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Inca Trail Classic Trail to Machu Picchu Sun Gate on the Inca trail

Classic Inca Trail Highlights


The classic Inca Trail, entering Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate
Learn about Inca history through the fascinating ruins along the length of the trail
Trek through diverse environments from high mountain passes to cloud forest
Explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas
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7 days

 About the classic Inca trail

Out of the thousands of miles of trails built by the Incas , this relatively short trek,  is by far the most famous trek in South America and was recently rated by National Geographic as the best destination trek in the world. In just 26 miles (43km), it manages to combine beautiful mountain scenery, lush cloud-forest, subtropical jungle and, of course, a stunning mix of Inca paving stones, ruins and tunnels. Of course, the downside of  fame and publicity is that the trail is very popular. 

Dead Womans PassAs a result of this popularity, the Inca trail suffered a lot of erosion damage early this century and numbers of trekkers are now heavily restricted by a very tight permit system. Permits sell out very quickly and if you want to trek to Machu Picchu in 2017 there are no permits available now until well into the rainy season. We recommend  that, as an alternative, you consider either the Lares trail or the Salkantay trail.  If you are looking to book for 2018, permits will be released in October and you can book now  with a low deposit of £100pp. Read our blog post here on getting your permits now.

The classic Inca Trail is believed to follow the original pilgrimage route from Cuzco, the capital of the Incan empire to Machu Picchu, their most sacred temple. The Incans main god was the sun and the temple at Machu Picchu is dedicated to Sun worship. The current day version of this pilgrimage starts at the somewhat banally named Kilometre 82 gate:  unsurprisingly it is 82 kilometres from Cuzco.

The Classic Inca trail is not particularly challenging  and most days only involve 5-6 hours of hiking. It does though, take you up and over a series of high passes, most notably Dead Woman's Pass at 4,215m,  and the effect of altitude at this height are very significant so you must ensure you train properly before you arrive. (Can you spot how Dead Woman's Pass got its name?)

View from Sun Gate at Machu PicchuFrom Km82, the path takes you up and down through diverse environments including cloud forest, jungle and alpine tundra. Of greatest interest though are the  Inca ruins, including Runcuracay, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñaywayna which line the trail becoming grander and more impressive as  you approach the big one - Machu Picchu.

The final approach to Machu Picchu on the Inca trail brings you out at the famous Sun Gate where you can stop for a well earned breather and admire the sheer brilliance and scale of the ruins. Even if you have seen this picture a thousand times before, it never fails to impress.

 

When is the best time to hike the Inca trail

The weather on the Inca trail is typical of sub-tropical mountainous areas with relatively little seasonal variation in temperatures but big changes in rainfall with a pronounced dry season from May to September, shoulder seasons either side of this when rainfall starts to increase, and then 3-4 months of very heavy rain from January to April. Inevitably this means the Northern Hemisphere summer period is the best time for trekking. The charts below illustrate the changes in temperature and rainfall.

Temperature on the Inca trailRain on the classic Inca trail

 

At all our destinations though, there is a trade-off between when the weather will be best for hiking and when will it be least crowded. This is particularly true for Machu Picchu as the number of day visitors massively outweigh the number of hikers and the ruins themselves can be extremely busy. The actual Inca trail isn't affected as the permit system means there are the same number of people on the trail year round.

If you do though want a quieter time to enjoy your tour of Machu Picchu, our favourite time to visit is May and September or October. For more detailed coverage of the best time to trek to Machu Picchu see here.

About Machu Picchu

Emperor PachacutecMachu Picchu is an Incan town and temple perched on a narrow ridge, over 2,400m above sea level, between the peaks of Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu. Although the restored parts of the ruins are still relatively small,  the original site covered around 80,000 acres and the Incans engineered the steep slopes to create terraces where all the food needed to support the community at Machu Picchu was grown.

The general consensus among archaeologists now, is that Machu Picchu was built by the Incan Emperor Pachacutec who ruled from 1438 to 1471. Carbon dating of the ruins confirms that construction dates from this period and other historic records suggest the same dating.

