How to hike the Inca Trail

This journal will aim to provide you with ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of your hike on the incredible Inca Trail. In addition to the Classic Inca Trail, I have included ideas on alternate routes and suggestions based on extensive personal experience on how to prepare for the hike. I will update this journal periodically to include the latest changes in regulations affecting hikers and hiking on the trail.


How to hike the Inca Trail

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by BOKI on November 21, 2000

Declared both a natural and a cultural World Heritage Site (UNESCO), the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary and its world-famous Inca Trail may be the most amazing place on the planet. Here, you can walk for days through cloud forests and over razor-sharp passes, passing extraordinary Inca ruins to reach the magical lost city of Machu Picchu. Sounds too good to be true? Not at all! But to fully enjoy this amazing place, you need to be well prepared. Here are suggestions, ideas, hiking options and other recommendations to help you prepare for the adventure of a lifetime.${QuickSuggestions} ${BestWay} The Inka trail starts from several trailheads along the railway line that runs from Cusco to Machu Picchu and covers 43km (26.6 miles) of varied terrain, ranging in elevation from 2600m to 4200m and in vegetation from barren grassland to encroaching jungle. Along the way are superb Inca ruins and at the end, Machu Picchu. The full route can be hiked in two days, but three days/three nights, with the fourth morning offering a view of Machu Picchu at sunrise is the way to go. The Classic Inca Trail starts at kilometer 88 and the two other starting points are Km 82 and Km 77. All three are served by trains which run from Cusco to Machu Picchu every morning. Train stops are brief, so be prepared to jump off. Km 82 and Km 77 trailheads can also be reached by buses operated by various tour agencies. They are happy to take on extra passangers as long as there is room (see the list of agencies). The road is good as far as Ollantaytambo, but then it gets rather rough.

Current Regulations Affecting Hikers

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by BOKI on November 21, 2000

The Inca Trail used to be open to individual hikers and organized tours alike for a nominal entrance fee. This policy enabled thousands and thousands of tourists to visit the trail each year, but as a consequence also led to its severe deterioration.

To prevent the trail from deteriorating further, the government has recently put forth a set of new regulations including the following important changes: 1 Individual hikers will no longer be allowed on the trail. Hiking will only be allowed when organized by licensed tour agencies. 2) Groups of up to 10 independent travellers who do not wish to use an agency will be allowed to hike the trail if they contract an independent & licensed guide to accompany them, and as long as they do not contract any other persons such as porters or cooks. 3)Maximum of 500 people on the trail at any time. 4) No plastic water bottles on the trail, only canteens. 5) Entrance fees will increase from $17 to $50 ($25 for students with ISIC card); hikers starting at Km 104 will be required to pay $25. NOTE: THESE NEW REGULATIONS ARE TO HAVE TAKEN EFFECT AS OF JANUARY 1 2001, BUT I HEAR THAT THEY ARE NOT STRICTLY AND OFFICIALLY ENFORCED AT PRESENT TIME. IN ADDITION, THERE IS TALK OF POSSIBLY CLOSING THE TRAIL FOR THE ENTIRE MONTH OF FEBRUARY AND/OR MARCH 2002 FOR CLEANING AND MAINTENANCE. CHECK WITH A TOUR GROUP (see list elsewhere in this journal) PRIOR TO MAKING ANY TRIP PLANS. FINALLY, THE GOVERNMENT IS PLANNING A FURTHER INCREASE IN ENTRANCE FEES. CHECK HERE FOR UPDATES. An additional anticipated change may involve the passenger train service between Cusco and Aquas Calientes (Machu Picchu). Currently, foreign tourists are allowed to ride the local train in addition to the tourist trains. Local trains may be limited to Peruvian nationals only in the future.

PS. Those of you who are independent hikers and fret hiking in organized tours once the rules change, need not worry too much. Even in an organized tour you can always "get separated" from the group and hike on your own. Just make sure you camp with others nearby and be with your group at the check-in station at Trekkers' Hotel. You might also want to be around for the delicious meals made by tour cooks. This option will cost you more but you will be able to hike on your own.


