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If you’re interested in doing a Machu Pichu hike, you first need to choose which trek to Machu Picchu you want to do.
Most people think there are only two options (hiking or not). Yet, there are actually several tours at several different length options of the Inca Trail you can choose from. Some of the most common, listed from shortest to longest, are here.
Due to my limited time in Peru, this is the hike I participate in. Our guide even combined the two days of hiking into one, longer trek.
Someday I may come back to do the full four-day option, but I think this option is perfect for someone short on time. You get the experience of hiking the beautiful Inca Trail on Machu Picchu and still end up at the Sun Gate with plenty of time to explore the ancient city.
During the night, you’ll sleep in tents and utilize the camping gear you brought with you.
This is an excellent option for adventurers who have plenty of time to experience it all. It’s a full immersion in the Inca Trail experience.
There is a long list of alternative hikes to Machu Picchu, but none of these options end at the infamous Sun Gate. Additionally, Machu Picchu is possible to visit without hiking at all.
For those not interested in hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you can stay in Aguas Calientes and catch a bus up to the site.
I will say, though, there is something truly magical about ascending to the Sun Gate and just gazing over the peaks of the Andes mountains. Knowing that I hiked to get to the lost city of the Incas made me feel like I was genuinely immersing myself in the rich history and culture of Peru.
Knowing your options can make deciding which Inca Trail to do a tad difficult. Some things you’ll want to consider:
For me, I only had 10 days to explore Peru. I wanted to spend a reasonable amount of time in Lima, Puerto Maldonado, Cusco, and Machu Picchu. Having the option of a shorter trek was great for me, who had limited time and wasn’t quite in the mood to camp during this trip.
I went to Peru in January, one of their rainiest months of the year. I certainly didn’t feel like spending four days muddy and wet.
While the hike was fortunate enough to have perfect weather (after making a coca leaves offering, of course), at any point, it could have torrentially down poured.
The best months to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is in the country’s winter, from May to September. It is slightly colder, but it is the dry season with far less rain than the summer months.
From December to March, the weather is warmer. But, you’ll be met with frequent and heavy rain showers throughout your Machu Picchu hike.
If you have more time and the weather permits, the classic Inca Trail and the Salkantay Inca Trail are great multi-day options.
I say “preferred” because anyone can train for a multi-day hike if they truly want to experience it. But if it’s something you just don’t want to do on vacation, why force it?
There was something so satisfying about hiking all day and then being able to check into my hotel room for a nice hot shower.
If you love camping, then the Classic Inca Trail and Salkantay Inca Trail are great options where you can camp for up to five nights! If you’re someone who prefers a bed to sleep in at the end of the day, the Short Inca Trail is perfect.
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is rewarding and breathtaking with any trek you choose. You’ll follow the footpaths of the ancient Incan tribes through the ruins and feel the heavy stones they carried beneath your feet. There’s so much mystery and wonderment in these mountains.
My expedition started in the Sacred Valley at the Sol Natura Hotel Ollantaytambo. My group and I woke up at the ungodly hour of 5 AM. We packed up our day packs, including our lunch for the day and 3 liters of water (which we quickly learned was too much to carry on our backs!), and headed outside.
When walking out to the café to grab a quick bite of breakfast, we realized that it was POURING rain. Great, just great. We would be hiking all day in the mud and pouring rain.
We catch the morning train to KM104. This is where we start the one-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Since it’s the era of covid, we had our temperatures, oxygen saturation, and pulses checked.
We also needed our proof of vaccination and passports handy for the rangers.
After the logistics, we started our descent. We stopped at one of the many ancient Incan sites you’ll see on the journey.
There, we learned about the significance of coca leaves and how they’re considered sacred plants of the Incan tribes. It’s treasured not only for its medicinal properties but also for sacrificing in holy rites and rituals.
We even learned how to perform a proper Andean prayer, where we offered a prayer to Apus, the god of mountains.
