In July I hiked the one-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – the shorter version of arguably South America’s most famous trekking route and a great option for those short on time, averse to camping or simply not keen or experienced enough to do a longer trek.
The day starts with an early train from Cusco or the Sacred Valley towards Machu Picchu. With your guide you will alight early at KM104 and start the 12km trail to the ruins. The route is actually the final section of the ‘classic’ four or five-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, where each night is spent at camp sites along the way.
(NB. we recommend the five-day Inca Trail – the camp sites are much quieter and it’s far less rushed).
The first half of the trail is a steady incline and although there are a couple of narrow sections along the way you don’t have to be Bear Grylls to enjoy it – in fact it’s something most people with an average level of fitness can do and suitable for young and old.
En route you will pass through the Inca ruins of Wiñay Wayna, which are built into a steep hillside and it is this point where the one-day trail, meets the ‘classic’ Inca Trail. A steep set of steps takes you up through the sites many terraces, before the trail continues towards Machu Picchu.
Depending on your pace it can take anything from 3-8 hours to complete the one-day Inca Trail, but typically you will arrive into Machu Picchu at lunch time (around 5-6 hours after starting). It’s not a race though and having your own guide means you’re able to go at your own pace and enjoy the spectacular views of the Urubamba valley as you go.
The final stop on the trail is Inti Punku, the Sun Gate. This is the point where you will get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu and it’s a special experience. Once you have taken it all in, you will walk down into the ruins and visit the Inca Citadel.
Whilst hiking you will only need to carry a day pack, with essentials like sun lotion, water (no plastic bottles though), insect repellent and your packed lunch. Not having a heavy backpack makes the walk much more enjoyable.
To preserve the trail’s condition, numbers are limited and only 250 permits are available each day for the one-day Inca Trail and 500 for the ‘classic’ trail. It sounds like a lot but porters and guides also require permits and during the dry season (April to November) they nearly always sell-out. It’s important to plan well ahead, particularly if you’re looking to do it from June to September.
There are alternative and less commercial hikes in Peru too. If you’re looking for something with a more cultural aspect, then hiking in the Lares Valley near Cusco is a must (the area is famous for its farming and weaving communities) or for something more challenging then the Salkantay is a good option (known for its dramatic mountain scenery and high-altitude passes). For the fit and fearless, then hiking to the Inca site of Choquequirao should be on your list (it’s a challenging hike to this partially excavated Inca city, which some believe will eclipse Machu Picchu in years to come). For those wanting something more comfortable, then consider one of Mountain Lodges of Peru’s lodge-to-lodge adventures. This is as close to luxury as you can get whilst trekking in Peru, with each night spent at a different lodge along the route. As fun as camping is, you can’t beat a hot shower and proper bed after a full day of trekking!