For many people, the culmination of a trip to South America is a visit to Machu Picchu, the famed lost city of the Incas. For some people however the hike along the Inca trail is almost as important as getting to Machu Pichu and we are seeing this on more and more peoples bucket lists. I walked the trail in July 2007.
The trail itself – Located in the Andes mountain range, the trail passes through several types of Andean environments including cloud forest and alpine tundra. Settlements, tunnels, and many Incan ruins are located along the trail before ending at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu Mountain. The route ascends beyond 4200 meters (nearly 14,000 ft) above sea level with the highest point being the unfortunately named “Dead Women’s Pass”, which can result in altitude sickness so the name of the game is to spend sometime in Cusco first acclimatizing, or walk very very slowly. The only accommodation is camping and it can be very cold at night, during the day temperatures can soar to the high 20’s but quickly drops once the sun goes down.
Porters will carry your bags and they are worth every penny, and then some more! Some people will insist on trying to carry there own stuff but this is madness as they miss out on so much as they spend hour after hour trying to put one foot in front of the other for 4 days.
How to do it – Numbers are strictly limited now with only 500 people allowed on the trail at any one time, as a result of this you have to book well in advance to get your permit, doing this as part of a small group tour is the best way to secure this but even this is no guarantee if you leave it too late. Due to this popularity, several alternative treks, The Lares & the Inca Quarry Treks have been developed and these visit far more remote valleys and are much less touristy. They don’t however finish at Machu Picchu and a train ride is required to get there so I think this will never be as popular.
When to Go – The trail closes in February every year for maintenance but this is the wettest time any way, it can be very hot and humid in the summer months so my tip would be to go in the winter, July or August with beautiful clear days and cooler temperature whilst you are walking.
Don’t stress about rushing down the track in the dark to witness the sunrise at the Sun Gate – Machu Picchu is often cloud-covered at dawn anyway, within a few hours the low cloud has usually lifted to reveal the citadel in all it’s glory!
Looking for a more remote trek? Ask about our Salkantay trek option.