Why hike the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail winds through the breathtaking mountain passes of the Sacred Valley, past ancient Inca ruins, dramatic natural scenery, and tiny settlements that seem untouched by the passage of time. On an exciting Peru travel adventure, walking the path of the Incas can be the most defining moment.
The classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is much more than a multi-day trek through beautiful landscapes. This centuries-old route was once the domain of the Inca elite. For the upper aristocracy, walking this road was a spiritual journey, a difficult pilgrimage willingly undertaken prior to arrival to sacred sites like Machu Picchu.
What is now called the Inca Trail is actually a tiny part of a larger trail system that connected the whole of the Inca Empire. At its maximum, this ingenuous network stretched over 24,850 miles, allowing the Cusco-based kingdom to spread over the length and width of the Andes, eventually reaching modern-day Ecuador in the north and Santiago, Chile, in the south.
The roads were vital arteries between the far-flung corners of the empire, enabling swift and reliable travel and communication and ensuring easy transport of food and soldiers throughout the Inca world. The network was heavily guarded and access was restricted to soldiers, messengers on official business, and retinues of high-ranking nobles.
In the Sacred Valley, the Inca’s spiritual homeland and epicenter of the empire, the system of footpaths was even more tightly controlled. A modern-day journey on the Inca Trail takes travelers to the most special section of the network, once reserved for highest-ranking members of the Inca aristocracy.
Aside from its rich history, there is also the exquisite natural beauty of the Inca Trail. The landscapes are literally jaw-dropping, with 6,000 ft peaks that seem to pierce the heavens and dense cloud forests that send wafts of mist into the sky. The visual impact of this scenery must have been yet another element in the trail’s ritual importance. For travelers today, the Inca Trail trek to the New World Wonder, Machu Picchu, is a fascinating journey like no other, guaranteed to be the experience of a lifetime.
What to do on the Inca Trail Trek
The Inca Trail traverses various landscapes. Beginning in the picturesque town of Ollantaytambo, an original Inca city, the trail follows the course of a river that irrigates stone-terraced farmlands. On the second day, the trail climbs to an altitude of 4,200 meters at Dead Woman’s Pass, probably the most difficult part of the trek.
From here the Inca Trail begins a gradual decline towards Machu Picchu, interrupted by steep stair sections, passing numerous Inca ruins and important ceremonial sites and following stone paths that have clung to these mountainsides for hundreds of years.
On the third day, after crossing the 3rd mountain pass, trekkers make camp for the final night. On the fourth morning, the final leg of the journey begins before dawn and the goal is to arrive at the Sun Gate in time to see the sun make a stunning ascent over Machu Picchu.
Throughout your journey you will be accompanied by expert guides who will share their knowledge of this Andean landscape and its incredible natural and human histories.
When to hike the Inca Trail
It is possible to hike the Inca Trail at any time of year, except for the month of February when the path is closed for restoration and maintenance work.
The weather in the Andes and the Sacred Valley is characterized by warm sunny days and very cold nights. Cloudy conditions can cause daytime temperatures to drop and it’s best to dress in layers that you can easily add or remove as necessary.
The wet season runs from November to March. Drizzle is likely, the nights are warmer, and the trail can get muddy. However, the rainy season is the perfect time to appreciate breathtaking views of mist-covered mountains and enjoy the region’s diverse flora in full bloom.
The dry season between June and August sees much less cloud cover and the panoramic views of surrounding snow- and glacier-capped mountains are simply spectacular. Vegetation is much less abundant but the trail is drier and easier to hike. During this season, nights are significantly colder and dressing in multiple layers is essential.
You can plan your Inca Trail hike and Peru vacation in Cusco to coincide with the Inti Raymi Festival and the Winter Solstice – a spectacular astronomical event at Machu Picchu. The annual festival is celebrated in June. Contact a travel advisor for the exact dates as these vary year by year.
While most visitors hike the classic 4-day Inca Trail, there are plenty of shorter and longer alternatives. The 2-day Inca Trail trek provides a shorter, less difficult, but still rewarding hike to Machu Picchu. If you find that Inca Trail permits are sold out (only 500 people a day are allowed on the trail), choose from other popular Peru treks in the Sacred Valley such as Choquequirao, Lares, or Salkantay trek.
The beauty and experience of Peru was greatly enhanced by the escorts. The Inca Trail was the highlight of our trip, and Willy Jones with Wayki treks was phenomenal. We couldn't have asked for a better experience. Thanks for your detailed attention, quick responses, and timely updates to make our vacation a truly unforgettable one.
Jason and Julie Self (Washington DC, USA) hiked the Inca Trail in May 2011
Next we met Edgar our Inca Trail guru, a gift of energy and enthusiasm who was so warm, professional and informative. The Inca trail hike and visit to Machu Picchu were even more meaningful as a result of his knowledgeable of the history and Incan traditions. Additionally the staff and especially porters from "Wayki Trek" treated us like family.
Ita Tesla & Dave Tonna (Toronto, Canada) hiked the Inca Trail in April 2011
The two days I spent traveling via the Vista Dome train and hiking the last portion of the Inca Trial to arrive at the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu were absolutely magical! I had a very special experience as we arrived at the Sun Gate late in the day to enjoy a completely clear view of the citadel area. The light rain, cool air and quietness provided for such a delightful introduction to the city. I am so thankful and feel very fortunate to have had such an experience. I recommend the 2 Day Hike plan to anyone interested in enhancing their experience at Machu Picchu.
Michelle Morgan (California, USA) hiked the Inca Trail in November 2010
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