainy. We got extremely lucky and had perfect weather the entire hike. They allow 200 travelers on the Inca Trail a day accompanied by 250 porters. You pass by the same people every day (or they pass you, in our case), so you get to know other hikers well.

Before the Hike

On the first day, we were picked up from Cusco in the early morning 5-6AM, made a quick stop in Ollantaytambo for breakfast, and then started our hike along the Vilcanota River. The first day was the easiest day. You will be able to tell by the number of photos we took that day. As the days got progressively harder, the photos became more and more scarce.

Total Hike in 4 Days: 26.69 miles (42.95 km) in 23 hours
Machu Picchu Elevation: 7,972 ft (2,430 m)

Day 1 of the Inca Trail: Cusco – Wayllabamba

Distance: 7.45 miles / 12km
Estimated time: 5-6 hours
Maximum altitude: 9,850 feet / 3,000m
What You See: Llaqtapata ruins, Unnamed ruins

See more photos from day one here.

See More: How to Hike the Inca Trail Day 1

Llaqtapata Inca Ruins on the Inca Trail (How to Hike to Machu Picchu / 4-day Inca Trail Hike) //

Day 2 of the Inca Trail: Wayllabamba – Warmiwañusca – Pacaymayo →

Distance: 6.83 miles / 11km
Estimated time: 6 – 7hours
Maximum Altitude: 13,828 / 4215 m (some sources say 13,799 feet)
What you see: Dead Woman’s Pass (highest point on the trail)

See Details for Day 2 here.

See More: How to Hike the Inca Trail Day 2 – Surviving Dead Woman’s Pass

Dead Woman's Pass (Ultimate Guide to the 4-Day Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu) //

Day 3 of the Inca Trail: Pacaymayo – Puya Patamarka – Wiñay Huayna

Distance: 9.93 miles / 16km
Estimated time: 8 hours
Maximum altitude: 12,664 feet / 3,860m
What you see: Runkurakay ruins, Sayacmarca ruins (“Town in a Steep Place”), llamas and alpacas, tunnel of love, Phuyupatamaca ruins (“Cloud-level Town”), Intipata ruins (“Sun Terraces”)

Ultimate Guide on How to Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Peru //

Day 4 of the Inca Trail: Wiñay Huayna – Machu Picchu

Distance: 2.48 miles / 4km
Estimated time: 2 hours
Maximum altitude: 8,923 feet / 2,720m
What you see: Intipunku (“the Sun Gate”), Machu Picchu

machu picchu mountain + 25 places to visit before they disappearPin

More Tips for Your 4-Day Hike

  • How much cash to bring: Bring cash to pay the remainder of your balance in Cusco. We paid the deposit online with a credit card, but they did not take credit card for the remaining balance. Have 100 USD extra cash on you during the trip for water, showers, and tips. It’s recommended that each person tips 40 USD for the porters and the cook. You also tip the guide separately on the last day.
  • Altitude Sickness: If you are worried about altitude sickness, get a prescription for acetazolamide. You can also buy it at the pharmacies over the counter in Peru.  In Peru, they will give you coca leaves for altitude sickness, but if you’re taking a drug test at your job anytime soon, steer clear since cocaine is made from coca leaves.
  • Warm Showers: There is a “warm” shower available on the first night for 5 soles. Shower at your own risk. The water was still pretty cold and the night is freezing. The other two nights, it’s freezing cold water. I showered or at least washed my hair in the sink, but don’t do it if you don’t feel the need to (I can’t sleep if I don’t wash my hair). The last day after you see Machu Picchu, there’s a warm shower at the restaurant you will eat lunch in.
  • Taxi ride: The airport to the main square in Cusco (and most places you would be staying) should only cost about 8-10 soles. First tourist mistake: We mistakenly paid 30-40 because we didn’t do research.