The start of construction of Machu Picchu coincides with the period when the Incan empire began to expand rapidly after Pachacutec defeated the Chancas who, at the time, were their main rivals for power.   This period of expansion eventually saw the Incas takeover most of the west coast of South America running an empire from Ecuador to Chile.

Machu Picchu Sun TempleThe exact use of Machu Picchu following its construction is still uncertain with two principal purposes being suggested: first that it was a temple to the Incans most important god, the Sun, and second that it was a royal retreat; a place to get away from the hot humid summers in the lower parts of Peru.

The ruins themselves, support both views with some parts clearly designed as dwellings for the royal family and some dedicated to worship, like the “Temple of the Sun”.  In practise, it seems likely that both views are partially correct. Certainly, the Inca trail itself was established as a main route linking Cuzco, the Incan capital to Machu Picchu and this served as a pilgrimage route for the Incan aristocracy with accommodation built at regular distances to enable the pilgrims to travel in some style. More information about the different ruins you will pass as you trek the Inca trail is below.

Terraces at Machu PicchuAfter the Spanish conquest of the Incas, the Inca trail and the temple at Machu Picchu fell into disuse and they disappeared  from history altogether until 1911, when Hiram Bingham III, an explorer and professor at Yale University, rediscovered the site.  By this time, the site was completely overgrown by jungle and it has taken years of work to clear what is now available to the public. Restoration of large parts of the old site is still underway.

What is remarkable about the ruins at Machu Picchu is that in many respects they are not ruins at all. The main structures of the site are incredibly well preserved and the engineering of the terraces has stood the test of time for over 400 years. Together with its stunning location, it is the quality of the construction, that makes Machu Picchu such an enduring favourite with travellers from around the world.

Ruins on the classic Inca trail

Huillca RaccayWith the classic Inca trail serving as a major pilgrimage route to Machu Picchu, the Incans built a whole series of buildings along its route. Some were both forts and overnights accommodation, some were dedicated to growing produce for those living and working along the trail and at Machu Picchu itself and some had a major spiritual role with baths for cleansing before entering the sacred ruins themselves.

On the first day of trekking you will come across the Inca fort called, Huillca Raccay, which sits at the head of the Urabamba valley providing a clear look out and view-point over much of the lower trail.


PatallaqtaAdjacent to Huilla Raccay on the the other side of the river is the village called  Patallaqta. This was a major agricultural centre and the Incas use of terracing is really well illustrated at this site. Not only do the terraces provide flat ground on which crops can be grown they also create micro-climates where there is different temperature and humidity at different levels.The ruins at Patallaqta were rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham when exploring through the Urabamba region looking for Machu Picchu.

Phuyupatamarca cloud level town

 

After this first introduction to Incan architecture and engineering, day 2 of the trek brings you to Phuyupatamarca. The locals call this site‘La Ciudad entre la Niebla’ (‘The City Above the Clouds’) as it is situated at 3,200m where the trail transitions from the cool mountainous zone to the hot humid jungle causing clouds to form.

This site is very well preserved and includes five small stone baths which even now, during the wet season,  contain constant fresh running water.

Winay WaynaThe final days trekking before you reach the Sun Gate takes you to the ruins at Winay Wayna (Quechua for ‘Forever Young’).

The ruins at Winay Wayna contain more baths for cleansing as well having huge areas of steep terracing for food production.

The planning of waterflow for irrigation and for waste disposal at Winay Wayna is really impressive and the site acts as an excellent final resting place before your arrival at Machu Picchu at dawn through the Sun Gate.

 

Detailed Itinerary for the Classic Inca Trail

Day 1Arrival

If you have booked airport transfers the Kandoo team will meet you at Cuzco airport and transfer you to your pre-trek hotel. Otherwise, you can make your own way there. Later you will attend a pre-trek briefing with your Lead Guide to prepare you for the challenge ahead.

