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Going Back In Time On The Inca Trail In Peru


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Tildy Ericksen



The Inca Trail is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and breathtaking trekking routes in the world. Located in Peru, this ancient trail offers adventurers the chance to step back in time and immerse themselves in the rich history and natural beauty of the Andes Mountains. Traversing through rugged terrain, lush cloud forests, and past ancient Inca ruins, the Inca Trail culminates with the breathtaking sight of Machu Picchu, the mysterious and awe-inspiring lost city of the Incas.


The journey along the Inca Trail is not just a physical challenge, but also a spiritual and cultural experience. Each step taken on the trail is a step closer to understanding the Inca civilization and their remarkable achievements in architecture, engineering, and astronomy.


As you embark on this extraordinary adventure, you will be surrounded by stunning landscapes, majestic mountain ranges, and a mix of flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth. The Inca Trail is not just a trek; it is a voyage into history, a testament to human resilience, and an opportunity to reconnect with nature.


Whether you are an experienced hiker or a novice adventurer, the Inca Trail offers an unforgettable experience for every type of traveler. But before you lace up your hiking boots and hit the trail, it is important to understand the history of this ancient pathway, plan your journey carefully, and pack wisely to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.


In this article, we will delve into the fascinating history of the Inca Trail, provide practical tips for planning your adventure, highlight essential items to pack, and guide you through the four-day trek, culminating in the unforgettable sight of Machu Picchu.


So, are you ready to embark on an extraordinary journey through time and nature? Let’s dive into the history of the Inca Trail and start planning your Inca adventure!


The History of the Inca Trail

The Inca Trail, known as Qhapaq Ñan in Quechua, was the ancient trail system used by the Incas to connect their vast empire. Stretching over 24,000 miles, this intricate network of paths existed for centuries, serving as both a trade route and a means of communication between various regions of the Inca Empire.


Constructed during the 15th century, the Inca Trail was essential for the movement of goods, troops, and information across the rugged Andes Mountains. The Incas’ remarkable engineering skills allowed them to build stone paths that traversed steep slopes, crossed rivers, and navigated through dense forests.


One of the most significant sections of the Inca Trail is the route that leads to Machu Picchu. This portion of the trail, known as the Camino Inca, was a sacred pilgrimage route for the Incas and was reserved for use by the ruling elite and religious priests. It is estimated that only a select few were allowed to walk this path, making it an exclusive and revered experience.


The purpose of the Inca Trail extended beyond practical transportation. It held deep religious and cultural significance for the Incas, who believed that the trail was a sacred pathway to the gods. The journey along the Inca Trail was seen as a spiritual pilgrimage, with ceremonial sites and temples scattered along the route.


Unfortunately, the Inca Trail’s existence was abruptly halted with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. With the downfall of the Inca Empire, the trail was abandoned and fell into disrepair. For centuries, it remained hidden, known only to local communities who still used portions of the trail for their own purposes.


It wasn’t until the early 20th century that interest in the Inca Trail was revived. Hiram Bingham, an American explorer, stumbled upon the hidden city of Machu Picchu in 1911 and began to unravel the mysteries of the Inca civilization. Bingham’s rediscovery brought international attention to the Inca Trail, and efforts were made to restore and preserve this ancient pathway.


Today, the Inca Trail is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is tightly regulated to ensure its preservation. Only a limited number of permits are issued each day, and anyone wishing to trek the Inca Trail must be accompanied by a licensed guide. This careful management of the trail allows visitors to experience the beauty and history of the Inca civilization while minimizing the impact on the delicate ecosystem.


As you embark on your journey along the Inca Trail, remember that you are retracing the footsteps of a once-great empire. The history and significance of this trail make it a truly remarkable adventure that will transport you back in time and leave a lasting impression.


