Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was a total bucket list hike for us, and let me tell you it far exceeded our expectations! The trail and all its beauty is absolutely amazing and there is so much more to the hike then just getting to Machu Picchu. You’ll hike through caves and jungles, see llamas roaming the paths, and travel back in time as you learn about the Incan civilization. You’ll see many Incan sites along the way, each one getting progressively more impressive as you make your way to Machu Picchu. Below is a detailed Inca Trail Summary about our daily experience on the trail.

Inca Trail Overview – 4 Days

 Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Trip Total
Total Distance (Miles)
Time~8 Hours~11 Hours~6 Hours~6 Hours4 Days
Elevation Gain (Feet)4,2695,0841,4201,97412,747
Elevation Loss (Feet)1,3294,3384,3013,61413,582
Max Elevation (Feet)12,31613,83912,0008,795

Day 1 Inca Trail Summary:

Day 1 Rating





Major Sites: 

Day 1 started early,  at 5:30am (4:00am for those in Cusco) where we got picked up in Urubamba. A little over an hour later we were in a small town stopping for a quick group breakfast where you can get last minute supplies.

The porters will typically tell you to purchase a rain poncho & some coca leaves (yes those kind of leaves). The poncho is a good throw over for you and your bag if the rain gets bad. We did not use one, as we had our own rain jackets, but it would not be a bad idea to have one, because the weather can be unpredictable. The coca leaves they use as an old Incan tradition to help with altitude sickness & energy. There are dozens of opinions on this out there, but if you have other medications you will be OK. We used the coca leaves and they give you an energy boost.

We left the breakfast spot by bus and travel down some precarious roads until you finally arrive at the start of the Inca trail. Our crew of 12 people (and 19 porters / guides) started our trek around 9:00am. The first day is not difficult in terms of elevation gain, but it is a long day in terms of travel and hiking distance.

After a couple hours into the hike you will get to see your first major Incan site, Patallacta from atop a ridge. It is a massive site with many levels of agricultural terraces as well as a river that cuts through the valleys. After enjoying a great view, you continue down a small decent and a relatively flat late morning hike next to a river surrounded by the Andes all around you. This portion of the trail is home to a lot of natives, so you will find them along the trail, we had a great conversation with one woman, albeit our broken Spanish.

We then took a break for lunch where we experienced our first meal cooked by the Llama Path team. Wow, is all we can say. We have been hiking for years and done many overnights on our own and never can I say we have had such a feast while hiking. We got several courses including some chicken ceviche & rice, which was great! The porters will fill up your water for you (they do plenty of sterilization) and you will continue on through the afternoon.

Towards the end of day one you will go through the last town on the Inca trail where you will notice many people selling some food, Gatorade and sometimes even beer. From here on out you’re in the Wild, just as we like it.

The end of the day is a little bit of an incline and a hard push to be honest due to the length of the day, but when you get to the camp site you will be ready for rest. We strolled in around 5pm and had plenty of time to unwind. When we got there the tents were already setup and our bags were out for us to grab. At this point we started to really appreciate what those porters were doing. The bottom line is they carry about 55 lbs (25 kgs) go faster than us and were a fraction of our size. About 30 minutes after we arrived at camp we were “clean” & we had all our gear organized in our tent.  Time for our group dinner and without much more energy left an early night to bed. Tomorrow we would tackle dead woman’s pass.

Day 2 Inca Trail Summary:

Day 2 Rating




Major Sites:
Warmi Wanusqa (Dead Woman’s Pass), Tampu Runkuraqay , Sayacmarca

Rise and shine around 5:30 am and you’ll be ready to start the monster day. To reiterate, this is not a technical day, but you will hike a long day with a significant elevation gain, woof.  Day 2 was a little wet for us, but nothing we could not handle.

The beginning of the day will start the most grueling part of your 4 day trek. You will be headed up for a couple hours where you will find a small flat area where there is a llama / sheep field for a break.

After a short break the trail heads up to the Warmi Wanusqa (Dead Woman’s Pass). Yes, it does look like a woman lying on her back, and we decided to have a little fun with the photo opportunities.  Within an hour or two you will reach the high point of the 4 day trek, at 13,839 FT (4,218 meters). We did not have great views, as it had started to rain a little and the clouds had rolled in, but it did not affect our enjoyment. After a small celebratory
group break, the winds began to pick up and we made our decent from the pass.

Down, down, down to a place to grab lunch. Again, we can’t say enough about the food and the crew, delicious. After about an hour break, we got back on the trail and headed upward. The second ascent is nowhere near as hard as the first one, but it is tiring as you will have already traveled quite a bit that day. Mid-way up the ascent you will find the Incan site Tampu Rankuragay. Our guide, Roger, gave us a great overview of this site explaining the theories behind its relevance and how it was used. He also explained to us how they built these places in the mountains & the tremendous effort it took.

