Classic 4 day Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is Peru's best known hike, combining a stunning mix of Inca ruins, mountain scenery, lush cloud-forest and rich subtropical jungle. Over 250 species of orchid have been counted in the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary, as well as
numerous birds such as hummingbirds, waterfowl and the majestic Andean Condor. The star of the Sanctuary is the spectacled bear - a shy, herbivorous animal that is extremely rare and close to extinction. Essentially the Inca Trail is a mountainous jungle hike leading to the sacred Inca city of Machu Picchu. The 45km trek is usually covered in 4 days, arriving at Machu Picchu at daybreak on the final day before returning to Cusco by train in the afternoon.
The trek is rated moderate and any reasonably fit person should be able to cover the route. It is fairly challenging nevertheless, and altitudes of 4200m are reached, so ensuring that you are well acclimatized is important. If arriving from sea level, plan to spend at least 2 full days in Cusco (3 days is better) prior to commencing the trek. This should allow plenty of time for acclimatization and give you sufficient opportunity to visit the City of Cusco, and nearby Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman, Quenqo, Pucapucara & Tambomachay as well as spending a day or two exploring the Sacred Valey of The Incas visiting the tradition market town of Pisac and the fascinating Inca fortress at Ollantaytambo
Typical Classic 4 day Inca Trail Trek Itinerary and Trail Description
1 Day: ( 12km ) Travellers are collected early from their hotels and travel by bus, through the picturesque villages of Chinchero, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo, for the 3½ hour scenic trip to kilometre 82 ( the start of the trail ). Hikers cross the Vilcanota River and follow the trail to the right as it climbs steeply up from the river. After passing through a small village, the ruins of the Inca hillfort of Huillca Raccay come into view high above the mouth of the river Cusichaca ('happy bridge'). It is a simple descent down to the Cusichaca river.
[ Note most tour operators now commence the trek at Km82 as this is as far as it is possible to go when travelling by bus along the Vilcanota valley. If travelling by train from Cusco you can get off a little further along the valley at Km88. There is, in fact, very little difference to the total length of the trail whether you start at Km82 or Km88 since the trails join approximately midway between the two. ]
For a further 7 km the path follows the left bank of the river up to the village of Wayllabamba ( 3,000m ). The name in Quechua means 'grassy plain'. Most tour groups spend the first night here although there are prettier campsites a little further on.
2 Day: ( 11km ) Climbing up from Wayllabamba for about 3 hours through steepening woods and increasingly spectacular terrain brings you to the treeline and a meadow known as Llulluchapampa ( 3,680m ). It is another 1½ hours climb to the first and highest pass of the trail (Abra de Huarmihuañusca or 'Dead Woman's Pass) at 4,200m. During this part of the trail hikers are exposed to the Andean elements: first scorching sun and then, closer to the pass, freezing winds. Once at the top hikers can celebrate having completed the most difficult section of the trail.The decent from the pass is steep although not difficult, following the trail on the left side of the valley to the valley floor and to the 2nd night's campsite at Pacamayo ( 3,600m ). There are toilet facilities here.
3 Day: ( 16km ) From Pacamayo it takes about an hour to climb up to the ruins of Runkuracay. These small circular ruins occupy a commanding position overlooking the Pacamayo valley below. Another 45 minute hike will bring you to the top of the second pass: Abra de Runkuracay ( 4,000m ). At last you'll feel that you are walking along the trail of the Incas with paving, for the most part, being original. The descent down the steps from the pass is steep so take care. This section of the trail, up till the 3rd pass, is particularly beautiful as the path crosses high stone embankments and skirts deep precipices. After about 1 hour from the 2nd pass you'll arrive at Sayacmarca by way of a superbly designed stone staircase. The name Sayacmarca means 'Inaccessible Town' and describes the position of the ruins perfectly, protected on three sides by sheer cliffs. No one knows the exact purpose of these ruins. You have to backtrack a little to rejoin the trail as it passes Conchamarca, a small Inca dwelling situated in the shadows of Sayacmarca, which was probably a tambo for weary travelers on their way to Machu Picchu. From then on the path descends into magnificent cloudforest full of orchids, hanging mosses, tree ferns and flowers, passing through an impressive Inca tunnel, carved into the rock, on the way. The trail then climbs up to the 3rd pass (3,700m). The view from the pass offers excellent views of several snow-capped peaks including Salkantay (6,271m) and Veronica (5,750m). A few minutes after the pass is Phuyupatamarca, the most impressive Inca ruin so far. The name means 'Town in the Clouds'. Access to the ruins is down a steep flight of stairs passing six 'Inca Baths' probably used for the ritual worship of water. Leaving the site via an impressive Inca staircase leading from the west side of the ruins (the far end from the baths) you descend a thousand or so steps. Be careful with your knees which will feel the strain by the end of the day. After about an hour of walking through cloudforest you may just be able to see the tin roof of the Trekkers Hostal at Wiñay Wayna, although it probably won't be for another 2 hours until you arrive.
