About the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Your questions answered
By Annelies Hamerlinck and Kelly Huaman
We made this blog to answer some of our clients frequently asked questions and give some useful information to know before and after you book the Inca Trail.
The ‘Qhapaq Ñan’ or the ancient Andean Road System built by the Inca civilization is extensive trail network that reaches from Peru to Ecuador, Colombia and even North-Argentina.
The classic 4-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu is, perhaps, the most sought-after trekking in the Peruvian Andes and one of the most spectacular journeys that can be taken along this great Inca Trail network.
This particular historical path is considered especially magical and scenic. The trail winds through the mountains and protected natural areas. At the start you can enjoy views over snow-capped mountain tops, then you hike through forests, by high altitude lakes and hidden Inca ruins. On the third day you hike through lush cloud forest. Many people consider this trek as a kind of pelgrimage. Even after the many times I hiked this trail, it is still hard to express that very special feeling, the joy and the emotion that you feel when you arrive to the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu on the last day of the trek.
When is the best time of year to do this trek?
The dry season in the Peruvian Andes is from April to November. Although the weather can be unpredictable this is the best time of the year to do the Inca Trail: April, May, June, July, August, September, October and November. In the months of April, May and June everything is very green in the Andes (like spring time). The rainy season goes from December to late March with a peak in February. During this time you have more chances to encounter rain, but with the right equipment you could do the Inca Trail in the rainy season as well. Only not in February because then the Inca Trail is closed.
Is the 4-day, 3-night Inca Trail trek available all year long?
No, the Inca Trail is not available year-round. Every month of February there are no departures and permits available. During the rainiest month of our rainy season, local authorities close the trail for safety reasons and for thorough maintenance checks to preserve our cultural heritage and ecosystems along the trail.
Do I have to book a permit in advance?
Yes, it is very important to book your Inca Trail permit in advance because of the limited number of trek permits. Governmental authorities allow the entrance of only 500 persons per day, this number includes trekkers and expedition staff (=guides, porters and cooks). The greater the number of trekkers that sign up, the greater the number of staff (guides, porters and cooks) are required by our authorities.
The high season is from May through September (due to North American and European holidays), thus it is the busiest time and we therefore highly recommend to ask about availability and/or book at least 6 months in advance.
Is there a refund if I do not show up?
According to governmental regulations, tickets and permits are non-refundable, so passengers who wish to cancel the trek cannot apply for reimbursement of their permit fees. Passengers who do not show up on the booked date of entry will lose 100% of their payment and in no case will a refund be granted.
Keep in mind that, in the strictest sense of the word, as soon as we get your approval and deposit, your permits are purchased.
Furthermore, the reserved spots for those who do not show up cannot be reused or sold to others. However, the right of entry to Machu Picchu citadel will remain valid on the scheduled date, which is indicated on the permit, if you wish to travel by train instead of the trek.
Do I have to carry identification?
For admission and stay on the 4-day trek, you must show your original passport, not a photocopy, at the checkpoints, the first of which will be at Piscacucho (Km. 82), where the trek itself begins.
Should I and how can I train for this trek?
Although this is a high-altitude trek, it is accessible to most travellers as it is not a technical hike. Before coming to Peru, we suggest that you work your lungs and legs, by participating in moderate walking. On the Inca Trail stone path there are many stairs, so walking up and down the stairs whenever you can is also a great way to train for this hike.
Do I have to acclimatize before this trek?
If you plan to fly to Cusco directly from Lima, we suggest that you spend at least two days in Cusco to acclimatize, walking at an easy pace prior to the trek departure date. If you will have the opportunity to travel longer in Peru and acclimatize in another high-altitude city, say Puno before your hike, that’s even better. The general rule is: the more acclimatization, the better.
How many hours a day will we be hiking?
On the first day of the trek, you will walk around 11 km, which may take you from 5 to 6 hours. On the second day you will walk around 12 km in 6 to 7 hours. The third day will be full hiking. You will walk around 16 km in 9 hours. On the fourth day the shortest hike awaits, where you will walk downhill about 6 km until arriving at the Machu Picchu citadel.
What is the highest point of the hike?
The highest point of the trek, is ‘Warmiwañusca’ Pass, at 4,198 (13,769 ft) masl. This pass is also known as ‘Death Women’s Pass’, because the mountain profile is like a resting women and we’ll have to climb over her breast.
What if I have dietary restrictions?