Up again the last ascent of the day. On the way up you will notice a small pond where some deer have been spotted, we didn’t see any. A top the climb you will find a plateau where we took another break. The goal is to maintain a slow and steady pace so you don’t get too exhausted! From this point, it’s all downhill till you reach your final campsite for day two, on this point of the trail you’ll pass through a cool cave and another Incan site along the way.

The Sayacmarca  site was very close to the campsite on day 2. This site was an optional stop, but we felt is was well worth the steel climb up the 75-100 stairs that were there. The site overlooks the valley and the Urubamba River. Roger our guide, explained to us that this site was likely a religious temple and showed us specific windows that overlook the sunset. The location of those windows was strategically built by the Incas, as throughout the year the sunrise and sunset will align with one specific window to mark the beginning of a new season, clever Incans. This is a reoccurring theme along the Incan Trail.

After exploring for a little while, we wrapped up our day and arrived at our campsite a little after 5pm. Same deal as usual, great food, relaxation, and fun with our hiking companions. We reflected as a group about the day’s events, conquering the peak of dead woman’s pass, and the amazing Incan sites we saw for the day. Our group had nicknamed us the two of us ‘Mountain Goats’ as they said we bounded up the mountain.

Our hiking group was comprised of 12 people- 4 from Australia, 2 from New Zealand, a couple from Chicago, and then there was our group of 4 from the North East US (New Hampshire / New York). We may be a little biased, but we had the best group for this trip. We found it increasingly entertaining that we all spoke English, but often times we could not understand each other because of the different locales. As our group bonded we used a signal to notify our group whenever we arrived at a destination, “Cuy” (pronounced: kwee, our group uttered ‘cuuuyyyyy’)! (Yes, it means gineau pig). We got into the fun habit of yelling that to one another to let each other know we were nearby.

After dinner we headed off to bed. Our sister Mary and boyfriend Hayden’s tent setup next to us and we were chatting outside for a minute relaxing our legs. Mary headed into the tent and as we were all preparing to go to bed we could hear Hayden say, “Mary there is a giant spider coming towards you!”. Mary of course, being a Santos panicked and balled herself up in the corner of the tent. Hayden’s response, “Mary, get out of the tent, what are you doing?”. After a feat of agility that none of us should have been able to perform after such a hard day she sprung out of the tent. Hayden stepped into the tent and grabbed a zip lock bag and used some other object to fan the spider into the bag. Once in we pulled it out and brought it over to Iban (our fearless co-captain) who immediately instructed us to get Roger. Roger, who by the way was relatively poker-faced about everything at this point, had a perplexing look on his face as he asked, “Where did you get that?”

Hayden, “In our tent”.
Roger, “How did you get it?”.
Both Hayden and I, “We kind of scooped it in”.
A wide eyed Roger, “Did you touch it?!”.
Hayden, “No”.
Roger, “Those are pretty poisonous, set it out away from the tents.”

And well, that was that. We let the little bugger go, no idea why he did not want us to kill it, but perhaps it was the Incan way to not harm things of nature. Prior to finally heading to bed, I had Bridgette sweep our tent checking for spiders, what a good wife! I am fairly sure Loren, a fellow traveler from Chicago was doing the same next door. Try to get some rest, more excitement is in store for the next day.

Day 3 Inca Trail Summary:

Day 3 Rating




Major Sites:
Phuyupatamarka, Intipata, Winaywayna

On day 3, you get to sleep in a little later, as we had a 6:30 am breakfast and got on the trail closer to 7:30 am. All of us fairly relieved to have less of a strenuous day we started with a little incline and decline of the trial. This day had a slight rainfall and folks were being fairly cautious on the slippery rocks. After a modest morning of hiking we started up an incline that lead to an outlook over the Jungle. Unfortunately, the view was blocked by clouds, but we were able to see a couple Llamas that were grazing about up close. We were told you can pat the Llamas, but you should clean your hands after, as they are dirty. We took the opportunity to take a few pictures, and Mark of course took the opportunity to buddy up to a few llamas, didn’t annoy them enough to spit at him.

After a brief snack we headed down a set of stairs where we viewed the Phuyupatamarka site. This site stood out as it was so drastically built into the side of a cliff. Roger explained how the fountains were still active today and the positioning the site has with the Sun. Since, it was another cloudy/wet day, we marched onward.

The next part of the hike was one of our favorites. This is where you enter the Jungle and rainforest, where the trail become very green. You will see caves, awesome staircases built into the landscape, and nature of greenery, that looks like something out of a Tolkien book. This part of the journey is very comfortable to travel and after a couple hours you will stumble upon the next Incan site.

Intipata may be one of the most underrated sites on the trip. It is so drastic, well preserved, and the elevated structure, makes you feel like you entered another world. At this time on our trip, the rain had stopped and the sun made it’s appearance and we had impeccable views and weather (this may be why it stands out so much for us). After an hour of relaxing and exploring the area we ventured on and headed down to camp for the day.