Planning Your Inca Trail Adventure

Planning your Inca Trail adventure requires careful consideration and preparation. From securing permits to organizing transportation and selecting the right tour operator, here are some essential tips to help you plan a successful and memorable journey:

  1. Obtain Permits: The Inca Trail is limited to a specific number of trekkers each day to preserve the trail and minimize environmental impact. It is imperative to secure your permits well in advance to ensure availability. Permits can sell out months in advance, especially during the peak travel season, so plan accordingly.
  2. Choose the Right Time: The Inca Trail is accessible year-round, but the best time to visit is during the dry season from May to September. The weather during these months is generally clear and pleasant, allowing for better trekking conditions. Keep in mind that the trail can be crowded during peak season, so consider visiting during the shoulder months for a more tranquil experience.
  3. Select a Reputable Tour Operator: The Inca Trail can only be completed with a licensed tour operator. Research different operators and choose one with excellent reviews and a commitment to responsible tourism. A good tour operator will handle all the logistics, including permits, food, transportation, and knowledgeable guides.
  4. Prepare Physically: The Inca Trail is a challenging trek that requires a moderate level of fitness. Start preparing for your adventure well in advance by incorporating regular exercise, including cardio and strength training, into your routine. Additionally, consider going on practice hikes to condition your body and get a feel for long-distance walking.
  5. Pack Proper Gear: A well-packed backpack is essential for a comfortable trek. Make sure to pack lightweight but sturdy hiking gear, including proper footwear, moisture-wicking clothing, a warm sleeping bag, a waterproof jacket, and a hat. Don’t forget essentials like sunscreen, insect repellent, a headlamp, and a reusable water bottle.
  6. Acclimate to the Altitude: The Inca Trail reaches high altitudes, so acclimatization is crucial to prevent altitude sickness. Arrive in Cusco a few days before your trek to allow your body to adjust to the altitude. Use this time to explore the city, visit nearby ruins, and try local cuisine.
  7. Be Mindful of the Environment: The Inca Trail is a fragile ecosystem, and it is important to practice responsible trekking. Respect the rules and regulations, follow the guidance of your guide, and dispose of waste properly. Leave no trace and help preserve the beauty of this remarkable trail.

By carefully planning your Inca Trail adventure, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Take the time to research, prepare physically, and select the right tour operator to make the most of your journey along this historic and stunning trail.


What to Pack for the Inca Trail

When it comes to packing for the Inca Trail, it’s essential to strike a balance between having the necessary gear and keeping your backpack as lightweight as possible. Here is a comprehensive list of items you should consider packing for your trek:

  1. Hiking Gear: Invest in a good pair of hiking boots that are comfortable and broken in. Pack hiking socks, trekking poles for stability, and quick-drying pants and shirts. Layering is key to adapt to temperature changes along the trail, so include a lightweight fleece or down jacket.
  2. Sleeping Gear: A warm and comfortable sleeping bag is essential for the chilly nights on the trail. Look for a bag rated for cold temperatures and pack a sleeping pad for extra insulation and cushioning.
  3. Rain Gear: The weather can be unpredictable, so pack a high-quality waterproof jacket, rain pants, and a rain cover for your backpack. Add a lightweight poncho or rain poncho for extra protection.
  4. Daypack Essentials: Bring a small daypack to carry essentials for daily excursions. Include a water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, a camera, and a small first aid kit with essentials like band-aids, pain relievers, and blister treatment.
  5. Toiletries and Personal Items: Pack travel-sized toiletries such as biodegradable soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. Don’t forget a quick-dry towel, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, and any necessary medications.
  6. Comfort and Safety: Include a headlamp for nighttime use, a multipurpose Swiss Army knife, a lighter or waterproof matches, and a whistle for emergencies. Also, pack a dry bag to keep your electronics and important documents safe from moisture.
  7. Clothing: Pack enough moisture-wicking underwear and comfortable hiking socks for each day of the trek. Include a warm hat, gloves, and a buff or bandana for sun protection and to keep dust at bay. Bring a swimsuit if you plan on taking a dip in hot springs along the way.
  8. Snacks and Hydration: It’s important to stay hydrated and energized during the trek. Pack snacks like energy bars, nuts, dried fruit, and electrolyte powder to replenish lost nutrients and electrolytes.
  9. Cash and Documentation: Bring local currency for small purchases along the trail, as credit cards may not be accepted everywhere. Carry your passport, travel insurance documents, and a printed copy of your trek permits in a waterproof pouch.

Remember to pack conservatively and only bring what you genuinely need. Keep in mind that you’ll be carrying your backpack for long distances, so prioritize lightweight and functional items. Consult with your tour operator for any specific recommendations or restrictions regarding packing for the Inca Trail.


