Anyone wishing to trek to Machu Picchu will invariably use one of the ancient Inca trails dotted throughout the area. Although Inca trails can be found all over Peru, there are a high concentration of them in the Cuzco region as this was once the capital of the ancient Incan Empire. With nearly 40,000 km of Inca trails extending throughout Peru, the 'Classic' trail to Machu Picchu is simply a drop in the ocean made famous as the original pilgrimage path to the ancient citadel.
Whilst the quality and size of the trails can vary, most Inca trails were constructed with perfect precision and are still used today with little or no modification.
Today, the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu has become almost as famous as the citadel itself. Every year, thousands of tourists journey to Peru for the sole reason of trekking the ancient pilgrimage path. Consistently ranked as one of the top 5 treks in the world, the Classic Inca Trail combines wild beauty, subtropical jungle, clouded forests and, of course, the history of the Inca Trail itself, to form one of the most stunning treks on earth.
How long is the Inca Trail
Below we have summarised the 3 different Inca Trail options to Machu Picchu and the length of each. Please note that to trek the Inca Trail you will need to book with a tour operator like Kandoo Adventures who will then acquire a permit for you. This is a government regulation and you will not be allowed on the trail without a permit or tour guide. You will need to book early as permits sell out months in advance.
Classic Inca Trail
Length - 45km - 4 day itinerary.
By far the most popular, this is the complete pilgrimage path to Machu Picchu taken during the 15th century. The trail had no commercial use, it was used as a ceremonial and religious ritual route for the Incan leaders. After crossing the Rio Urubamba, the Inca Trail begins in earnest as you ascend fairly gently throughout the first day, passing the excellent archaeological site named Llactapata. Day 2 is the most difficult as the morning is spent ascending steeply to the highest point of the Classic trek - Warmihuacusca Pass (Dead Woman Pass - 4,200m).
The third day takes you past the Inca ruins of Phuyupatamarca, known as the 'The Town in the Clouds' and the Inca site of Intipata or 'Terraces of the Sun'. By mid-afternoon you reach the 'Sun Gate', the entrance to Machu Picchu. After taking in the incredible views you then take a bus down to the local town of Agua Calientes to stay the night. The final day of your trek is a guided tour around the ancient city itself before taking the train back to Cuzco.
Short Inca Trail
Length - 13km - 2 day itinerary
Perfect for trekkers without much time or for families with young children. The Short Inca Trail starts much further towards Machu Picchu at a place known as KM 104. This route is significantly easier than the Classic Inca Trail and does not reach the same altitudes as the original trail.
On the first day you will pass the Incan site of Chachabamba, an important religious site that was probably used as a checkpoint to guard the eastern flank of Machu Picchu. You then trek onward to Winay Wayna where you join the Classic Inca Trail. After spending the night there you trek through the Sun Gate and into Machu Picchu before taking the train back to Cuzco.
Classic Inca Trail and Salkantay Trek Combined
Length - 65km - 7 day itinerary
Combining the cultural history of the Classic Trail with the wild and scenic landscape of the Salkantay trek, the combined trek is perfect for the more adventurous trekker.
Although slightly more difficult than the original trail, pack horses will be provided to carry your bags and equipment. Starting just north of Mollepata, the trail wends its way through beautiful mountainous scenery for the first 4 days of your trek before joining the Classic Inca Trail at Wayllabamba. The trek passes around Mount Salkantay - a stunning snow capped mountain - and over several mountain passes, including one at 4,900m. When trekking in the Andes, please be aware of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and the issues of acclimatization. For more information on AMS please click here.
That's it folks! As you can see, there are varying length Inca Trails to suit different needs and each offers its own unique possibilities. Whilst there are thousands of Inca paths dotted throughout Peru, the Classic Inca Trail is certainly one of the best and we would highly recommend anyone planning on visiting Peru to hike the trail. Please remember to book early.