General Hiking Tips / Suggestions

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by BOKI on November 21, 2000

Here are a couple of suggestions that will help make your hike more enjoyable. Trust me with this and take it very seriously. I am sorry to say that I've seen quite a few people get very ill at high altitude or suffer from cold weather or blisters due to poor preparation. Proper preparation will help you avoid this.

1) Acclimatize first! The hike is strenuous and with your backpack even more so. Try and spend a few days hiking around Cusco first to help you acclimatize (see my Cusco journal for hiking suggestions). I recommend aclimatizing for at least three days. A week is better. If you are reading this upon your arrival in Cusco, you surely have already noticed that walking 10 steps up gives you a solid workout. Imagine walking a couple of thousand steps!

2)Be honest with yourself. Are you reasonably fit? The trail is steep in places, climbing up to a maximum height of 4200m. You don┬┤t need to be a super athlete, but you do need to be in reasonable shape. If you barre not, consider starting at Km 104 for a much less strenuous but still wonderful hike.

3) Bring the right equipment. Shoes are especially important. I've seen many people try the trail in street or tennis shoes, only to end up walking BAREFOOT! Ouch. Bring comfortable hiking shoes and socks. Also, be prepared for pouring rain and cold nights. See my equipment checklist for ideas on what to bring.

4) Safety is in numbers. Hike the trail and camp with a group of people.


What to take with you

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by BOKI on November 21, 2000

A lot of people come well prepared for the hike on the Inca Trail, but I have seen many examples of problems due to inadequate preparation getting in the way of complete enjoyment of the Inca Trail. The most important thing to do is acclimatize to the high altitude. Coca leaves may help, but there is no substitute for spending a few days around Cusco to get adjusted prior to beginning the hike. There are several short hikes around Cusco (see my Cusco journal) that serve well to prepare for the Inca Trail.

Equally important is the issue of what to bring with you. Here are some suggestions that I think are particularly applicable to hiking the Inca Trail. The golden rule is to travel light, so plan carefully. Bring clothes that can be packed easily and that are warm but light, such as fleece. Do not wear anything that is military clothing here or elsewhere in Peru, as people may mistake you for a soldier or a terrorist.

An absolute must is a pair of good, broken-in hiking boots. If they are not waterproof, be sure to waterproof them with a waterproofing agent. Also critical is a waterproof jacket. With the exception of a couple of months a year, rain is very common along the trail and wet clothes do not easily dry. Waterproof pants are also recommended. Bring a waterproof cover for your backpack. It may prove to be the most important part of your gear.

Alternatively, pack your belongings in plastic bags. Make sure that you take a backpack that fits you well. Also, consider bringing trekking poles, even if you would never consider using them ordinarily (as is the case with me). They are particularly useful when descending along the uneven Inca steps after the second pass. A 20-degree rated sleeping bag should be sufficient but nights can be very cool. A hat is also recommended to shield from the bright sun at altitude.

Another recommended item is a good head lamp, useful for hiking after dark when you may need both arms/hands to maintain balance on uneven terrain. Swimsuit may come in handy for washing in the open. 200 ASA-speed film should be all you will need. Always carry more water than you think you'll ever need. Bottled water is available for purchase along many points on the trail, but it's sold by people from area villages and may not always be available, such as during bad weather.

I recommend bringing one of the new water-bottle purification systems (available from REI.com) to use to purify water from numerous streams along the way. You can also use other means of water purification (iodine tablets, drops etc., available from hiking stores in Cusco) but these usually impart a bad taste. Finally, carry a whistle to summon help, if necessary. These items along with the more general hiking/camping gear and food you'd take to your favorite national park, should have you prepared to hike the Inca Trail.


Equipment Rental in Cusco

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by BOKI on November 22, 2000

Camping equipment can be rented in a number of stores near Plaza de Armas, as well as from most of the tour agencies located on Plateros and Procuradores streets.

