Walking The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Previous Post: Walking In The Inca Heartland – Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Pachacuti’s getaway spot in the Andes- he’d be shocked with all the traffic these days  at South America’s #1 tourist destination

To walk down from the Gateway of the Sun (Inti Punku) to the site of Machu Picchu is one incredible experience.  Having been on the Inca Trail for three days you are now rewarded with the stunning ruins of a site built for the Sapa Inca Pachacuti in the mid-1400’s as his private retreat from the bustle of the Inca capital at Cuzco- and then abandoned when the next emperor did not share the same desire to get away from it all. Abandoned and forgotten by all except those who lived nearby for almost 500 years, it would be “discovered” by an American archeologist (Hiram Bingham III) from Yale University in 1911.

Machu Picchu Satellite View

Machu Picchu Satellite View – click here to see the “live” Google view and to zoom in

If you want to see Machu Picchu, it should be noted right away that you do not need to hike the Inca Trail to do so. The easiest way to see it is by a day visit by train from Cuzco to the ruins via Pueblo Machu Picchu (aka Aguas Calientes). The town is at 2000 meters; the ruins themselves sit on a saddle between two mountain peaks at about 2400 meters. A bus ride up the switchback road to the ruins and you’re there.

the switchback road from Pueblo Machu Picchu up to the ruins

You could make it a bit more enjoyable by getting to Pueblo Machu Picchu the day before and staying at a guesthouse overnight; that way you would get up to the ruins long before the tour groups from Cuzco arrive.  Or you could get a room at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, located not far from the entrance to the site.  This way you could be sure of getting to the ruins even before the tourists started arriving from the town below!  Check this link to see how much it will cost you!

“custodian” of the ruins!

The nice thing about getting to Machu Picchu via the so-called Inca Trail is that walking past a number of other remarkable Inca ruins provides a context as well as a build-up for the ruins of  Machu Picchu.  Here is a graphic that I’ve “borrowed” from the SAS Travel site because it very neatly and quickly encapsulates the entirety of the trek.  (I hope they are okay with my use of it!)

You also get to experience the various ecological zones as you move up or down in altitude. And while you don’t have to be an elite athlete to do the hike, there are moments when you may wonder why you didn’t just take the train.  Stopping for a moment to catch your breath and registering another WOW vista will give you the answer!

To make different parts of the post easier to find, i’ve divided it into “pages”. Just click on the blue title of the page you’d like to go to or make use of the page links at the bottom of the page.

1 – introduction (this page)

2 – Day One – The Adventure Begins!

3 – Day Two – Up And Over The Highest Points of the Hike!

4 – Day Three – Mostly Downhill Past Some Incredible Ruins

5 – Day Four – Inti Punku and Machu Picchu – Wow!

6 – Advice on Walking the Inca Trail

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8 Responses to Walking The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

  1. Anne Nixon says:

    Thank you for your great blog. I am leaving for a tour of Peru early August and walking the Inca Trail days 10-13. It looks fantastic and your photos are awesome. By the way I’m 70 years old but in fantastic shape and only hoping that the elevation won’t give me too much trouble.

    • albinger says:

      Anne, I’m glad the pix and the write-up were of some use. You will come back with your own stories and some great pix that will excite someone else!

      You’ll be okay with the elevation. Believe it or not, Cusco at 11, 200 feet (3400 m) is higher than Machu Picchu at about 7900 feet (2400 m) so if you’re okay in Cusco you should be fine on the trail. Just make sure you have two or three days to acclimatize in Cusco before you set off on the hike. Drink lots of fluids, take it easy for the first couple of days in Cusco, and maybe consider Diamox if you are really worried about it all.

      Buen viaje!

  2. jane demeo says:

    Hello….just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated the pictures and commentary of your Inca trail hike. In fact your whole site is awesome. This hike was of interest to me as I did the hike from kilometer 88 wayyyyyyy back in 1973 and was able to do it with a friend and a map, no need for permits, groups, porters etc. We obtained a map in Lima or Cusco, can’t remember which and just headed out on an adventure. As my photos have more or less disappeared over the years it was immensely gratifying to relive the trip through your photos. Thank you for such a wonderful site! Happy Trails. Janie

    • true_north says:

      Jane, thanks! My blog started as an attempt to make use all these digital images I had sitting on my hard drive. When I retired from a 35-year stint as a high school teacher, the blog was something I found I could apply whatever skills I had developed over the years. Getting emails like yours makes it all worthwhile!

      I did the Inca Trail in 2007; it must have been an incredible adventure in 1973 before it became the groomed and managed hike it is now. Perhaps in 35 years someone will think the same about doing the Inca Trail in 2007! In the meanwhile, you and I will enjoy reliving our walks to the Sapa Inca Pachacuti’s weekend retreat at Machu Picchu as we look at the pics one more time.

  3. Rona says:

    We are planning a hiking trip to MP. Thank you so much for your blog. It is helping me visualize the experience better

    • true_north says:

      Rona, nice to hear the post was of some use. Helping other people to visualize the walk – and to realize that they could do it too – were mostly why I put it together. It also helped me relive a fabulous walk through some great landscape and interesting history. I am sure you will enjoy yours just as much. If you upload your pix to a website, send me the link so I can take a look. Buen viaje!

  4. Jan says:

    Thank you for your detailed and wonderful posts on the Inca Trail/Machu Picchu! I’m taking on the challenge in April 2017 – any hiking tips? 🙂

    • true_north says:

      Jan, it is February of 2017 and I just noticed I hadn’t responded! Just two more months and hopefully that adventure will more from your “to do” list to “been there, done that!” Happy trails!

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

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