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Plan your trek on the Inca trail

Permits for all 2020 treks on the Inca Trail went on sale in October 2019. With only 500 permits available each day, including permits for guides and crews, popular dates have sold out very quickly. So now is the time to consider your travel plans and set a date for your Inca Trail adventure so that we can secure your permit as soon as possible.

Kandoo's View

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. It 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 popularity. 

Constructed by the Incas over 500 years ago, Classic Inca Trail is one of the most famous stretch of Inca road system. This road system consist of 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) of trail spanning north to south through Chile, Ecuador and Peru.

There is now a permit system that restricts the number of people starting the Inca trail to 500 each day.  All the crew need permits so there are only about 200 permits for trekker.  Permits for the following year all go on sale in October and sell out quickly for the high season so  you must book early.

There is no permit at Machu Picchu itself and most visitors arrive by train. This means that the site itself is very busy in high season.

So overall our conclusion is that this is a great trek but that there are other equally good Inca trails you can trek that are much quieter.

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About the route

The classic Inca Trail is believed to follow the original pilgrimage route from Cuzco. Cuzco was the capital of the Incan empire and the route took pilgrims to Machu Picchu, their most sacred temple. The Inca's 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 trail from here  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.

From Km 82, the path takes you up and down through diverse environments including cloud forest, jungle and alpine tundra. You reach the highest point at Dead Woman's Pass on day 2 of your trek. 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.

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About the permit system

A permit system restricts the number of people starting the Classic Inca trail to 500 per day but this number includes all the guides and crew who also need a permit. As a result, the number of permits available for trekkers is only about 200 each day.

For reasons nobody quite understands, the Park Authority makes all the permits for each year available on one fixed date. For 2020 all the permits went on sale in October 2019. You could not book a permit for a 2020 trek until that date and within days of permits going on sale they have sold out for the high season.

The critical things to understand is that prior to that date no operator can guarantee that you will have a permit. If an operator  informs you that they are able to block-book or pre-order permits they are lying. The permit system is policed very strictly and permits are only issued against specific names and passport numbers and you are required to check in for the trail at the start point with your passport. If you have married recently you must take a passport in your maiden name as the park authorities are totally inflexible enforcing these rules.

To cope with the permit allocation procedure all operators have developed the same process - bookings are taken prior to the "On sale date" and then there is a scramble to get permits for those bookings as soon as permits are released. Since we started operating treks to Machu Picchu we have always got all the permits we wanted but feel it is better to be upfront about how the process actually works. If, for any reason we are unable to secure a permit, we will offer you either a full refund or the alternative of switching to another trekking route. You should not book any flights until your permit has been confirmed.

Unless you book as soon as permits for the Classic Inca trail are released in October for the following year, all the high season dates will have sold out. If you cannot plan your trip well in advance and still want to trek the classic trail you will need to look at dates well into the shoulder periods. Alternatively have a look at some of the alternatives to the classic trail we operate that all follow Inca trails to trek to Machu Picchu.

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How difficult is the Inca Trail

If you are used to multi-day hiking with ascents and descents each day then the Inca trail is well within your ability. You need to bear in mind that even though the paths are generally good there are a huge number of steps to tackle. And you will be trekking at altitude which in itself is a challenge.

Most Inca Trail treks begin at Cusco, which, at 3,400 metres, is already considerably higher than Machu Picchu. By staying there prior to your trek, you will give your body time to acclimatize to the Inca Trail altitude.  The Inca Trail altitude varies greatly throughout the trek and your body will notice the differences, especially at the higher points.

The second day is the toughest on the Inca Trail as it is spent hiking up and over Dead Woman's Pass at 4,200 metres. Your body will almost certainly feel the effects of the altitude here as the air is providing less oxygen than your body is used to. You do not spend long at this altitude and the rest of the day is spent descending down to 3,850 metres where you camp at Pacamayo.

The Classic Inca Trail is a four day trek including a day visiting Machu Picchu. Each day involves about 6-7 hours of walking but although this doesn't sound like a lot remember the highest pass goes over 4000m and at this altitude every step can be hard work.

The Inca Trail difficulty starts with the distance you will need to cover. It’s 45 km (26 miles) in total, that is mostly covered over 4 days and 3 nights. Remember: every tour operator is little different from the other but the hike is generally broken down into:

  • Day 1: 11 km (6.8 miles)
  • Day 2: 12 km (7.5 miles)
  • Day 3: 16 km (10 miles)
  • Day 4: 4 km (2.5 miles)

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Classic Inca Trail options

We offer a range of options for trekking the classic Inca Trail trek. You can choose to join other trekkers in an open group or we can arrange a private tailor-made trek for you.