The Trekkers Hostal certainly isn't considered one of Peru's best-looking hotels. It is also usually crowded and cramped, but it is the last official campsite before Machu Picchu, hence it's always full. There is, however, a restaurant where you can purchase food, drinks and even a well deserved beer, as well as hot showers ( $1.5 ) and toilets. Trekkers on the Classic 4-day trek will camp here. The dormitory beds in the hostal used to be used by trekkers doing the shorter Inca Trail trek but trekkers now have to continue directly to Machu Picchu and spend the night at Aguas Calientes. There are plans to demolish the hostal in 2005 which, most people will agree, will be a great improvement. A short trail leaves from the southern end of the hostal to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna. The name in Quechua means 'forever young' and is named after a variety of pink orchid which grows here. The ruins comprise magnificent agricultural terraces set in an impressive location. There are also many buildings of good quality stonework and a sequence of 10 baths, suggesting that the site was probably a religious center associated with the worship of water. Ritual cleansing may have taken place here for pilgrims on the final leg of the trail to Machu Picchu.
4 Day: ( 6km ) The trail from the hostal to Machu Picchu is clearly marked and takes about 1½ hours. Most people attempt to wake up at 4.30am so that they can leave Wiñay Wayna by 5.30am to get to Machu Picchu before sunrise. The sky starts getting light by 6am and the first rays of the sun reach Machu Picchu at about 7am. The trail contours a mountainside and drops into cloudforest before coming to an almost vertical flight of 50 steps leading up to the final pass at Intipunku (Sun Gate). Suddenly the whole of Machu Picchu is spread out before you in all its glory - a fantastic sight for all.
• 1 Train ticket Machu Picchu-Cusco
• Entrance fee to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu
• Porters for equipment and cooks service
• Arrival and departure transfers
• All applicable taxes
• Bilingual guided tours ( English, Spanish )
• All Meals as indicated on the itinerary
• Camping equipment including tents, mattresses, kitchen tent, lunch tent, etc.
Tours no Includes:
• International and Domestic flights ( Lima / Cusco / Lima: US$ 180.00 aprox.)
• Airport taxes ( $30.25 for international flights and $6.05 for domestic flights)
• Lunch on day 4
• Baggage excess
• Alcoholic drinks, soda or bottled mineral water
• Personal expenses
• International or National personal telephone calls
• Personal porters ( rucksack and other personal equipement will have to be carried by the passenger ) and sleeping bags.
WE RECOMMEND YOU TO
- Use boots during treks and sneakers during long walks.
- Drink lots of liquids on long excursions, especially during the Inca Trail
- Always taking an umbrella or rainwear.
WHAT TO BRING
- Hiking boots, sneakers and shoes.
- Long pants or slacks.
- Long-sleeved shirts.
- Sweaters and a jacket.
- Rain wear.
- Insect Repellent and sun block.
- Personal toilet items.
- Personal toilet items and first-aid kit (plasters, bands, cotton, alcohol, Aspirins).
- Medicine to arrest or prevent the so called ”Soroche” or altitude sickness.
- Please consult your physician what medicine is best suited for your organism.
- Flashlight and knife.
- A container for water and some purifying pills.
- A backpack (50 - 70 litres).
- A change of underwear.
- Gloves, scarf, wool socks and a hat or cap.
- A towel and toilet paper.
- Dried fruits, candies and chocolates.
Cusco has a temperate climate with year round temperatures fluctuating between 14º - 16ºC, with warm days and cold nights. The rainy season in Cusco is from December to March.
Machu Picchu has a semi-tropical climate, with warm and humid days and cold nights. The rainy season in Machu Picchu is from November to April.