Prices vary, but you can expect to pay $3-5 for a tent, $3 for a sleeping bag, $2-3 for a stove (all per day) and another $1.5 for fuel. All rentals require a deposit in cash, plus a credit card or passport. Quality varies so choose carefully.

The best place to rent is Soqllaq'asa Camping Service, located at Calle Plateros 359, tel. 252560. Service is friendly, English-speaking, and they will even buy equipment you no longer need.

Gear can also be purchased at Camping Deportes, Av. del Sol 346, shop # 118.

Food for the hike can be purchased at a good supermarket on the corner of Almagro and Av. del Sol.


Hiking the Inca Trail with a Tour

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by BOKI on November 22, 2000

I've walked the Inca Trail alongside people who paid $8 to hike it (old student fee) and people who paid $800 (on a really expensive tour), and I can honestly say that they all seemed equally thrilled. Hiking the rail independently or with a few friends you may have met in Cusco gives you a feeling of true accomplishment. But there is something to be said for doing it in an organized tour as well, especially when it comes to the delicious food prepared by tour cooks after a day of strenuous hiking. Finding a tour agency in Cusco is not hard, they are located all around the Plaza de Armas, especially along the Procuradores and Plateros streets. However, finding a good agency is a bit harder. Cheapest prices do not necessarily reflect the best deals and expensive prices do not automatically represent the best quality. Here is a list of reputable companies who I know provide good service, the first being most affordable and the last most expensive: UNITED MICE (Plateros 348, tel. 221139); LUZMA TOURS (Santa Teresa, 261327); RIKUNI TOURS (Plateros 341, 241700); INCA EXPLORERS (Calle Suecia 339, 239669); PERUVIAN ANDEAN TREKS (Av Pardo 705, 225701; LIMA TOURS (Av Machu Picchu D24, 228431).

Inca Trail: Hiking Route Options

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by BOKI on November 21, 2000

There are several different routes and starting points for the Inca trail, ranging in length from two to seven days of hiking. The most popular choice is the Classic Inca Trail route. It starts at kilometer 88 on the railway line that runs from Cusco to Machu Picchu and covers 43km (26.6 miles) of varied terrain, ranging in elevation from 2600m to 4200m and in vegetation from barren grassland to encroaching jungle. Along the way are several superb Inca ruins and at the end lies Machu Picchu. This route can be hiked in two days, but most people choose to take three full days and three nights, with the fourth day consisting of a short hike to Machu Picchu at sunrise. Variations on the Classic Inca Trail all follow the main trail but start earlier along the Urubamba river valley. The longest of these routes starts at Km 77 near Chilca, which adds a full day of hiking away from other tourists but doesn't add much in terms of scenery that you wouldn't otherwise see by starting later on the trail. Another start point, Km 82, has its reward in six miles of wonderful views of the Urubamba valley as well as a breathtaking view of the Patallacta ruins. It adds about three hours of hiking to the Classic trail. THIS IS THE HIKE I RECOMMEND. A shorter trail starts at Km 104 and reaches Machu Picchu after a day's hike, though most trekkers choose to spend one night along the way to see Machu Picchu at sun rise. Choose this trail if you are short on time or if you are not in adequate condition to hike the Classic Inca Trail. These alternate starting points can all be reached by train. Be prepared and watch the km markers - the train stops only briefly so be ready to get off. In addition, all but Km 104 can be reached by bus. Check the current schedule at the visitor's office in Cusco, or ask any of the many tour operators to give you a lift. Finally, there are two outstanding alternative hikes which take you away from all the crowds. One follows the Silque valley over a 4800m pass and joins the Classic Inka Trail at Huayllabamba. The other starts in the village of Mollepata and passes over the shoulder of Mount Salcantay (5000m)past glaciers on its way to the Urubamba valley. These two routes take six to seven days to complete. NOTE: All of these routes are one-way. It is not permitted to hike from Machu Picchu back toward the Urubamba valley.

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