In an open group you can book the trek either as a stand-alone trekking itinerary or as part of a package including airport transfers, a cultural tour in Cuzco and hotel accommodation before and after your trek. The itinerary for the trek only option comprises days 3-6 inclusive of the itinerary below. Availability for "trek only dates" is here.

Please note if you wish to join a trek only trip, you must be in Cuzco the day before the trek starts in order to join the group briefing. In the table of availability below, the "Arrival date" is the date you need to be in Cuzco, but you will need to arrange your own accommodation for this night.  You will be notified of the location of the briefing before you arrive in Cuzco.

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Frequently asked questions

The questions and answers below specifically relate to the Classic Inca trail. For more general questions about trekking to Machu Picchu see here.

Inca trail to machu picchu difficulty

The Inca trail is approximately 45km (or 26 miles) which will take about 4 days and 3 nights to complete. If that alone doesn’t make you wary, then maybe you do have what it takes.

How long is the inca trail to machu picchu

Out of the top 5 most famous trails on the continent of South America, the Inca Trail is by far the most famous. The 43km trek combines beautiful vistas of mountains, lush cloud-forests, some jarring jungles, incredible inca ruins, stones, and tunnels. The Inca path, having so much to offer, make it being the most famous not a surprise at all.

Inca trail elevation gain

The vast distances you’ll be crossing when hiking along the Inca Trails are fairly manageable for the average hiker. The trail only takes about 4 days to complete, covering 40 km (25 miles). The real issue comes from hiking up the mountains where the highest point of 4200m (13,776 ft) poses quite the challenge even for the most experienced of hikers out there. But of course, the most experienced of hikers always love a challenge.

Classic inca trail

The most typical second option to the Inca trail is the Salkantay hike which takes about 7 days to venture along the snow-capped Andes mountains. Once you start in Mollapata, the first 3 days will be spent viewing the gorgeous Salkantay mountains with plenty of breathtaking vantage points to view the beautiful Incas.

 

Q1What is the best time to trek the Inca trail?

Weather-wise the best time to hike the Inca trail is in May to September when it is dry and generally warm.  You can trek outside this period but due to the area's tropical climate you will get heavy showers and warm temperatures.  The Inca trail is open all year except for February when it closes for repair and maintenance each year

Other things to take in to consideration are tying your trip in with cultural festivals and also flight prices.  Find out more detailed information on when to trek here.

Q2How do I get a permit to trek the Inca trail?

You will need a permit to trek trek on the original Inca trail.  These are in limited supply as the National Park release only 500 permits per day and these are for both trekkers and porters/guides, so there are only around 200 permits for actual trekkers per day.   Find out more about how to get your permit here.

Q3Can I trek without guides and porters?

No.  To trek on the Inca Trail you must trek with a guide from a registered, fully licensed, trekking company. Only these companies can purchase the permits required for the Inca Trail.

Q4How far in advance do I need to book the Inca trail?

Permits for the Classic trail are tightly restricted to 500 trekkers per day. All permits for a year are now released in October for the following year and many dates sell out in hours. If you want to follow the Classic trail you need to book well in advance. Other routes such as Lares or Salkantay are not subject to permits and can be booked at shorter notice.

Q5What kit will I need for the trek?

It is always fairly warm on the Inca trail, and as you are only trekking for 3 days you don't need a lot and you only have a 7kg luggage allowance for the trek itself. Our kit recommendations are here: one unusual item we recommend is a cheap plastic poncho. Expensive goretex rain gear actually will not work in high humidity and a big baggy poncho works a treat.

Q6What is the accommodation like on the Inca trail?

On the trek itself you will be camping. Every two people will share a high quality, force ten three person tent and there will be a large mess tent.

Q7How do I get to the start point for the Inca trail?

You will need to fly to Cuzco to hike the Inca trail. Unfortunately, Cuzco does not have an international flight and so you have to fly through Lima sometimes with an overnight stop. For more information on flights see here.

Q8Can I hike the Inca trail independently?

No, at the time that the permit system for controlling numbers on the Inca trail was introduced the Park Authorities made it mandatory to use a registered and licensed operator.

Q9What travel insurance will I need for the Inca trail?

As you will be hiking above 4000m you will need a special trekking insurance as normal travel policies do not cover this altitude. For detailed advice on recommended travel insurance see here

Q10Why was the Inca trail constructed?

