The Inca Trail in 7 Steps | Hiking the famous Inca Trail in Peru to Machu Picchu is the top #1 on the bucket list of many travellers to Latin America. The Inca Trail is a very popular trekking route and Inca Trail permits are in high demand.
In this article, we share “The Inca Trail in 7 Steps” with you to make sure your adventure in the Land of the Incas is going to be as magnificent as you imagined!
The Inca Trail in 7 Steps
Select the right time.
When is the best time to travel to Peru and hike the Inca Trail?
The high season in Peru is the dry-season of the Andes, from April to October. The dry season is considered the best time to go hiking in the Andes in Peru as you won´t have to expect so much rain.
However, this is also the time where Inca Trail permits will be sold out quickly because it is high season! In order to keep the nature experience on the trek real and to maintain numbers of hikers in an adequate level on the trail, there is a limit of permits per day for the Inca Trail.
The rainy season of the Andes, between November and March, is the low-tourist time. Normally, there are more Inca Trail permits available during this time of the year. And despite the higher chance of rainfall, it is definitely an option to hike the Inca Trail in those months.
Keep in mind however, that the trail is always closed in February for maintenance!
Also, only travel agencies that are official operators of the Inca Trail do sell permits for the hike (see more Step #5).
Get in shape!
A Piece of Inca Trail History
Compared to other Machu Picchu hikes that lead from Cusco to Machu Picchu (for example the Salkantay Trek), the Inca Trail is considered a bit less demanding. However, you will be hiking for four days in high altitude in Peru, in uneven terrain and with a backpack on – so you do prepare your body for the hiking the Inca Trail trek!
Especially the day 2 is famous and also feared, as you have to cross the Inca Trail’s highest pass. It is the Dead’s Women’s Pass or Warmi Wañusqa in Quechua, at an altitude of 4.215 meters above sea level. Interesting fact: this is nearly 1,800 meter higher than Machu Picchu itself!
Before your trip to Peru, go hiking nearby you home wearing your backpack and the hiking shoes you want to use on the Inca Trail. Get used to the feeling of the extra weight on your back. Your hiking shoes shouldn´t be new when you start the great Inca Trail as you will get nasty blisters wearing new boots.
Book well in advance
This is probably the most important step: plan ahead and book the Inca Trail up to 5 – 9 months in advance for the high season! Yes – this is necessary. Update: this used to be necessary before the corona pandemic. Today the situation has changed quite a bit but we suggest you keep yourself informed on how things are going to evolve. You can contact us if you have questions.
As mentioned in Step #1, the number of Inca Trail permits are limited and the demand is very high, especially for April, May, June, July & August. Every day, exactly 500 people can enter the Inca Trail, including guides and porters.
If you are independent from international vacation times, don´t mind some rain drops and like to avoid groups on the trek, opt for the low season between November and March. It is not going to be colder during these months (on the contrary, it might be less cold!) – just the chance of rain is higher. Even for those months, you need to book 3-4 months ahead.
|If you don´t get a permit for the date you wanted – don´t worry about it too much.|
There are plenty of alternative treks that lead from Cusco to Machu Picchu and also grant you an amazing adventure! (See Step #7).
Know your facts!
There are some facts about the Inca Trail you need to take into account when booking your trip to Peru.
- Firstly, taking a group of hikers on a trek through the Andes is quite an effort and does have its cost. Your group will be accompanied by a cook, an assistant cook, porters (to carry the food and the camping equipment) and professional guides. So, how much does the Inca Trail cost? Prices for the Inca Trail range between approximately US$570 and US$690. This is for a standard service, in a group, all included. There are also (more expensive) (private) VIP services.
- Secondly, it’s important you know that you need your passport when you book the Inca Trail. Your tour operator will need it to buy your permit as all Inca Trail permits are strictly personal and non-transferable.
When starting the trek, you need to show your permit (you, or your guide) that will carry your exact passport number. Once your Inca Trail permit is issued (in most cases several months before the trek itself), it can´t be changed. You won´t be able to switch to another date or transfer the ticket for somebody else to do the hike.
- Thirdly, it is a nice (and expected) gesture, to give tips to the guides and porters that accompanied you. Actually, this is common practise. A tip of US$ 12 – $15 collected from all hikers in the group for each staff member is an appropriate amount. We recommend you or the group makes sure to give each tip to every single staff member individually (and not one single amount for the whole staff). Because if you hand it to one person to distribute it later among this colleagues, parts (or all) of the tip might “get lost”.
Choose a responsible travel agency in Cusco.
Finding a good and reliable agency in Cusco that is also an authorised Inca Trail Operator isn´t always easy. How do you make sure that my money is in good hands and that you will get the service you paid for once you arrive in Peru?
When booking the Inca Trail, don’t book with the cheapest agency. An agency that offers the lowest prices in comparison to others, is most likely cutting costs by limiting staff wages, saving money on food or equipment, or avoiding state taxes.
Never book any tour or trek in Peru without thorough email contact with the respective agency and without obtaining all the information you need! And, again, make sure the agency is an official Inca Trail operator (or, has a partnership with an agency that is).
All agencies request a (non-refundable) downpayment. This is understandable, as they have to put money to buy the (non-refundable) Inca Trail permit for you.
Packing for the Inca Trail.
The quantity of things you need on the trek is up to you. However, there are usually weight limits on backpacks for the trek. For the Inca Trail, tents, mattresses and cooking equipment is usually provided. Sleeping bags are most likely not included, but can be rented with the agency (inform yourself with your agency before the trek).
Apart from your backpack, the essentials for your Inca Trail packing list should include your hiking boots, zip-able pants and short and long sleeve shirts plus a good (rain) jacket.
Also, do take hiking sticks, sun screen, chapstick, sandals, clothes you can use in layers, a hat and beanie against the sun and the cold, travel towel, socks that are comfortable for hiking, mosquito spray, head lamp, first aid kit and sun glasses.
|More tips for Packing for your Trip to Peru?|
Read our Ultimate Peru Travel Kit
Know your alternatives!
You didn´t get the desired permit for the Classical Inca Trail? No problem! There are plenty of alternative routes that promise a just as amazing hiking adventure in Peru!
- Short Inca Trail
This is a 2- day version of the classical 4-day Inca Trail. If you don´t feel like hiking the full 4-day trek, this can be the perfect alternative for you! The Short Inca Trail cuts part of the path by going on an exciting train ride from the train station in Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. You will get off the train and hike the rest of the route to Machu Picchu. After the night in Agua Calientes, on the second day, you will have plenty of time to explore the fascinating ruins of Machu Picchu and you have a guided Machu Picchu Tour.
- Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay Trek leads on a less visited path in the same region as the Inca Trail. Just as on the Inca Trail, on the Salkantay Trek you will experience spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains and make your way through fascinating Peruvian highlands. The Salkantay Trek crosses the Andes and then descends into the high jungle. The Salkantay Trek takes 5 days and includes a visit to Machu Picchu on the last day.
- Inca Jungle Trek
An exciting alternative to the classical Inca Trail! The Inca Jungle Trek includes mountain biking through the Sacred Valley of the Inca, hiking through the Andes highlands and ziplining! River rafting is offered as an additional activity. The Inca Jungle Trek reaches Machu Picchu on the fourth and final day, where you will enjoy watching the sunrise at the famous Inca ruin.
|Did you know there are even more fascinating treks in the Andes?|
For example the popular trek to the Rainbow Mountain (1D), or the extraordinary Ausangate Trek (6D/5N) in more remote areas of the Andes.
Find all hiking adventures that start from Cusco here.
For questions on Trekking in Peru or advice: