How Challenging is the Inca Trail?

April 13, 2015 Jason Allen

Deep in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu is the Holy Grail for any traveller headed to South America. While it’s certainly not the only way to get there, trekking the Inca Trail is very much part of the Machu Picchu experience.

Along with the Patagonia, Mont Blanc and the Annapurna, the Inca Trail is one of the world’s most famous hikes, and thousands of people take it on for the opportunity to retrace the footsteps of the Incas. While it may seem daunting or excessively challenging (stories of the altitude, steep climbs, and weather deter those considering the trek) hiking the Inca Trail isn’t just for the athletic. It is a tour people of almost all ages undertake and, with some energy and preparation, anyone can do it.

Kicking it off at Km 82

Start the Inca Tail at KM 82. Photo courtesy Iheartpandas.

The first day of the hike begins at a place named Km 82 (so called because it is 82 km by rail from Cusco), the generally accepted starting place for the four-day trek up the Inca Trail. The first day of hiking takes you 11km (6.8 mi) to Wayllabamba Camp, set among a green valley at an altitude of 2,950m (9,678 ft). The hike this first day is considered fairly simple and a great introduction to the kind of exertion travellers will experience over the coming days. For the same reason, it’s also a day that surprises some hikers by its level of simplicity. (Not to say this is a simple trek by any means, rather simpler than many expect.) With a trek that takes travellers past super-scenic views and a small village, this is a lovely first day.

Dead Woman’s Pass

The views alone are worth it!

The views alone are worth it! Photo courtesy Colm B.

The second day sees trekkers climbing the long ascent to Warmiwañusca, or Dead Woman’s Pass. At 4,215m (13,828 ft), this is the highest point of the trek and almost 1,800m (5,905 ft) higher than Machu Picchu itself. This is the day most trekkers realize they can really do this; it’s a day that goes a long way in boosting spirits and energy. The weather, with its stronger winds, is at its most challenging on this day, but with an early-afternoon arrival to camp, it’s another day that feels easier than you will have expected.

Town Above the Clouds

Phuyupatamarca surrounded by the mountains.

Phuyupatamarca surrounded by the mountains.

Day Three has the longest trek at 16km (9.9 mi), but knowing you’re so close to Machu Picchu makes it a highly satisfying day. It’s also another beauty when it comes to scenery. The day ends at the stunning Phuyupatamarca or the “Town Above the Clouds” which, at an altitude of 3,650m (11,972 ft), is an incredible feat of Incan construction.

The Sun Gate

Machu Picchu seen from the Sun Gate.

Machu Picchu seen from the Sun Gate.

The final day finds travellers rising early to make a pre-dawn hike to Machu Picchu by sunrise. After three full days of hiking and (re)discovering the extent of your own abilities, the pleasure of looking down upon Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate is a moment that will stay with you forever. Travellers then enjoy a guided tour of Machu Picchu and lots of free time to roam and enjoy the feeling of triumph that comes with the sheer fact you completed your challenge. That same day, you’ll catch a bus to Aguas Calientes to eat and chill out before boarding a train back to Cusco that afternoon. You’ll be both tired and happy.

Make the Inca Trail Yours

So check it, knock it out of the park, and do this for yourself.

So check it, knock it out of the park, and do this for yourself.

Hiking the Inca Trail is a big deal – arguably one of the biggest cultural deals of our modern time. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s reserved for the athletic and adventure-minded. A simple dose of effort, determination, and perseverance will help you realize your own journey here. So check it, knock it out of the park, and do this for yourself.

Getting There

G Adventures is the world’s leader in tours to Machu Picchu in Peru and every year, thousands of people from all over the world hike the Inca Trail with us. Let us show you how we do it and come along. Now’s your time.

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