The most famous trek to Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the Inca Trail. With a 2-day, 4-day (which is the most popular) and occasionally even a 5-day hike this trek offers options for experienced and relaxed hikers as well as for newbies. Its heavy request is for a reason: While hiking on parts of the original trail used by the Incas hundreds of years ago you get to be stunned by the amazing scenery in front of you.
The most common Inca Trail Peru is the Inca Trail 4 Day, offered by almost every travel agency. It starts with an about 2-hour drive from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, a small town located in the Sacred Valley and worth a visit itself. From the train station there a train will take you to KM 82, a stop on the train ride to Aguas Calientes (the village next to Machu Picchu). After a few hours of hiking the first place to stay the night is Wayllabamba at around 3,000 m. The second day is followed by getting up to 3,600 m, to Pacamayo, before the third day brings you slightly downhill to the most famous campsite along the Inca Trail, Wiñaywayna (ca. 2,700 m). It is an archeological site with constructions and plenty of terraces built by the Incas with a great view over the Urubamba River. On the last day of your hike, you will enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate, also known as “Inti Punku”, which was once the main entrance to the citadel. The Inca Trail is the only hike that enters there.
Be aware that the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu requires valid entrance tickets only provided by the Ministry of Culture, which are limited to around 500 per day. Also, keep in mind that about 300 of these tickets are used for guides and porters that accompany each group of hikers. The best thing to do is buying a ticket well ahead of time since for some months they sell out extremely fast, sometimes 6 months to a year in advance. This usually happens during the dry season in the Peruvian Andes, also considered as the best time to hike the Inca Trail. Also, note that you need a valid passport to enter. In case you need to renew your passport make sure that the number will be updated on your already bought ticket. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to enter the Inca Trail.
With its popularity, most travel agencies operate the Inca Trail in group service, which means that you will be together with people from all over the world on your way to Machu Picchu. This is great for solo travelers and anyone who loves to make new friends. Sometimes prices may decrease with more people joining a group. Often, another option is a private service instead of a group service. If you prefer to be with your friends, family or partner only, private Inca Trail tours are the best option for you. On the downside, private service is usually more expensive (sometimes a few hundred US-Dollars). When consulting a travel agency for your Inca Trail experience ask them if they offer private groups and its price as well as if the price would drop by adding more group members.
When to enjoy the Inca Trail at its fullest?
The weather between April and September is the best time for many people to go on hikes. During the day it is sunny although the nights get quite cold you will hardly ever experience any rain. Especially from May to August skies are blue, the sun shines at its fullest and no fog is blocking the sight. The ideal climate for any hike. With the rainy season not too far away the landscapes are green and blooming but will turn browner as it gets drier, usually from July on. However, great weather means large crowds. Furthermore, the end of June festivities for the Sun god “Inti” take place and huge groups of local people are heading to Machu Picchu. The same applies to Peru’s national holidays: July 28th and 29th.
In contrast to the dry season, there is a rainy season. Beginning slowly in November and at its peak in January / February, most people are discouraged to go hiking in the pouring rain. While at the beginning of this season rain is sporadic and still quite pleasant to trek, the trail gets muddier and more dangerous as rain increases. On the upside, you will encounter fewer people which can be quite nice. Important: The trek is closed at all in February due to heavy rains and maintenance! Machu Picchu is open all year round, though.
Before you go on your Inca Trail adventure ensure that there is still availability and contact as many agencies as possible to gather more information on price-performance ratio. Remember to book well in advance for the best hiking months (May-August) to avoid getting disappointed. Many websites put up the current weather forecast as well as general climate information. It is important to know that especially in the Andes the weather is extremely unpredictable. You need to be prepared for rain, heat, and cold. The most important item to bring is sunscreen, at this elevation, you will get a heavy sunburn even without any sunshine.
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