This shouldn’t be a problem, our mountain cooks can adjust the menu according to your dietary restrictions. Just let us know in advance if you are allergic to some types of food, or if you simply prefer a vegetarian or a vegan menu. We will meet your needs to the extent of our possibilities.
How much should I tip?
According to your satisfaction with the provided service we believe you could give a tip from 100 to 150PEN (30-45USD) per trekker for our expedition team of porters and cooks, and from 25 to 50 PEN ($8-15) per person for your mountain guide. Tipping is always a personal choice but this can be used as a guide.
We usually suggest that you take small bills so the many can be divided to each person of the expedition team and your mountain guide will tell you when is the most appropriate moment to give it. Usually it is done after the last dinner on the third night. The best time to tip your mountain guide is on the last day of the trek after you visited Machu Picchu. We recommend that someone from your group hands over the tips to each person of our expedition staff directly in a small envelop while saying some words of appreciation for the hard work they have done for you.
Will I be able to see the sunrise at the Sun Gate on the 4th day?
Probably not, but maybe. With the sunrise we mean that you will see the first rays of sunshine come over the mountains illuminating the city of Machu Picchu. This will depend on the weather conditions and as well from the campsites that the governmental authorities will assign to your group.
Authorities allow use of the following sets of campsites on the 4-day route:
- Campsite set 1: Wayllabamba (1st overnight), Pacaymayo Alto (2nd overnight) and Wiñaywayna (3rd overnight)
- Campsite set 2: Wayllabamba (1st overnight), Pacaymayo Alto (2nd overnight) and Phuyupatamarca (3rd overnight)
- Campsite set 3: Ayapata (1st overnight), Chaquiccocha (2nd overnight) and Wiñaywayna (3rd overnight)
As you can see, there are two options for the 3rd overnight, Wiñaywayna and Phuyupatamarca. As such, we cannot ensure you will arrive on time to see the sunrise at the Sun Gate. The deciding factors are which campsite set we are assigned, timing, as well as the weather conditions.
If we are assigned the Phuyupatamarca campsite, which is the furthest from Machu Picchu citadel, the chance to see sunrise at the Sun Gate is remote, while the Wiñaywayna campsite offers a much higher probability.
What should I pack?
Generally speaking, in our highlands the weather tends to be sunny and bright in the daytime, with temperatures reaching 20 °C (70 °F) with rain likely to fall at any time. Although the trek itself may warm you, winds can make it feel cold. At night, you may find temperatures dropping below 0 °C (32 °F). However, regardless of what we could expect the temperature to be, you should pack both day and night clothing.
While your main luggage will be kept in storage of your hotel in Cusco or the Sacred Valley, you will have to take with you your trekking implements. The duffel bag we provide has a maximum weight limit of 6 kg, so be sure to pack only what is necessary. Part of the weight limit of the duffle bag is filled with the sleeping bag (around 1.5 kg). This means that there is around 4.5 kg for your personal belongings. Additionally, at the debriefing session (scheduled one or two days prior to the trek departure date), the guide will explain in detail what we suggest that you pack so that the trek goes as smoothly as possible.
Keep in mind that the duffle bags are carried by porters. They hike at their own pace, typically faster than we do, as they have to get to the campsites first to have them all set up for when you arrive. They will not hike by our side, so be sure to not place your essentials in the duffle bag, e.g., a light raincoat or rain jacket, reusable water bottle, sunscreen, camera, cell phone (if used for taking photos), hat, etc. These items should be carried by you in a small daypack, with the night clothing and other non-essentials in the duffle bag.
For this trek you should bring the following:
- A sleeping bag (your own or rented from us for 25usd).
- A water bottle that you can reuse/refill. We supply safe boiled water daily at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Day clothes (three pairs of long trousers, three long-sleeve T-shirts, a light raincoat or rain jacket, four pairs of thick socks)
- Night clothes (two sweaters, three pairs of long pants, a woolen hat)
- Wet wipes. At least during the three first days of the trek you will not be able to take a shower as there are no camp showers along the trek. There could be a chance on the fourth day, though. The guide could take you to Machu Picchu Pueblo (locally known as Aguas Calientes) town so that you could rent a shower there. You could easily arrange the best time and place with your guide, as long as the scheduled train timetable allows you to.
- Trekking sticks are not essential, but very useful. If you are going to bring yours, keep in mind that amongst the items that are not allowed into the trek are metal-tipped poles that do not have a rubber protector, as well as poles made of native wood species.
- Snacks: We provide snacks such as fruits, cereal bars, candies, and cookies along the trek but if you like to take your favorite chocolate, you may.