By packing smartly and being prepared, you can fully enjoy the breathtaking landscapes and fascinating history of the Inca Trail without being weighed down by unnecessary items.


Day 1: Start of the Journey

The first day of your Inca Trail adventure marks the beginning of an incredible journey through ancient ruins and breathtaking landscapes. Here’s what you can expect on the initial leg of the trek:

After an early morning pickup from your accommodation in Cusco, you’ll embark on a scenic drive to the starting point of the Inca Trail at Kilometer 82. This is where the real adventure begins. You’ll meet your guide and fellow trekkers, go through a final equipment check, and obtain your trek permits before setting foot on the legendary trail.


The trek kicks off with a relatively easy hike along the Vilcanota River, offering stunning views of the surrounding mountains and lush vegetation. As you meander through small villages and agricultural fields, you’ll catch a glimpse of local life and the traditional farming practices that have endured for centuries.


After a few hours of hiking, you’ll reach the first major archaeological site of the journey, Patallacta. This impressive Inca ruins site is believed to have once served as an agricultural center and an important checkpoint along the trail. Take your time exploring the ancient structures, terraces, and storerooms while your guide shares the history and significance of the ruins.


Continuing on, the trail leads you through a changing landscape where you’ll encounter diverse flora and fauna. The air becomes crisper as you gradually ascend, and you’ll feel the excitement building as you approach your first campsite, Wayllabamba. Nestled among the mountains, this campsite offers stunning views and a chance to relax and refuel after a rewarding day of hiking.


Upon arrival at the campsite, you’ll be greeted by a team of porters who will have already set up your tents and prepared a delicious meal. Take this time to unwind, enjoy a hot drink, and soak in the natural beauty that surrounds you. Your guide will provide a briefing for the next day’s trek, ensuring you are well-prepared for the challenges ahead.

As night falls, the sky comes alive with stars, providing a magical backdrop for a restful sleep before another day of adventure. The excitement and anticipation of what lies ahead fill the air as you drift off, knowing that the journey has only just begun.


Day 1 sets the tone for your Inca Trail experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in the wonders of nature and history. It’s a day of awe-inspiring scenery, ancient ruins, and the camaraderie of fellow trekkers. With each step, you’ll feel a deeper connection to the land and the ancient civilization that once walked these very paths.


Day 2: Crossing High Passes

Day 2 of the Inca Trail is often considered the most challenging but also the most rewarding. Brace yourself for a thrilling day of steep ascents, breathtaking mountain vistas, and a sense of accomplishment as you conquer the high passes along the trail:

After a hearty breakfast, you’ll begin the trek towards the highest point of the Inca Trail, the breathtaking Warmiwañusca Pass, also known as Dead Woman’s Pass. The trail gradually ascends through lush cloud forests, revealing stunning views of the surrounding peaks.


As you climb higher, the air becomes noticeably thinner, and the challenge intensifies. But with perseverance, you’ll reach Dead Woman’s Pass, standing at an elevation of approximately 4,215 meters (13,828 feet). Take a moment to catch your breath, revel in the incredible achievement, and admire the panoramic beauty that stretches before you.


After a well-deserved rest, you’ll begin the descent towards the Pacaymayo Valley. The trail winds through ancient stone steps, offering glimpses of magnificent waterfalls and the lush, green landscape below. The downhill trek can be steep, but the sceneries justify the effort.


Reaching the Pacaymayo Valley, you’ll find your campsite nestled at the base of the valley. Take advantage of this opportunity to relax, replenish your energy, and savor a nourishing meal prepared by your dedicated team of support staff.


Throughout the day, your guide will provide insights into Inca history and culture, pointing out notable landmarks along the trail. They may also share stories of the Inca civilization, their remarkable achievements, and their deep spiritual connection to the rugged Andean landscape.

As the sun sets and the temperatures drop, you’ll cocoon yourself in your cozy sleeping bag, knowing that you have conquered one of the most challenging sections of the Inca Trail. The memories of the day’s incredible views and personal triumph will undoubtedly stay with you as you drift off to sleep, preparing for the adventures that lie ahead.


Day 2 of the Inca Trail is an invigorating and physically demanding experience, pushing you to your limits as you navigate the high passes. It is a day that tests your stamina and determination, all while rewarding you with breathtaking mountain scenery that will leave an indelible mark on your heart.