Though the Incas knew of the wheel, it never became an important tool in their mountainous region. Instead all transportation was on foot, and all goods were carried by men or pack animals. They did have an intricate road system, and it extended to Machu Picchu itself. Today the ‘Inca Trail’ is a large part of the Machu Picchu experience for many trekkers and tourists. The roads are not suitable for vehicles, however, and the only access to the site is on foot, though a tram will take you as far as the foot of the mountain. The Inca trail itself can be trekked in part, or all at once. The shortest section is the One Day trail, which ends at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain. The next longest is called the Classic Trail. It starts quite a bit farther back before joining the one day trek, and includes an ascent well above 4000 metres, where the air is quite thin and special care must be taken to avoid AMS (altitude sickness). The longest is the Mollepata trail, which leads onto the Classic and One Day trails in turn. Both of the longer two cross several diverse Andean environments, from alpine tundra to cloud forest, and take you past settlements and ruins as well as through mountain tunnels.

Q11What is the history of Machu Picchu?

The Lost City of the Incas at Machu Picchu was built around the fifteenth century but was sadly abandoned when the Spanish Conquistadores conquered the Inca in the sixteenth century.  From that time on it become overgrown with tropical jungle until Hiram Bingham made his fascinating discovery of this amazing civilisation.  Read more about the history of Machu Picchu here.

Detailed itinerary

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 2Cuzco city walking tour + free time

To help your acclimatisation we will spend a day in Cuzco.  In the morning your guide will collect you from your hotel to take you on a half day city walking tour.

Cuzco was once the foremost city of the Inca empire, and is the continent's oldest continuously inhabited city. At the heart of the city is the Plaza de Armas. Colonial arcades surround the plaza, while alleyways leading away from the plaza are bordered by Inca walls. On the plaza's northeastern side is the imposing Cathedral, flanked by the churches of Jesus Maria and El Triunfo. On the southeastern edge is the ornate church of La Compania de Jesus.  

 You will have the afternoon free to rest or explore this beautiful city.

Day 3Drive from Cuzco to Km 82, trek to Wayllabamba

 We will leave Cuzco at 5:00 am by a private bus heading to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We will make a short break in Ollantaytambo for breakfast. The official beginning of the Inca Trail is called Km 82. Here we will meet our crew and register for your 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, which will last for around 2½  to 3 hours. 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.

Availability and prices

Last Updated November 12 2019
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Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: November 28 2019
Days: 7
Prices from: £999 $1299 €0
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Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: November 30 2019
Days: 7
Prices from: £949 $1234 €0
Comment: Save £50 was £999
Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: December 10 2019
Days: 7
Prices from: £999 $1299 €0
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Arrival: December 20 2019
Days: 7
Prices from: £999 $1299 €0
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Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: January 5 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
Comment: Minimum 2 people
 
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Arrival: January 19 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
Comment: Minimum 2 people
 
Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: March 8 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
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Arrival: March 23 2020
Days: 7
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Arrival: March 29 2020
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Arrival: April 5 2020
Days: 7
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Comment: PERMITS SOLD OUT
 
Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: April 9 2020
Days: 7
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Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: April 23 2020
Days: 7
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Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: April 28 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
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Arrival: May 3 2020
Days: 7
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Comment: PERMITS SOLD OUT
 
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Arrival: May 8 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
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Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: May 9 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
Comment: PERMITS SOLD OUT
 
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Arrival: May 16 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
Comment: PERMITS SOLD OUT
 
Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: May 28 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
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Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: May 31 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
Comment: LIMITED PERMITS
 
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Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
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Arrival: June 14 2020
Days: 7
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Comment: Limited Spaces
 
Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: June 27 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
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Arrival: July 5 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
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Arrival: July 11 2020
Days: 7
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Arrival: July 18 2020
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Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
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Arrival: July 26 2020
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Arrival: August 2 2020
Days: 7
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Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: August 8 2020
Days: 7
Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
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Arrival: August 15 2020
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Arrival: August 23 2020
Days: 7
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Arrival: August 29 2020
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Arrival: September 6 2020
Days: 7
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Arrival: September 21 2020
Days: 7
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Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: September 27 2020
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Arrival: October 4 2020
Days: 7
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Arrival: October 25 2020
Days: 7
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Arrival: November 1 2020
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Arrival: November 22 2020
Days: 7
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Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: December 6 2020
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Prices from: £1049 $1365 €0
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Route: Inca Trail
Arrival: December 20 2020
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Speak with an expert Start planning your next adventure by contacting one of our team.
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Rachael Bode

Adventure Travel Consultant

Phone: + 44 1283 499982

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Sharon King

Adventure Travel Consultant

Phone: +44 1283 499981

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