Although you can trek during the months of April to October, the best months for visiting Machu Picchu are May and June.
Cusco City: 3360 m.a.s.l.
Machu Picchu: 2400 m.a.s.l.
Sacred Valley of the Incas: 2850 m.a.s.l.
Inca Trail Trekking Regulations 2008
Six years ago the Peruvian Government proposed many changes to the administration of the Inca Trail in a bid to protect its fragile eco-structure from over-use. Most of these proposals have been aimed at reducing the number of trekkers on the trail, improving the quality of the tour operators and offering a reservation system whereby trekkers will be forced to make their reservations many weeks (even months) in advance. Some of the proposals were introduced slowly throughout 2003 and 2004 but the Government started to enforce the majority of the regulations more strictly in 2005. Further regulations were introduced at the beginning of 2006 with the main aim improving porter welfare. All trekking companies that operate the Inca Trail must have an operating license which is issued at the beginning of each year.
We recommend that you make a reservation for the Inca Trail and pay for your entrance fee well in advance. In the low season ( Oct - Mar ) in order to guarantee spaces we advise making a reservation at least 2 months in advance. For the months of April and September we recommend making a reservation 4 months in advance and for the peak months of June, July and August we recommend a minimum of 5 months in advance, preferably earlier. If you don't make a reservation and pay your trek deposit in advance it means that the tour operator won't be able to buy your trek permits. Once your tour operator has confirmed your reservation and bought your permits then it can be very difficult to change the date of trek departure and prohibited to change the name or passport number on the permit.
If you turn up in Cusco during the height of the rainy season ( January and March ) it may still be possible to find space available on certain days with some agencies 5 or 6 days prior to the trek departure date although don't rely on it. During 2008 there were many people who were disappointed not to find spaces available in the low season even when arriving in Cusco 3 weeks in advance. Things were even more difficult for people arriving in May to September with it being impossible for visitors to purchase last minute spaces on the Inca Trail upon arrival.
In the last few years the prices of the 4 day Inca Trail standard pool service have increased dramatically due to a big increase in the cost of operating the trek, increased taxes and transport costs. The added difficulty of obtaining spaces on the trek also resulted in tour operators having to depart with much smaller, less economic groups. The standard 4 day trek now costs between US$420 and US$500 per person depending on the company and the service provided.
A detailed account of the Inca Trail regulations can be found below:
9. Licensed trek operators:
1. Inca Trail entrance fees / Trek permits: As from January 2008 the entrance fee for the 4 day Inca Trail is 244 Peruvian Soles ( about US$88 ) Students and children under 15 years old receive a 50% discount. Trekking companies also have to buy a trek permit for each one of the porters in the group (41 Peruvian Soles, about US$13 per porter ). The entrance fee for the shorter Inca trail trek costs 142 Peruvian Soles (about US$51 for adults). Students and children under 15 years old pay 122 Peruvian Soles (about US$44).
2. Student discounts: Students with a valid International Student Identity Card ( ISIC ) receive a 50%$ discount on the price of the entrance fee but you must inform the tour operator at the time of making your reservation and bring the card with you on the Inca Trail. No other forms of student identity are acceptable i.e. letters from college, international youth identity cards etc. The tour operator will purchase a student trek permit for you (clearly marked only for students). At the start of the Inca Trail your permit will be checked and you will be asked to show your ISIC card and passport. If the card is not valid or you forget to take your card then there is a very high possibility that you will not be allowed to start the trek. This can cause major disappointment and also delay entry of the rest of the group to the trail. In the past you could just pay an additional fee for a standard trek permit. Due to the added bureaucracy and potential problems associated with applying for a student discount and associated delays many trekking companies have stopped offering this option.
3. Restricted numbers of trekkers: Over the last five years Peru has become a more popular travel destination especially since Machu Picchu became one of the 7 new wonders of the World.. There are many great treks throughout Peru but the Inca Trail is the most well known. During the peak season of 2000 many campsites became crowded and the trail became littered with rubbish. In early 2001 the Government proposed to reduce the number of people on the trail to 500 per day. This figure roughly comprises 200 tourists and 300 trekking staff (guides, cooks and porters).
In 2002 and 2003 the government tried to enforce the 500 limit but, due to many complaints by the local tour operators, they gave into pressure during the busy months of July and August and allowed an extra 200 persons. Since 2004 the government has strictly enforced the 500 limit, and many trekkers were disappointed that there were no spaces available.
