The Inca Trail & Other Treks


Treks to Machu Picchu (quick summary)

There are 5 main treks to Machu Picchu and its easy to get confused and end up buying the wrong trek by accident. There are 3 versions of the Inca Trail: the Classic 4-day Inca Trail, the shorter 2-day Inca Trail and the longer and more difficult Salkantay 7-day Inca Trail, all shown in green on the map below. All 3 Inca Trail treks pass through the Inca ruins at Wiñay Wayna and then continue to the Sun Gate (Inti Punku) before descending to Machu Picchu. The numbers of trekkers on these routes are tightly controlled and trek permits must be bought well in advance. Of these 3 Inca Trail trek the Classic 4-day version is the most popular with 3 nights spent camping. If there are no spaces available on the Inca Trail then you may want to consider the Salkantay / Santa Teresa 5-day trek which is an excellent trek in its own right and skirts the base of the snow-capped Salkantay mountain. This trek involves 3 nights camping and the 4th night is spent in a hotel in Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu is visited on the 5th day. You could also consider one of the treks in the Lares Valley. Tour operators offer several different Lares Valley routes with the easiest and most popular starting in the town of Lares and continuing to the village of Patacancha. Trekkers either walk down to Ollantaytambo or take a mini-bus. From Ollantaytambo you then take the train to Aguas Calientes, spend a night in a hotel and then visit Machu Picchu the following day. We've included information about all of these treks below with a link to a more detailed page with trek description, map and photos

Treks to Machu Picchu Map

Inca Trail Treks to Machu Picchu

These three treks are subject to Inca Trail regulations and trek permits must be bought well advance. Trek permits can sell out as far ahead as 6 months in advance. All companies offering these treks must have a special Inca Trail license. (see full list of licensed Inca Trail companies)

The Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (usually 4 days / 3 nights camping along the trail)

Route: Cusco - Ollantaytambo - Km82 - Wayllabamba - Pacamayu - Phuyupatamarca - Wiñay Wayna - Sun Gate - Machu Picchu

Rated: moderate

This trek is frequently rated in the top 5 best treks in the world and rightly so. Lonely Planet rated it the second best (see full Lonely Planet article here) The classic hike to Machu Picchu following the ancient route used by the Incas, passing through beautiful mountain scenery and lush green rain forest. There are plenty of Inca ruins along the way including Runkuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna. This trail is subject to the Inca Trail regulations and trek permits must be reserved well in advance.

>> more info >>

The Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (2 days / 1 night accommodation in hotel in Aguas Calientes)

Route: Cusco - Ollantaytambo - Km102 - Wiñay Wayna - Sun Gate - Machu Picchu (pass through) - Overnight in Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu

Rated: easy to moderate

The shorter Inca Trail is for those trekkers with limited time on their hands or who just want to take things a little bit easier. This trail starts at km104 and ascends to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna before continuing on to Machu Picchu. Since you don't have much time at Machu Picchu on the first day most people spend the night at the nearby town of Aguas Calientes and return to Machu Picchu again the following day.

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Salkantay Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Trek (typically 7 days / 6 nights camping)

Route: Cusco - Mollepata - Salkantay - Wayllabamba - Pacamayu - Phuyupatamarca - Wiñay Wayna - Sun Gate - Machu Picchu

Rated: moderate to difficult

A beautiful mountainous trek taking you away from the crowds for the first few days and finally joining the classic Inca Trail at Wayllabamba and continuing to Machu Picchu. This trail is subject to the Inca Trail regulations and trek permits must be reserved well in advance. This trek is usually done in 7 days but more experienced trekkers can do it in 6 days.

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Alternative Treks to Machu Picchu

At the moment the alternative treks listed below are NOT subject to the Inca Trail regulations and trek permits are not required. Therefore this trek can easily be arranged just a few days in advance when you arrive in Cusco. However if you have limited time and want to trek with one of the better quality companies we would recommend making a booking several weeks or months in advance. Because these routes are unregulated by the government any company can offer them. There are no controls over group sizes, minimum wages, maximum weight loading for porters or horses, minimum safety equipment or environmental issues such as disposal of rubbish. Therefore there is fierce competition at the bottom end of the market as companies try to offer the lowest prices. Our advice is always to book with a quality tour operator to avoid exploitation of trekking staff and the environment. Although both of the treks listed below usually state that they end at Machu Picchu neither of them enter by way of the Sun Gate. The Lares Treks usually end at Ollantaytambo where you will take the train to Aguas Calientes and then visit Machu Picchu the following day. The Salkantay / Santa Teresa trek ends in the Santa Teresa Valley where you then take a late afternoon train to Aguas Calientes and also visit Machu Picchu the following day.

Recommended trekking companies can be found at Cusco Tour Operators

The Lares Valley to Machu Picchu Trek - "The Weaver's Way"

Route: Cusco - Lares Valley - Ollantaytambo .

Then by train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu. Rated: Easy to moderate depending on route. Various options are available. The Lares Valley is a beautiful valley that runs parallel to and "behind" the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This series of mountain pathways takes you through unspoiled valleys well off the usual tourist trail. You'll see small communities living the same way as hundreds of years ago, practicing their local traditions and farming techniques. You will also have the chance to see locals producing beautiful hand-made textiles. There are several route options that start at either the thermal springs in Lares, the village of Quishuarani or Huaran in the Sacred Valley. Most of the options finish in the village of Patacancha a small weaving community not far from Ollantaytambo. A bus then takes you down to Ollantaytambo where you will take a train to Aguas Calientes. A visit to Machu Picchu is included on the final day

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The Salkantay / Santa Teresa to Machu Picchu Trek (typically 5 days)

Route: Cusco - Mollepata - Salkantay - Hidroelectrica - Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu Rated: moderate

This trek has become a popular alternative to the classic 4 day Inca Trail especially during the high season when spaces on the Inca Trail have become fully booked. The first three days involve a fairly difficult trek to La Playa campsite. The fourth day involves a trek down to the Hydroelectric Plant in the Santa Teresa Valley and then shortly after taking the afternoon train to Aguas Calientes where you spend the night. The final day is spent visiting Machu Picchu and then returning to Cusco in the evening.

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Alternative Treks that don't end in Machu Picchu

Ausangate Circuit (4 to 7 days)

Route: Several options exist raging from 4 to 7 days

Rated: moderate to difficult

This trek takes you off to the snowy Vilcanota mountain range and circles the 6384m peak of Ausangate worshipped throughout the Cusco region as one of the most powerful of mountain Apus or spirits. This stunning route often combines trekking and horse riding and takes you through tiny Andean villages and past emerald coloured lakes. A trek for the hardy and well acclimatized.

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Choquequirao (4 or 5 days)

Rated: moderate but lack of water and shade can make this trek feel like a difficult one if you are not suitably prepared

Another of the "lost cities of the Incas". Still rarely visited although with new regulations being applied to cut congestion on the Inca Trail, Choquequirao is destined to replace the traditional hike as the serious trekkers alternative.

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Vilcabamba (7 days)

Follow the route of the retreating Incas in there attempt to flee the Spanish Conquistadors. This steamy trek through the rain forests of the Vilcabamba region is a must for Inca enthusiasts and for those seeking real adventure.

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