The Classic Inca Trail is one of the most famous and popular treks in South America, it is visited by thousands of adventure-hungry tourists every year.
It was constructed by the Incas over 500 years ago and the Classic Inca Trail is the most famous stretch of the Inca road system.
The route is 45km long therefore you will be trekking 12km per day on average and will reach a maximum altitude of 4200m when passing through Dead Women’s Pass.
The trail is typically 4-days/3-nights long, but some people extend it to 5-days/4-nights to spend an extra night at Machu Picchu.
Classic Inca Trail Overview
The trek is fairly challenging. There are many steps which can take a toll on your knees, but a reasonably fit person should be able to cover the route.
Another factor which influences the difficulty of the trek is the altitude; this is a high-altitude trek and altitude sickness is a real risk.
Altitude sickness can affect you no matter what fitness level or age you are. It is important that you spend at least 2 days is Cusco acclimatising before you embark on the trail.
The trail is truly breath-taking; combining archaeological sites, amazing mountain scenery and lush cloud forest rich in Andean fauna and flora.
This route is an amazing choice if you seek both natural beauty and ancient history.
The route typically departs from K82 and due to the popularity of the trek permits are required. Only 500 permits are issued per day, with only 200 permits being for tourists.
Permits sell out fast so you will have to book as far as 6 months in advance.
Inca Trail Quick Facts
Typical Machu Picchu Itinerary
Day 1: Cusco – Ollantaytambo – KM82 – Wayllabamba
Day 2: Wayllabamba – Llulluchapampa – Warmiwanusca (Dead Women’s Pass) – Pacamayo
Day 3: Pacamayo – Runkurakay – Sayacmarca – Phuyupatamarc – Winay Wayna
Day 4: Winay Wayna – Inti Punku – Machu Picchu – Agua Calientes – Ollantaytambo – Cusco
Inca Trail Important Details
Best Time To Go
The best time to trek the Classic Inca Trail is in the dry season which runs from late April to early October.
It will be busiest between May and September, so if you intend on trekking during this time make sure you book your permits at least 6 months in advance.
The dry shoulder months of March/April and October/November are also good time to trek, however the probability of rain during these months is higher.
December and January are incredibly wet, and the trail is closed during February for conservation and maintenance.
The temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year with temperatures reaching the high 20s (Celsius) during the day and dropping to single digits or going below zero during the nights and early mornings.
Due to the presence of micro-climates it is possible for rain to fall any time of the year, even during the driest months, so make sure you pack wet weather gear just in case. See the Inca Trail Packing List for more details.
This trail is fairly challenging. It has a lot of stairs which can be tough on your knees.
You will also be traversing through 3 passes at a high altitude, so altitude sickness may make your trek more difficult.
This trail is very doable if you a reasonable amount of fitness and you have sent a couple days in Cusco acclimatizing.
The Classic Inca Trail reaches a maximum altitude of just over 4200 m, which makes the trek a high-altitude trek and therefore altitude sickness is a real possibility.
It is impossible to predict who is susceptible to altitude sickness as there is little correlation between age, gender, fitness levels etc and altitude sickness.
What is known, however, is that going too high too fast is a key contributing factor.
It is recommended that you spend at least 2 days in Cusco acclimatizing.
However, because Cusco is already at 3400 m, if you’re traveling from sea level it is very likely that you will experience mild altitude sickness.
It is important that you rest and drink lots of fluids to try stave off the symptoms.
Make sure you know the risks, so you can take preventative measures against altitude sickness.
Due to the popularity of the trail there are only a limited number of permits issued per day.
Only 500 permits are issued and only 200 of those are for tourists, the other 300 are for support staff.
Due to the lack of permits you will want to book your permit 5/6 months in advance.
Permits go on sale at the end of each year for the previous year.
Inca Trail FAQ
Inca Trail Tours
Unfortunately, you cannot trek the trail independently and your trip will have to be carried out in organised groups of visitors, a travel or tourism agency or with an official guide.
You can book your trip with one of the 175 officially licensed trail tour operators in Peru or with a larger international travel agency with a partnership with a licensed operator.
Tour operators will organize everything for you; from booking your permit, to sorting you into groups and providing a guide.
The closest thing you will get to trekking independently in with an independent Inca Trail guide. This does mean that you will have to organize your trip yourself as well as carry your own belongings.