We then threw the coca leaves in two directions, one to the sacred Macchu Picchu and then in the other direction toward Huayna Picchu. One final leaf is left on the ground as an offering.
The last stretch of the Inca Trail hike to Machu Pichu is known as the “gringo killer” or the “tourist killer.” It’s so named because it’s an incredibly steep staircase with very narrow steps.
I literally felt like I was doing step-ups with the frame I used for box jump workouts! Don’t worry, it’s short at only about 50 steps. Make sure to prepare those knees!
Reaching the Sun Gate is breathtaking. Looking through the stone structures to the site of Machu Pichhu is truly the highlight of the Inca Trail hike.
Whether you participate in the one, four, or six-day excursion, the Sun Gate finale will make all the difficulties of the Machu Picchu hike suddenly disappear.
No matter what trek you plan on doing, having proper hiking gear and equipment is essential.
Due to the weather being very unpredictable and ever-changing, it’s good to bring layers. Also, prepare to rain-proof yourself and your belongings.
If you’re doing the short Inca Trail, it’s important to keep your day pack light. Too many people in our group brought monstrosities of backpacks and had difficulty carrying them. Pack light. Your back will thank you.
If you’re doing the Classic or Salkantay Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu, you can choose to carry your own camping gear or hire a porter to carry your belongings for you.
If you hire a porter, make sure you do it from a reputable company and tip them well!
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is undoubtedly world famous. Due to its popularity, the only way to participate is to hire a licensed trekking company and obtain a permit.
To minimize traffic and lessen the effects of heavy traffic on the terrain, only 500 tickets are available each day. And these 500 permits do include the guides as well.
It’s recommended to get your permit at least 6 months in advance. Plan on getting it sooner if you’re preparing to go during peak season.
If opting for the Short Inca Trail, you can obtain a permit more readily as fewer people opt for this option. I decided in November to take a trip to Peru in January, so two months was not enough time to get a permit for the classic trail.
And remember, this trail is not possible without a licensed guide! So plan accordingly.
It’s always a good idea to train before any strenuous activity to prevent bodily injuries.
You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to do this hike- but the more prepared you are, the easier it will be to enjoy the journey and not fight for air.
Also, if you plan on buying a fresh pair of hiking boots, make sure to break them in first! There’s nothing worse than going on a long hike with shoes that aren’t entirely molded to your feet yet. Talk about painful!
Altitude sickness is a real possibility with the Machu Picchu elevation. I have a detailed guide to preventing, treating, and coping with altitude sickness, here.
I was fortunate to hike with a company that provided us with lunch. Our group was responsible for bringing our own water and any snacks.
Focus on small, high-calorie snacks like nuts and dried fruits. Also, be sure to bring plenty of water, but not to the point where it’s too hard to carry. Most of my group members agreed that bringing three liters was a tad much, and two was perfect.
In all honesty, the best thing you can do for yourself to make sure you’re nice and hydrated for the trek is to drink extra water a few days BEFORE. If you wait for the day of to start hydrating, it may be too late.
Make sure to bring high-quality mosquito spray! There are a plethora of mosquitoes, and they can bite even through your clothes! These bites get super itchy and are the last thing you want while hiking the Inca Trail.
You’re going to be up in high altitudes, and in some areas, in direct sunlight. Pack plenty of sunscreen and apply it multiple times throughout your journey.
We had some fairly cherry-colored members of our group who did not follow this advice while on the trail!
To hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you must have your passport handy. No passport, no hike.
Also, when getting into Machu Picchu, you’ll need to show your passport once again. Not even the president of the United States can get into Machu Picchu without a valid passport!
Because of COVID, masks are required for entrance to Machu Picchu. We were not required to wear them during the hike (thank goodness!) but we did have to put them on at each checkpoint, and once again when arriving at the Sun Gate.
Please note that Peru requires KN95 masks or two surgical masks. Having just one surgical mask or cloth mask is not considered sufficient enough. If you’re not prepared, the rangers will turn you away!
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