Hiking across the Andes before Machu Picchu is a demanding but incredibly rewarding trek. Take advantage during the 4 days of the trek to get to know your porters. You will realise they work the hardest on the team and are gentle people willing to share with you their culture, language and trek experiences.
Accommodation on the trek is camping (3 nights). Double tents (twin share) and foam camping mats will be provided. Tents are set up by the porters. Meals are prepared by the trek cook.
The trail is part of a series of Inca highways that linked the Empire, all the way from Quito in Ecuador to Santiago in Chile. As we hike along from high plateau to dense forest you will see the ruins of ancient villages, temples and inns.
Classic Inca Trail Itinerary:
Day 1 - We catch an early bus (approx 1.5 hrs) to the 82km marker - the starting point of the trek - and are joined by a crew of local porters, cook and guide. Day one is fairly relaxed trek which includes short sections of uphill trekking. The campsite is located at about 3,000m above sea level.
Day 2 - The second day is the most challenging of the trek as we ascend a long steep path (approx 4 hrs) to reach the highest point of our trek, Warmiwanusca, or Dead Woman's Pass, at a height of 4,200m (13,779 ft), before descending to the Pacaymayo Valley (3650m above sea level/2 hrs downhill). Depending upon what has been established by the Government, you might camp here today, or may need to continue across the second pass. From the second pass, Runkuracay (3,980m above sea level), we can enjoy views of the snow-capped Cordillera Vilcabamba before descending to the ruins of Sayacmarca (1.5-3 hrs downhill). From here it is only a few more minutes to the Chaquicocha campsite (3,620m above sea level).
Day 3 - We continue over the third pass and soon reach the beautiful ruins of Phuyupatamarca, the 'Town above the Clouds' (3,850m above sea level/90 mins uphill). Start descending Inca Steps (2 hrs) to reach our final night's camp by the Winay Wayna, or 'Forever Young' ruins (2,750m above sea level), with panoramic views of the valley below.
Day 4 - The fourth day of the trek consists of a short hike (1.5-2 hrs) to Machu Picchu as we climb the steps to the Sun Gate to watch the ruins emerge from the mist below.
The trail is within the abilities of most reasonably fit people, but do come prepared: the trail is 45km (28 miles) long and often steep. Generally the days consist of 7 hrs walking on average (both uphill and downhill), plus stops for snacks and lunch. Normally trekking starts at 7am (except for the fourth morning) and you reach the campsite around 4-5pm. There is always the possibility of rain, even in the dry season and temperatures may fall below freezing at night. The trail traverses three passes, the highest being 4,200m (13,779ft).
If Inca Trail permits are unavailable at your time of booking, you will be offered to hike the Inca Quarry Trail instead. With spectacular and diverse sceneries the Quarry Trail is an exceptional alternative to the very busy Inca Trail.
This trek is also within the abilities of most reasonably fit people. It is 23km long in total. The trail's highest pass is at almost 4,500 m which is higher than the Classic Inca Trail's highest pass.
Inca Quarry Trail Itinerary:
Day 1 - We leave Ollantaytambo early in the morning and drive approximately 30 mins to Choquequilla, a small ceremonial site were Incas used to venerate the moon. A further 30 mins drive takes us to the community of Socma, the starting point of our trek and where we meet the horsemen that will join us during the hike.
After approximately one hour hike we reach the Perolniyoc cascade lookout. This is a perfect photo stop and a great excuse to stop and grab a snack. From here we continue walking to our campsite, located at 3700m, where we arrive right in time for lunch. After lunch we set off to explore the Q'orimarca archaeological site, which used to serve as a check point during the times of the Incas.
Day 2 - This is the most challenging but most rewarding day of the hike. A 4 hr hike takes us to the top of the first pass known as Chancachuco (4400m). After a well deserved rest we descend about 100m for a light lunch. After lunch we continue walking uphill to Kuychiccasa, at 4500m, the second and last mountain pass of this trek.
From this point we walk mostly downhill to the small archaeological site of Inti Punku or Sun Gate. This site offers spectacular views of the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo underneath and the always imposing "Veronica" mountain in the background. We finally reach our campsite, near the Inca quarry of Kachiqta, at 3750m.
Day 3 - After breakfast we visit the quarry, its tombs, storage rooms and the locally called 'tired rocks' which are rocks the Incas didn't finish carving and transporting due to the Spanish conquest.
Today is all downhill hiking. The first stop is at the Kachiqata quarry, where we witness the work the Incas could not complete due to the Spanish conquest. From here we walk to Ollantaytambo train station where the expedition's cook will provide box lunches for our train journey to Aguas Calientes.
Once in Aguas Calientes we meet our fellow travellers who opted to take the "Train Option" of this trip. The natural hot springs in town are an unbeatable way to spend a late afternoon/early evening. Tonight we overnight at a simple but comfortable hotel.
Day 4 - Today we take a very early bus (5.30am depending on weather conditions) along the winding road to Machu Picchu (approx 30 mins). In Machu Picchu we join the travellers who opted to hike the Classic Inca Trail option of this trip before taking on a guided walk of Machu Picchu.
For those travellers not interested or unable to hike the trail it is possible to spend an extra two days in Cuzco then travel by train to Aguas Calientes. The following morning we take a bus to Machu Picchu where we join the rest of the group for a guided tour. This option must be arranged at the time of booking or local fees will apply. Although you will not be accompanied by a leader, Intrepid has an office in Cuzco, so if you need any help please feel free to drop in and ask for assistance. Should you require emergency assistance on these days please refer to the Emergency Contact section of these Trip Notes.
While it is thought Machu Picchu was built around 1440 as a country retreat for Inca nobility, there is evidence this had been a sacred Incan site for much longer. Another school of thought claims it was an astronomical observatory. After a visit with the trekking guide (approx 1.5 hrs) there is plenty of time for you to decide for yourself as you wander around the many temples, palaces and living quarters. After taking advantage of the seemingly endless photo opportunities, it is time to return to Cuzco (approx 3.5 hrs) for a well deserved shower and a glass of Pisco Sour.