Day 2Acclimatisation day in the Sacred Valley

The air is almost as thin in Cuzco as it will be at the highest points of your trek. To help your acclimatisation we will spend the morning in the Sacred Valley, visiting the town of Chinchero and the Salt Mines of Maras. We will then continue by vehicle to our hotel in Ollantaytambo where you will have the afternoon free to rest or explore.

Day 3Drive from Ollantaytambo to KM 82, trek to Wayllabamba

We will leave Ollantaytambo after breakfast to drive to the start of our trek. The official beginning of the Inca Trail is called Km 82. Here we will meet our crew and register for our trek.

After crossing the Rio Urubamba we start the legendary Inca Trail. The first day of the trail is relatively easy and a good warm up for the following days. On the way we will pass a beautiful archaeological site called Llactapata before we reach Tarayoc. After that, we will continue our hike to Wayllabamba (3000m), the camping site where we will spend the night.

  • Elevation: From 2800 metres to 3000 metres
Day 4From Wayllabamba to Pacamayo

Today we cross the first of three passes and the highest point of our trek - Warmihuañusca Pass (Dead Woman Pass) at 4200m. Our trek begins with a fairly steep climb to Llulluchapampa, before levelling out slightly as we head up to Dead Woman's Pass. After a break at the summit to enjoy the view, we  begin the long, steep descent to the Pacamayo River where we will camp overnight.

  • Elevation: From 3000 metres to 3850 metres
  • Highest point: 4200 metres (Dead Woman's Pass)
Day 5From Pacamayo to Wiñay Wayna

This morning we climb up to the oval-shaped ruin of Runkurakay, then continue our ascent to the summit of our second pass, Runkurakay Pass at 3900m. From here you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the entire snow-capped Vilcabamba range, before another steep descent. We will then climb up to our third pass, to Phuyupatamarka, an Inca ruin named “The Town in the Clouds”. Finally we descend once more into the cloud forest, visiting the site of Intipata (Terraces of the Sun), before reaching our campsite at Wiñay Wayna.

  • Elevation: From 3580 metres to 2650 metres
  • Highest point: 3900 metres (Runkurakay Pass)
Day 6From Wiñay Wayna to Machu Picchu to Cuzco

A very early start today as we set off on the final section of the Inca Trail to the famous Inti Punku (Sun Gate) where, weather permitting, you will enjoy your first views of Machu Picchu. You will have a comprehensive tour of the site, as well as some time to explore on your own. If you wish to climb Huayna Picchu, the famous mountain behind the ruins, you will need to book your permit with us in advance.

In the afternoon, we will return to Aguas Calientes to catch the train to Ollantaytambo. From here, our driver will transfer you back to your hotel in Cuzco.

Day 7Departure

After a shower and a good night's sleep, it will be time to leave. If you have arranged airport transfers we will meet you at the hotel. Otherwise make your own way to Cuzco airport for your departing flight.

Classic Inca Trail Open Group Availability

Last Updated August 23 2017
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Arrival: September 9 2017
Days: 7
Price: £949 $1234 €0
Comment: Permits sold out
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Days: 7
Price: £949 $1234 €0
Comment: Permits sold out
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Arrival: October 28 2017
Days: 7
Price: £949 $1234 €0
Comment: Permits sold out
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Days: 7
Price: £949 $1234 €0
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Days: 7
Price: £949 $1234 €0
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Arrival: December 10 2017
Days: 7
Price: £949 $1234 €0
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Arrival: March 4 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: March 18 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: April 1 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: April 15 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: May 6 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: May 20 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: June 3 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: June 18 2018
Days: 8
Price: £1119 $1455 €0
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Arrival: July 1 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: July 22 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: August 5 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: August 18 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: August 19 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: September 23 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: October 7 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: October 21 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: November 4 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: November 18 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: December 2 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
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Arrival: December 16 2018
Days: 7
Price: £899 $1169 €0
Comment: Spaces

FAQs about the Inca trail

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