The figure of 200 tourists includes trekkers on both the 2-day and 4-day treks as well as the Salkantay 7-day trek. As an estimate we would say that about 160 trekkers per day are starting the 4-day trek, 25 on the 2 day trek and 15 on the Salkantay Trek. In February 2008, 160 tour operators in Cusco were awarded licenses to operate the Inca Trail. With about 1500 tourists looking for just 160 available spaces divided between 160 companies it doesn't take much to realise that things can become a little complicated. Trek permits are now being issued on a first-come-first-served basis so in order to avoid disappointment we recommend booking well in advance and with a reputable trekking company.
4. Making an Inca Trail trek booking: Since only 500 trek permits are issued per day for the Inca Trail (trek permits are also required for the porters and cooks) it is important to try to make a trek reservation as far ahead as possible. There is no clear rule as to how far ahead is enough to to guarantee you a space since this depends on demand. As a guide, however, we recommend the following:
December, January, March: 2 months in advance, 3 or 4 months in advance for departures around Christmas.
April, October, November: 3 months in advance, 4 months in advance around Easter
May, September: 4-5 months in advance.
June, July, August: 5-6 months in advance.
5. Independent Trekkers: Since June 2002 trekking independently on the Inca Trail has been prohibited. Regulations state that each trekker must be accompanied on the Inca Trail by a professionally qualified guide. Trying to organize a guide in advance is difficult since tour agencies just aren't interested in hiring out their guides. If you wait until you arrive in Cusco to arrange a guide then you are liable to be left with only the worst guides and the very high probability that all the spaces on the trail are fully booked. If you want to get away from it all and trek on your own then there are some excellent alternative treks such as Lares Valley, Choquequirao or Ausangate. If you do manage to organize a guide for the Inca Trail in advance you cannot have a group greater than 7 persons and you can't employ the services of other trekking staff such as cooks or porters.
6. Maximum Group Size: The maximum allowable group size is 16 persons. For groups larger than 8 persons there must be 2 guides. (on the shorter 2 day trek there must be 2 guides for groups larger than 07 persons)
7. Porters Working Conditions: In April 2002 a new law was introduced to set a minimum wage for all porters on the Inca Trail. This has followed years of exploitation. This wage is 42 Peruvian Soles per day which is about US$15. It may not seem a lot but wages are all relative to livings costs and compared to other professions 42 Soles is quite well paid. To put things in perspective teachers earn between US$200 and US$300 per month. Even though the law exists it is not being enforced and many companies are still paying their porters as low as US$5 per day. In 2002 the maximum weight that a porter can carry was limited to 25kg ( 20kg load + 5kg personal items ). All porters have their weight checked by government officials at the start of the trail. However even this system is open to abuse and many tour operators get their guides and assistants to carry large loads across the checkpoint where they are dropped and left for the porters to pick up. Many trekkers who have hired an extra porter are also asked to carry their bags across the checkpoint to be given to the porters after they have been weighed. So even with the new regulations and a weigh-station at the beginning of the trail it is still possible to see porters carry loads of up to 35kg.
In general though, the introduction of these regulations have dramatically improved the porters working conditions compared to the conditions just four or five years ago when wages of US$5 per day and loads of 45kg were the norm. There is still a long way to go though when it comes to the provision of adequate meals, backpacks and warm dry sleeping accommodation.
8. Inca Trail Closure during the month of February: The route of the classic 4-day Inca Trail will be closed each year during the month of February to allow conservation projects to be undertaken as well as giving the vegetation a chance to recover. This is a good month to close the trail since it is also the wettest moth of the year. Machu Picchu and the shorter 2-day trail will remain open as usual.
The INC ( Institute of National Culture ) is the regulatory body responsible for controlling access to Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. In order to operate the Inca Trail companies must meet certain basic requirements proving that they have professional guides and good camping equipment, radio communications and emergency first aid including oxygen. The license to operate the Inca Trail is renewed at the beginning of each year. Due to legal problems the Government has found it hard to withdraw licenses from poor performing companies and every tour operator that has satisfied the basic requirements has so far been given a license. Legislation is likely to be introduced later in 2008 to give more power to the Ministry of Tourism and allow them to fine, suspend or close badly performing companies.