The Inca Empire built an advanced network of roads that crisscrossed the empire and connected each of the four corners of the Tawantinsuyu. It stretched from Quito, Ecuador in the north to south of Santiago in Chile. The Inca trail to Machu Picchu is a 43km segment of that magnificent network of roads left by the Incas which has become a popular hiking route in the last 30 years. This section of the trail connected the city of Cusco which was the capital of the Inca Empire to the citadel of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is believed to have been a retreat for the Sapa Inca and was abandoned before the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire. The Spanish never found Machu Picchu until it was rediscovered in 1911 by Yale University explorer Hiram Bingham.
Inca Trail Options
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the ten most popular trekking trails in the world. It encompasses archeological sites of the ancient Inca Civilization and various ecological and biodiverse areas in the tropical Andean forest. Private tour operators have tailored personal packages to suit different demands. They offer itineraries varying from 2, 4, 5 or 7 days that vary from easy to moderate and difficult. Choose a tour operator that best suits your interests and budget. The most economical way to hike the Inca Trail is to hire group service, this is when the operator advertises a day of departure selling to different clients who will be trekking with you.
Sacred Trail – 2 days
This is an easy to moderate trek. It starts at kilometer 104 and joins the final stages of the 4 day hike. This trail leads to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna and then descends to Machu Picchu. This trails offers a good option for those with limited time or not fit enough to complete the longer trail. This part of the trail is located at a lower altitude which makes for a more comfortable hike.
Classic Inca Trail – 4 days
This is considered a moderate trek and it is the most popular route in the Inca trail. It starts at kilometer 82 along the railroad and includes Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca, Wiñay Wayna before it reaches Machu Picchu.
Classic Inca Trail – 5 days
This is a moderate trek and not as popular as the 4 day option. In addition to visiting all the ruins in the 4 day Classic Inca Trail you have the chance to visit Llactapata.
Salcantay Inca Trail – 7 days
Salcantay is a holy mountain considered a god by the Incas. The view of Salcantay is breathless, this option offers the best scenery. Being fit is a must in this trek, it involves high mountain passes.
Inca Trail regulations
Admission to this section of the trail is controlled by authorized Inca Trail operators and the only ones allowed to sell permits to this trek. Guides are also licensed and must follow strict regulations. Trekking permits are limited to 500 a day, 200 are assigned to tourists and the rest to porters, cooks and guides. Permits for the year (March to December) are issued at around mid-January. They sell out fast so we recommend you make a reservation as advanced as possible.
It is possible to take on the Inca Trail independently without the help of a guide or tour operator; however groups of 10 or more require a guide. The maximum number of people in a group is restricted to 16.
When to go
The dry season is from May to September when the average monthly rain is two days, average high temperature is 21C or 70F and low temperature 1C or 34F at night. Days are usually sunny and fairly dry and because of the high altitude sun rays are very strong so it is recommended to wear sun block. The trail is closed on February every year for maintenance.
How to prepare
Being in good health and physical condition is a must. The highest point in the trail is 4,200 meters so altitude sickness can be a letdown, be prepared to rest before you embark on your trek. Usually two days in Cusco is enough, you can visit the nearby ruins and many artisan markets. At high elevations the pressure of oxygen diminishes so the quantity of oxygen molecules per breath is lower than at sea level. The respiratory, circulatory, nervous and renal systems are affected by the inadequate amount of oxygen. Now, it is different with every person, about 30% of travelers never feel any sickness. As long as you follow the basic rules you will acclimatize in no time.
What to bring
If you are trekking independently you will need the following equipment: Gas cooker, matches, saucepan, food, cooking utensils. If you hired a tour operator all these equipment should be provided in addition to your meals.
- Hiking boots.
- Cotton thin and thick socks. Wear the thin socks and over it the thick socks, make sure the hiking socks are pre worn to prevent blisters.
- Warm and weather proof clothing.
- Wear lots of layers as it can get hot during the day.
- Hat, mosquito repellent and sun screen. UV rays at high altitude can be very damaging to the skin.
- Sleeping bag.
- Water bottle and water purification tablets.
- Flash light.
If you booked a guide for your hike, porters will take care of your personal belongings.
Cusco, Cuzco or Qosco is the historic capital of the Inca Empire founded by Inca Manco Capac in approximately 1200AD. It was built in the shape of a Puma, a mythological God in Inca religion.
Low oxygen pressure at high altitudes affects the amount of oxygen we breath making us feel sick.
Weather in the Andes is characterized for having many climates, or micro climates, that vary according to its altitude. Cusco enjoys a very stable climate that can be observed throughout the year.
It is puzzling to comprehend how the Incas conquered and controlled such an extensive territory that comprised what today are Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador.
Indeed, there must have been a good reason to justify the laborious construction of this magic city in such a challenging land. The real purpose for the building of Machu Picchu is not clear, it remains a mystery and is open to speculation.
Celebrated in the month of June the celebration of the Sun is full of tradition and history.