Packing Tips for Your Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Hike

  • What to Pack: Find more tips on what to pack for your Machu Picchu hike here.
  • Sunblock and Chapstick with SPF: I can’t stress the chapstick enough. Jacob got a severe sunburn on his lips that blistered and were extremely painful. It also looked like herpes.
  • Checking in Bags to Explore Machu Picchu: Once at Machu Picchu there is a place to check in your bags. This was included in our tour price.
  • Lessons learned: Don’t bring as many snacks as me! Only bring what you are sure you will consume. Also, gummy bears are way too heavy.
  • Porters: An extra porter costs $120, and they carry 14 kg (30.86 lbs) for you. Jacob carried his stuff on his back (13.6 kg / 30 lbs), but I shared a porter with another person. The porter carried my sleeping bag, mat, and the extra clothes and toiletries that I did not need on me during the day. I was carrying 9.1 kg (20 lbs), which included my 7 lb camera & lens.
  • Water: Water is so heavy, but you want to make sure you have enough! On Day 2, there is a stop to buy water, but from then on, you must carry enough water for the rest of the trip. They recommended 1 L per day (2L total for the last two days), but to be safe, I brought a half liter extra per day. I ended up drinking all of it even though I hated drinking water. 3L was my happy medium, but you will have to find yours. When you get to Machu Picchu, they will sell water, but everything is really expensive (ie. 4-5 USD on a regular bottle of water. Don’t drink the tap! See our favorite travel water bottles here.

See More: Your Essential Inca Trail Packing List – Machu Picchu Hike

Planning Checklist

What is the longest hike you’ve done? Do you have any hikes on your bucket list?

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Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Great post. Also you can do the inca trail in one, two, four and five days. The traditional is of 4 days and runs off between may to September (without raining) . There many alternative option with treks to Machu Pichu



  2. Elizabeth

    Do you recommend any other tour groups? I am having difficulty finding a space (for two) for May! Your group doesn’t look to have any availability. Thank you!

    1. jacob

      That’s the only one we have experience with! You can check out OneSeed too but they don’t do Inca Trail. They do some of the other hikes nearby which are supposed to be spectacular.

  3. Millie

    Amazing thank you so much for sharing your insights. My husband and I will be hiking the salkantay trail in October and I needed these tips for what to wear and how much cash to bring! Love the post!

  4. Louise Durand

    Which of the tour operators did you guys choose??

    1. Esther JuLee

      We used info cusco. Are you planning a trip there? :)

  5. Margo

    I just found your blog through your ad on nectar collective – wow. I just passed along this post to my fiancee with the email titled ‘not if but when’… thanks so much for sharing! I’ve always toyed with the idea of doing this hike but your pictures made quite an impact. I look forward to following along in the future! :)

    1. esther julee

      Yay! :) I get so happy when I get comments like yours. You most definitely must go! It’s such an incredible experience and the hike makes it much more worthwhile. :)

  6. Chantel Klassen

    Oh my gosh, you guys must be nuts, this sounds so hard! But absolutely worth it I’m sure!! The photos are breathtaking.

    1. esther julee

      Thank you so much! :) I’m not gonna lie… it was reeeeally challenging. I cried on day 2 and wanted to die a LOT on the journey… but in hindsight, I’m so glad I hiked it. You just can’t get the same views and sense of accomplishment when you take the train.

  7. Cheryl Lewis

    We leave Atlanta TODAY to head to Peru. On Sunday, we begin the 5-day hike. I couldn’t be more terrified. haha. Your writing is helping to calm me! Even though I’m certain I will be the. slowest. person. EVER to attempt the trail, now I know at least that it’s doable for someone who doesn’t like walking. :) Your pictures are magnificent! Thanks for every word you wrote.

    1. estherjulee

      You’re welcome! And thank you so much for your kind words. That is sooo exciting. :) It’s definitely mind over body, so you just have to keep telling yourself to push forward. Wishing you the best on your trip!

  8. Jen@WanderOneDay

    This was great inspiration! I really can’t wait to do this hike – I’ve been working out like crazy to get in shape for the trip, and from this I can see that I’ll need to keep up with my workouts or risk crying all the way up/down the mountains :(

    1. estherjulee

      so glad this was inspiring. There were lots of tears.. and it wasn’t just me! I wish I would have trained myself harder and with a heavy pack.

  9. estherjulee

    @catarina – new zealand! tell your kiwi bf to take you next month!

  10. Catarina

    Love these! So sad I couldn’t make it now that I see these pics. Where to next?

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