Day 3 was awesome for us because we were done very early in the afternoon and had a lot of time to relax at camp. The four of us kicked a hacky sack around for a while while the rest of the group napped, I am fairly sure the guides and porters thought we were crazy.

After a few hours we ended our day with a short walk to Winaywayna. We got some fun photos here with the Llamas and enjoyed an evening lesson from Roger about the site and how important agriculture was to the once massive Incan people.

It was here where we were really able to start to appreciate why the Inca Trail is so special, it’s not because of the final destination but the seclusion and experience you get along the journey. Three days in and you start to feel the solitude of the Incan people and become infected with their appreciation of nature.

At the end of dinner on the last night we had a thank dinner to our guides. They made us and amazing dinner, topped off with CAKE! How I do not know they cooked it at camp, but it was awesome. As we were all tired we had a quick celebratory shot that we brought (mmm Grand Marnier) and off to bed.

NOTE: I will say there was one awkward exchange about the tip that everyone should be ready for. There is no real clear guidance on tipping your guides and porters. The website recommends $30-60, and when we were getting ready to tip your head guide tells you to tip as a group and $100 per person makes sense. The money gets divided amongst the porters, guides, and cooks.

This was a little frustrating, because people don’t always bring extra cash with them and budgeted a certain amount prior to heading on the trail. We ended up tipping $75 each because that is what we had. Our group was great about it, but this exchange could have been improved. The bottom line is different parts of the world define tipping differently and it was hard to justify, especially after you realize how hard these guys work and how little they have there. Overall, no sour taste though, still an amazing experience but be aware.

Day 4 Inca Trail Summary:

Day 4 Rating

Major Sites: Inti Punku (Sun Gate), Machu Picchu, and Wayna Picchu

Day 4 starts early, I mean 3 am early. The goal is to be the first in line so you can make it up the Sun Gate for sunrise.

Our morning started with the abrupt hissing of our air mattresses deflating, after quickly packing you walk a quick 5 minutes to a gate. You wait here until 5 am to start hiking towards Inti Punku the Sun Gate.

For a couple hours you need to keep yourselves entertained as the line grows with over 100 people. Our group was first to the door & ready to dominate this part of the Hike!  We decided a good way to spend the time would be to make a music video. I am sure the other 100 people in line loved that racket that we had going.

Once the doors open it was a race to the Sun Gate, with hundreds of people following us, we the ‘mountain goats’ led the charge. The hype is that you want to be the first there to see the sunrise, guess what, it was overcast. We still trucked through, I would love to tell you we were the first to make it, but in the last 100 feet of the steep accent to the top, we were passed by a couple lead by private porter (day packers). We settled for second place, but as an entire group, our team still claimed first!

Overall, you do not need to race to the top. Be courteous to fellow hikers and have fun. It is quite a racket and I do not think it is possible not to feel the energy from the group. From the Sun Gate we saw the clouds clear and for the first time on the trek you can see it right in front of you, Machu Picchu.

After a few pictures and a brief stop we headed towards the finale of our trek, Machu Picchu. When you start heading from the Sun Gate down you will notice A LOT of people in casual clothes. For the first time you will be back in civilization where people have taken the bus up to the site all morning. There is no doubt that Machu Picchu is worth the hype, so large and impressive; it’s a feat of engineering excellence that is still being studied to this day.

We toured Machu Picchu for an hour with our group learning from Roger about the different areas of the land, then a we headed to Wayna Picchu. You need a special permit to hike this peak that overlooks MP and they  only allow 400 permits daily. There are two times allotted for groups to hike it, with first departing at 7:00am, second at 10:00 am. We were part of the second group and started hiking up around 11am.

We were led to believe by our guides that we had only until 12:30pm to get back to the busses, which only left us 1-hour round trip. Let’s just say this was 100% false and gave us anxiety I wish we could get back, but we did it. We did the entire thing in an hour basically jogging up, spending 10 minutes at the top, and jogging down. For those of you that have done this I am sure you are literally laughing right now. For those of you that have not, just know this, it is very step and the views are amazing. Typically it takes hikers roughly 1.5 hours up and an hour down. We would tell you take your time, be safe and take it all in. The best views from Machu Picchu were up here and absolutely worth the extra trail time!

After, we caught the bus and headed down into Aguas Calientes where we met up with our group  at a local restaurant. Pizza after 4 days on the trail was amazingly delicious. Aguas Calientes was a gorgeous little town, full of shops and restaurants but we were all too exhausted to fully appreciate it. After a couple hours of relaxation, we headed to the train station, then back on the bus, and eventually were in our hotel room. After a very long, hot shower, room service, and a great nights rest; our epic adventure had come to an end. Worth Every Penny. We highly, highly recommend it and would do it again in a heart beat!

We are ready for the next bucket list hike…until then, Hike Onward!

See related posts:

What to Pack for Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Information on Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Helpful Trip Planning Information