Day 3: Exploring Inca Ruins

Day 3 of the Inca Trail is a day filled with exploration and discovery as you delve deeper into the history and grandeur of the Inca Empire. Get ready to explore fascinating Inca ruins and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the Andes:

After a nourishing breakfast, you’ll set off on a scenic trek through the cloud forest, with picturesque views of the lush vegetation and gushing waterfalls along the way. As you traverse the undulating trail, your guide will share stories and insights into the flora and fauna that thrive in this unique ecosystem.


One of the highlights of Day 3 is a visit to the archaeological site of Runkurakay. This Inca ruin, perched on a hilltop, offers panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and majestic mountains. Explore the ceremonial structures and ancient pathways, imagining the grandeur of this once-thriving Inca outpost.


Continuing on, you’ll pass through the Sayaqmarka archaeological complex, meaning “Inaccessible Town” in Quechua. As the name suggests, this architectural marvel is situated on a steep cliff, offering breathtaking views and a sense of mystery. Marvel at the intricate stonework and well-preserved buildings as you soak in the sheer beauty of the rugged landscape.


The trail then takes you through a series of elegant Inca tunnels, carved into the mountainside. These passages, known as chaskiwasi, provided safe passage for messengers and pilgrims during the height of the Inca Empire. Walking through these tunnels is like stepping back in time, connecting you to the ancient civilizations that once traversed these very paths.


As you near the end of Day 3, you’ll arrive at the campsite near the Wiñay Wayna archaeological site. This expansive and awe-inspiring site features terraces, fountains, and intricate stone structures, showcasing the engineering prowess of the Inca civilization. Take your time to explore the ruins and learn about the historic and cultural significance of this captivating site.

As evening falls, take a moment to reflect on the incredible sights and experiences of the day. The Inca Trail has taken you on a journey through time, illuminating the achievements and legacy of one of the world’s most enigmatic civilizations. As you settle in for the night, anticipation builds for the final day of the trek, where you will reach the ultimate destination – Machu Picchu.


Day 3 of the Inca Trail allows you to connect deeply with the Inca Empire through the exploration of their remarkable ruins. The combination of natural beauty, archaeological wonders, and cultural immersion creates an unforgettable experience that keeps you enthralled from start to finish.


Day 4: Machu Picchu and the Sun Gate

Day 4 of the Inca Trail is the culmination of your journey, as you finally arrive at the legendary Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Brace yourself for an early start and the excitement of reaching this iconic archaeological site:

Before dawn, you’ll set off from the campsite under the cover of darkness, with headlamps guiding your way. The final stretch of the trek takes you through the lush Intipunku Valley, also known as the Sun Gate, as you make your way to the grand entrance of Machu Picchu.


As you ascend, anticipation builds with every step. The trail narrows and the anticipation heightens as you catch your first glimpse of the jaw-dropping sight of the ancient city of Machu Picchu. Witnessing the ruins bathed in the golden glow of the rising sun is a truly magical experience and a culmination of your four days of trekking.


Upon arrival at Machu Picchu, take a moment to absorb the sheer magnitude and grandeur of this archaeological wonder. Your guide will provide insights into the history, construction, and significance of the site as you explore the well-preserved terraces, temples, and structures.


From the renowned Sacred Plaza to the enigmatic Intihuatana Stone, you’ll discover the architectural marvels and incredible craftsmanship that define Machu Picchu. As you wander through the labyrinthine paths and hidden corners of the site, it’s hard not to be in awe of the Inca’s remarkable engineering skills and their harmonious integration of the city into the natural landscape.

After a guided tour, you’ll have free time to further explore Machu Picchu on your own, soak in the mystical atmosphere, and capture unforgettable photographs. Take a moment to sit in contemplation, enjoying the tranquility and absorbing the energy of this extraordinary place.


Eventually, you’ll make your way back down to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, where you can indulge in a well-deserved celebratory meal. Reflect on the incredible journey you have undertaken, the challenges you have overcome, and the memories you have created.


As you depart from Machu Picchu, carry with you the indelible memories of this ancient wonder. The Inca Trail has not only taken you on a physical journey, but it has also provided a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Inca civilization and their extraordinary achievements.


Day 4 of the Inca Trail is the culmination of your adventure, as you witness the majesty of Machu Picchu. It’s a day of wonder, reflection, and profound gratitude for the incredible experience you’ve had along the legendary Inca Trail.


Important Tips and Considerations

As you prepare for your Inca Trail adventure, there are several important tips and considerations to keep in mind to ensure a safe, enjoyable, and responsible experience:

  1. Physical Fitness: The Inca Trail involves several days of trekking at high altitudes and challenging terrain. It’s important to be physically prepared by engaging in regular exercise and building up endurance and strength before embarking on the trek. Consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about your fitness level.
  2. Altitude Acclimatization: Cusco and the Inca Trail reach high altitudes, and altitude sickness can be a concern. Arrive in Cusco a few days prior to the trek to allow your body to adjust to the elevation. Stay hydrated, avoid excessive alcohol consumption, and listen to your body if you experience any symptoms of altitude sickness.
  3. Travel Insurance: It is essential to have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical expenses and emergency evacuation. Ensure that your policy specifically covers trekking at high altitudes and includes activities such as the Inca Trail.
  4. Responsible Tourism: The Inca Trail is a fragile ecosystem, and it’s crucial to practice responsible tourism. Stay on designated paths, pack out your garbage, and respect the ancient ruins and their surroundings. By leaving no trace and minimizing your impact, you help preserve the trail for future generations.
  5. Weather Preparedness: The weather along the Inca Trail can be variable, with the potential for rainfall even during the dry season. Pack waterproof gear, including a rain jacket and rain cover for your backpack. Layer your clothing to adjust to changing temperatures and be prepared for cooler temperatures at higher altitudes.
  6. Hydration and Snacks: Proper hydration is crucial during the trek. Carry a reusable water bottle and consider bringing water purification tablets or a filtering system. Pack lightweight, high-energy snacks to fuel your body and keep your energy levels up throughout the trek.
  7. Comfortable Footwear: Invest in a pair of comfortable and sturdy hiking boots that are properly broken in. Blisters can quickly turn a trek into a painful experience, so wearing appropriate footwear and well-fitting socks is essential. Consider using blister prevention products or bringing moleskin in case of any hotspots.
  8. Flexibility and Patience: The Inca Trail is a popular trek, and you will be sharing the trail with other trekkers. Practice patience and understanding, especially at narrow sections or when passing other groups. Embrace the slower pace, take breaks when needed, and allow yourself to fully immerse in the experience.

By keeping these important tips and considerations in mind, you can ensure a safer and more rewarding adventure along the Inca Trail. Remember to be respectful of the environment, take care of your physical well-being, and embrace the unique challenges and wonders that this incredible journey has to offer.



Congratulations! You have reached the end of our journey through the captivating and enchanting world of the Inca Trail. The Inca Trail offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich history, stunning landscapes, and cultural heritage of the Andes Mountains.


From the moment you set foot on this ancient trail, you are transported back in time, following in the footsteps of the Incas and marveling at their extraordinary civilization. Each day brings new challenges, breathtaking vistas, and encounters with awe-inspiring archaeological sites.


The Inca Trail is not just a physical adventure but a deeply spiritual and cultural experience. It connects you to the land, allows you to appreciate the profound wisdom and engineering skills of the Inca civilization, and provides a space for reflection and contemplation.


As you ascend through high mountain passes, navigate through lush cloud forests, and explore ancient ruins, you develop a deeper appreciation for the incredible feats accomplished by the Incas. It is a reminder of the strength, resilience, and ingenuity of humanity throughout history.


The Inca Trail is also an opportunity to reconnect with nature. The awe-inspiring beauty of the Andean landscapes, from snow-capped peaks to cascading waterfalls, leaves an indelible mark on your soul. It is a reminder of the intrinsic connection between humans and the natural world.


Throughout this article, we have provided you with a glimpse into the history of the Inca Trail, shared valuable tips for planning your adventure, and guided you through each day of the trek. Our hope is that this comprehensive guide has inspired you to embark on this incredible journey and equipped you with the knowledge to make the most of your experience.


The Inca Trail is more than just a physical challenge; it is an exploration of the human spirit and a testament to the enduring legacy of the ancient Inca Empire. So, gather your gear, lace up your boots, and set off on an unforgettable adventure that will take you through time, nature, and the heart of the Andes.