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The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

  • Cusco, Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
£ 2687

Hike through the mountains and cloud-forest of Peru to South America’s most famous archaeological site.

Arguably the most famous trek in South America, the Inca Trail in Peru is on most traveller’s buck lists. The 45km trail takes you through the snow-capped Andes mountains and over spectacular high-altitude passes, before dropping down into the cloud-forest and through ancient Inca sites, before finally arriving at the Sun Gate, where trekkers get there first view of Machu Picchu.

Although it is possible to hike the Inca Trail in four days, we suggest doing it in five so you avoid many of the crowds and put less strain on your body. Permits are required to hike the Inca Trail and despite 500 being available each day, they sell out well in advance so it is important to plan ahead.

With so many people hiking the Inca Trail each day, it does become crowded, so one of the many advantages of the five-day trail is you will be out of sync with the large numbers walking the trail in four days. It means you share the trail and campsites with far fewer people and also allows us to provide our guests with private toilet tents on the five-day trail (so you avoid the long drop toilets used at the campsites on the four-day trek!)

With elevations of over 4,000m, it’s important to acclimatise before hiking the Inca Trail. We recommend a minimum of two nights prior to the trek in Cusco (3,399m / 11,150ft), but another advantage of the five-day Inca Trail is you can acclimatise as you go. The distances hiked each day are shorter and the highest point of the trek, Dead Woman’s Pass (4,212m / 13,819ft), is reached on day three, rather than on day two on the four-day hike. Not only will you feel much better for this, you will also have more time to take in the beautiful scenery and wildlife along the way and longer to explore the Inca sites you pass through. By walking shorter distances each day, it means you don’t have to start as early, so rather than a 5am pick-up on day one, our team in Cusco will pick you up at 9am (which means you can actually have breakfast!)

The climax of the Inca Trail is reaching Machu Picchu and after hiking for four days you will want time to experience it properly. On the four-day Inca Trail you will visit once, normally in the morning after waking up before dawn to hike the final two-hours to the ruins. On the five-day trail you will have the opportunity to visit twice, once in the afternoon and again the following morning. A site as impressive as Machu Picchu shouldn’t be rushed, which combined with the changeable weather in the Andes, means a second visit is recommended.

Of course, these changes do make the five-day Inca Trail a bit more expensive than the shorter four-day trek, but the experience is very different and for those with the time and budget, it is well worth it.

There is also the option to travel as part of a group from £1,658 per person on a shared basis (set departure leaving Cusco every Tuesday, price based on two people sharing a tent/room).

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The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

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Day 1 Ollantaytambo and the start of the trek

The first morning starts with a visit to the old Inca town of Ollantaytambo. After a look around and some lunch you have a short drive to the trailhead at Piscacucho (km 82). Here, you meet the porters and cooks that will support your journey to Machu Picchu. With the crowds now long gone, you hike an undulating trail above the Urubamba river to camp beside the spectacular ruins of Llactapata (2,788m / 9,146ft). Your luggage is carried by the porters, your tents are put up for you and your food is prepared for you. All you have to do is shoulder your daypack and enjoy the walking.

Camping at Llactapata – includes lunch and dinner

Day 2 Trek from Llactapata to Llulluchapampa

After a hearty breakfast you climb gently up the Cusichaca valley to the small hamlet of Huayllabamba. This is the last inhabited place on the trail. A little steeper now, you head up the beautiful Inca path, past hummingbirds and stunted cloud forest to your camp at Llulluchapampa (3,680m / 12,073ft). This beautiful grassy area has outstanding views and you may be even see the Andean deer that come to feed here.

Camping at Lluluchapampa – includes breakfast, lunch and dinner

Day 3 Trek from Llulluchapampa to Phuyupatamarca

Today is the most challenging day but also the most exhilarating. You climb to Dead Woman’s Pass (4,212m / 13,819ft) the high point of the trail before dropping into the Pacasmayo valley. Climbing once more you pass the Inca control post of Runkuracay to the second pass of the day (3,998m / 13,117ft). On a clear day there are spectacular views towards Pumahuanca mountain in the Vilcabamba range. You continue on well preserved Inca trail to Sayacmarca. Located at the junction of two old Inca roads, historians still argue over its exact purpose. A few more gentle ups and downs and you arrive to your stunning campsite for the night, Phuyupatamarca, or ‘the place above the clouds’ (3,650m / 11,975ft).

Camping at Phuyupatamarca – includes breakfast, lunch and dinner

Day 4 Trek from Phuyupatamarca to Machu Picchu

This is the day you finally reach Machu Picchu. As you step out of your tent the views are stunning. Perhaps you will see the sun rising over the snow-capped mountains of Salkantay (6,200m / 20,341ft) and Veronica (5,800m / 19,029ft). Or perhaps you will have a cloud inversion, with the clouds filling the valleys beneath your feet.

After saying a fond farewell to your porters, it is time to put on your boots and head to Machu Picchu. You descend through the cloud forest on beautiful Inca stairways, to Winay Wayna, another interesting ruin full of swallows and orchids. Finally you contour the hillside to arrive at Inti Punku, the gateway of the Sun. As you step through the old stone gateway Machu Picchu appears laid out before your eyes. After plenty of photos you carry on past this wonder of the world to catch the bus down to the colourful town of Machu Picchu Pueblo and a well-deserved hotel and shower.

Stay: One night at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo – half board

Day 5 Explore Machu Picchu and return to Cusco

Today you explore the pinnacle of Inca engineering – Machu Picchu.

For years it was lost to the jungle. Rediscovered in 1911 by the Yale professor Hiram Bingham, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, Machu Picchu exceeds all expectations.

This astounding site lies in an even more astonishing location. Perched high on an inaccessible hilltop it is protected by huge cliffs and the raging Urubamba river. Things are slightly easier now than in the time of the Incas and so you start your day with a twenty-minute bus ride up to the site.

After a two-hour guided tour, you will have some free time to wander amongst the old Inca walls and just sit and take in the scale of the place on your own. For those who want to walk a bit more, you could take the hour long trail up to the Sun Gate, or a shorter trail to visit the Inca Bridge which once spanned a sheer cliff face.

Eventually the time comes to catch the bus down to Machu Picchu Pueblo and board your train back along the Urubamba River. The scenery is beautiful and the train jolts softly along, allowing you to sit, stare out the window and reflect on all you have seen.

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