Many countries have mountain ranges with beautiful scenery and Peru itself is richly blessed in this respect with many other areas for hiking. However the scenery is only one of the elements responsible for the magic of the Inca Trail. Can there be any walk anywhere in the world with such a combination of natural beauty, history and sheer mystery and with such an awe-inspiring destination? The various ruins along the way serve to heighten the hiker's sense of anticipation as he or she approaches what would surely find a place in any new list of archaeological wonders of the world - Machu Picchu.
Walking the Inca trail can be very rewarding and is possible for all ages as long as you are fit. Over the course of the Trail, you gain and lose 1000 meters several times, all of which is over 3000 meters where oxygen is noticeably thinner. Acclimation to the altitude is a must, and good physical condition advised. The journey winds through the valleys and hills of the surrounding area, taking you the through the scenic landscape, from high alpine to cloud forests.
Many agencies operating from Cuzco offer organised hikes along the trail, providing most of the equipment (tents etc)and people to carry it. Also, don't forget that the trail ends at Machu Picchu. If you hiked the Trail, descend from the Sun Gate (Intipunko) at dawn and see Machu Picchu before the busloads of tourists show up around 10am.
The trail is scattered with ancient monuments and Incan sites and is definitely worth the effort.
Since 2001, the Peruvian government has instituted a quota system on how many travelers can be on the trail on any given day and the passes now sell out months in advance during the high season. You must book with a tour operator well in advance of when you wish to walk the trail, as it is not allowed to organize your own trip. Don't expect to pick up last-minute cancellations either, as tour organizers must register client passport numbers with the government, and they are strictly checked at control points on the trail.
The Inca Trail is part of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary, a protected area of 32,592 hectares, managed by the National Institute of Natural Resources, INRENA. Every visitor must obey park regulations prohibiting littering, cutting or damaging trees, removing or damaging stones of ruins and the Trail, removing plants, killing animals, lighting open fires or camping in the archeological sites (Only authorized campsites can be used).
When to go
Cuzco has a temperate climate with year round temperatures fluctuating between 14-16°C, with warm days and cold nights. The rainy season in Cuzco is from December to March . Machu Picchu has a semi-tropical climate, with warm and humid days and cold nights. The rainy season in Machu Picchu is from November to March, so be prepared. The wet months are January to April, when roads are often closed by landslides or flooding. The best months for visiting Machu Picchu are from April to October. The High season is June to August (book well in advance).
The trail is closed in February to clean up the garbage left behind.
Preparing for your trip
On the trail
What to take
There seems to be about 1.5 porters per client on the trail, and you'll spend a fair amount of time getting out of their way as they hump all your gear to the next camp. Fortunately, the government has recently restricted the amount of gear tour operators can pile on each porter to 25 kgs (including their personal stuff). On many tours you can pay extra for personal porter to carry most of your things, although you will always want a daypack for water, snacks, and clothing.
Around US$300. If you are paying less than US$250 for the 4 day trip, something is fishy. Make sure your tour includes the entrance ticket to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu (US$75) and the Backpacker train back to Cusco (US$46). Inca Trail to machupicchu
The tap water in most of Peru is potable, but the chemical content varies from place to place. To avoid problems, we recommend that you always drink bottled water.
Because you are visiting Andean areas, don't forget to take precautions to avoid altitude sickness if you are prone to it. Be sure to try a hot tea or an infusion of coca leaves on arrival at altitude. During your first day move slowly and eat lightly, resting the first couple of hours. Sample altitudes above sea level: