What does the Inca Trail look like? Read the day-to-day schedule including information about what yu will see along the trail, how high you will go, how many kilometers you will hike, where you will camp, and more. The complete overview of the Inca Trail day by day.
Early, mostly around 6.30, you will be picked up by your hotel in Cusco. We travel for about 3 hours in the bus with a one hour stop in Urubamba to buy provisions, continuing onto Kilometre 88, just a bit past the village of Ollantaytambo. Here you must register at the Inca Trail Check Point where the adventure begins. From there, there are just 42 kilometres of mountains, Andean valleys, rivers and tropical forests that separate you from Machu Picchu.
The first section heads to the campsite of “Miskay”, where we will have lunch. It takes just one hour and is mostly flat with light climbs. The path meanders through the trees and scrubs brush, slowly gaining altitude. After lunch, we cross a canyon. Once out of the canyon, we can see the ruins of the small city of Llactapata. The trail descends to enter the valley of the Kusichaca river, and from there the trail has a slight climb to the campsite of Wayllabamba (‘grassy plain’ in Quechua ) where we arrive 2 or 3 hours after the lunch break. The campsite is at 3,000 metres above sea level it can be cold at night. After dinner, it’s great to observe the stars. On nights without stars, it is possible to see the Milky Way.
The team – the guide, the assistant guide the porters, the cook and the assistant cook – will wake you up around 6 am so you can pack your stuff and enjoy breakfast.
Many say the second day is the most difficult because of the 1200 metres climb to the the highest point on the trail, the Warmiwañusca Pass (or Dead Woman’s Pass) at 4200 metres above sea level.
After departure, you’ll quickly climb above the tree line and will enjoy stunning views of mountains and valleys. The total climb for today takes four to five hours.
The route up can be hot and intense (make sure to wear Sunscreen if the sun is out), or cold if it is cloudy or foggy and the wind picks up.
Make sure you have layered clothing so you can layer up or down as necessary.
If you have contracted a porter to carry your things, don’t forget to have warm clothes on hand for the pass.
Once we have conquered the Dead Woman’s Pass – the highest point of the Inca Trail – we continue with a descent to the campsite, which will take about two hours.
Some groups like to stop and prepare lunch in the middle of the descent, to rest a little, while other groups prefer to have lunch in the campsite – at Pacaymayo so you can rest for the whole afternoon.
At Pacaymayo there are toilets here and (cold) showers.
The third day is long but very interesting. You start with an ascent of an hour and a half to the pass of Runkurakay, at an altitude of 3950 metres. Runkurakay is an Inca site that is believed to have been used as a watchtower over the Pacamayo valley. There is a small lagoon too where occasionally you can see deer drinking.
Once we have climbed the pass, the rest of the trail is mostly downhill, over beautifully paved Inca trails and staircases. You will enter into jungle-like scenery, where you will start to understand how Machu Picchu was hidden by jungle for so many years.
Along the trail, there are several Inca Ruins. The first one is Sayacmarca which in the Inca period was a control point for the trails that headed towards Machu Picchu. Sayacmarca – meaning “inaccessible town” in Quechua - features a beautiful stone staircase. After visiting these ruins, we will continue to Phuyupatamarca where most groups will enjoy lunch.
But first, you will reach an original Inca tunnel before climbing up to the third and final pass of the Inca Trail at 3,700m. On a clear day you will be presented with fantastic views of Salkantay (6,217m) in the south and Veronica (5,860m) in the north.
Just after this pass, you will reach Phuyupatamarca, one of the most impressive Inca sites on the trail. From here, the descent is inclined and tiring because it is mostly stairs: you will walk over an original Inca staircase of 1,000 steps.
We pass the ruins of Intipata, a complex of terraces constructed in the middle of the slope of a beautifully vegetated mountain.
And finally, the trail winds to the campsite of Wiñaywayna ("‘Forever Young’ in Quechua) where you can camp, buy a well-deserved beer, or take a cold shower. The ruins of Wiñaywayna are similar in type to those of Intipata but more impressive and include several Inca Baths.
Today we start a bit earlier – around 5.30 am - as today is the big day: we’ll reach the ultimate goal of this trek: Machu Picchu. Carry a (head) torch: it will still be dark, and the path is narrow. The trail from Winay Wayna runs through a cloud-forested path before reaching the steep stone stairs to Inti Punku where we will arrive after an hour and a half.
From Inti Punku (“Sun Gate” in Quechua) we’ll see the majestic Inca city of Machu Picchu for the first time! A glorious moment with an unforgettable view!
From Inti Punku it is only a half-hour more to arrive at Machu Picchu where you will have a guided tour of the Citadel. Afterwards, there is free time to explore the ruins, before heading back to Aguas Calientes where you will take the train back to Ollantaytambo or Cusco. People with a Huayna Picchu Ticket need to make sure to head to the start of the Huayna Picchu trek to start on time.
Some people are interested in climbing Huayna Picchu – the iconic Mountain behind Machu Picchu from where you have an amazing view over Machu Picchu. Another possible ‘add-on’ is the climb to Machu Picchu Mountain. Both the Huayna Picchu and the Machu Picchu Mountain Hikes depend on availability. Let your tour operator know that you are interested at the time of your booking. Not only the Inca Trail Permits but also the Huayna Picchu tickets are limited and are sold out several months ahead.
»Read more about climbing Huayna Picchu Mountain.»
»Read more about Machu Picchu Tickets»
»Read more over Trains between Cusco and Machu Picchu.»